There are few markets in the world with as much untapped potential for electric car adoption as Africa. The continent has a growing middle class, a rapidly expanding fleet of new cars, and an urgent need to reform its energy sector.
But can electric vehicles help solve these problems? Or is it not yet time for the electric car in Africa?
These are some of the questions that many auto executives and investors have been asking recently. After all, in other emerging markets such as China, India, and Latin America, sales of electric cars have surged thanks to government incentives and other support programs. In comparison, sales of electric cars remain very low in Africa — in part due to challenges with local production and lack of charging infrastructure.
With a population of around 1 billion people, Africa is one of the regions with the highest growth potential for electric vehicles. Here’s how it could help expand adoption.
What is holding back the electric car in Africa?
Despite several advantages — such as air pollution reduction and lower total cost of ownership — the electric car is yet to become as popular in Africa as in other emerging markets. One of the main reasons is a lack of support from national governments.
While several countries in Asia and Latin America have implemented ambitious plans to promote the electric car, African countries have so far been less active in this regard. Without clear support from governments, consumers are unlikely to embrace electric cars.
Another factor that might be holding back the electric car in Africa is the lack of local production facilities. Most of the electric vehicles sold in Africa are imported from Europe and the US — and this could significantly increase the costs of EV ownership.
Finally, the lack of charging infrastructure is another significant obstacle to the wider adoption of electric cars in Africa.
In some countries, such as Nigeria, there is simply no charging infrastructure at all. In others, such as South Africa, charging stations are starting to appear. But in most African countries, there are not nearly enough charging points for electric cars to become mainstream.
Improving local manufacturing capacity
The lack of local manufacturing capacity is one of the main barriers to the wider adoption of electric cars in Africa. To increase the number of EVs on their roads, countries need to build a local market for electric cars. This requires the government to invest in R&D to create a local supply chain for EV parts and build a network of charging stations in cities. For example, the government of Tanzania is actively pursuing this strategy to promote electric cars. It is supporting the development of local charging infrastructure, including partnerships with private companies.
The government of Tanzania is also helping companies to set up R&D facilities in the country, to help local businesses to produce batteries and other EV components. This approach should help to reduce the costs of EVs and encourage more people to buy them.
The government of Rwanda is another country actively promoting electric cars. It recently built a factory that produces batteries for EVs — and plans to ramp up production to 10,000 units per year by 2020. These are significant steps that could help Rwanda to expand its fleet of EVs from a few hundred to several thousand units shortly.
It’s worth noting that similar efforts are underway in several other African countries, including Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, Morocco, and Nigeria. So, there is a good chance that we will see more electric cars on the streets of African cities in the next few years.
Another challenge to the wider adoption of electric cars in Africa is a lack of charging infrastructure. Many African countries have no or very few charging stations. This could significantly hamper the growth of the electric car market and prevent consumers from switching to cleaner modes of transport.
To encourage consumers to buy electric cars, governments need to invest in setting up charging infrastructure. Some African countries are already actively working on this. For example, Kenya is building a network of charging stations at various points along the country’s main roads.
In addition, Kenya is also working with the UN to launch a program for charging stations across Africa. Other countries are also making efforts in this direction. For example, Nigeria is also building a network of charging stations, and Mali is expected to have a charging station in each of its largest cities. These are positive trends that could help to grow the electric car market.
Environmental benefits of electric cars
Finally, the growing adoption of electric cars is expected to improve air quality in major African cities. The emissions from gasoline-powered cars and other vehicles have been identified as one of the major sources of air pollution in many African countries. They contribute to the rising number of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the region, which led to 2.7 million deaths in 2016.
Boosting the number of electric cars on the road could thus help to improve air quality in African cities. This would in turn help to reduce medical costs and improve the quality of life in many African countries. Also with EVs adoption, Africa could be joining global forces to curb climate change, which affects the continent the most.
In many ways, Africa is the ideal market for electric cars. The continent has a growing fleet of new cars, a rapidly expanding middle class, and a pressing need to reform its energy sector. And while many African countries are yet to embrace the electric car, there are several reasons to expect a rise in EV adoption shortly.
Local governments are taking steps to boost R&D and infrastructure, while businesses are making efforts to produce more affordable EVs. When it comes to the electric car, Africa has all the potential to become the next big thing.