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SUNDAY MOTORING: Ready or not, electric car revolution is coming to Kenya

In Summary

  • Caetano Kenya recently introduced the KONA electric SUV into the Kenyan market.
  • Several initiatives in place threaten to put the gasoline engine into the dustbin of oblivion.

Electrification is the key focus global car manufacturers are focusing on and majority are about to launch electric vehicles soon in sub-Saharan Africa.

We lack the technical know-how on handling and maintaining electric cars plus disposal of the poisonous battery packs.

There needs to be investment in creating electrical charging infrastructure to generate public interest.

Electric Cars; The Back Story

Electric vehicles have for the longest time been a pipe dream for manufacturers due its budget-draining costs on research and development, lack of adequate battery technologies to sustain range, and charging infrastructure.

This dream started back in the late 80’s when General Motors, Ford, Honda and Toyota began the ‘space race’ of developing sustainable and renewable sources of energy to power the automobile.

GM shelved its electric vehicle that was powered by solar panels, Toyota (with the Prius) decided to go the hybrid route by combining gasoline engines with an electric motor with the Prius, and Honda decided to explore synthesis of Hydrogen with the FCX Clarity.

What’s The Current Situation?

Fast forward to 2021 and the electric revolution is here. At recently concluded IAA Mobility Motorshow in Munch, the big boys from Audi, Hyundai, Mercedes Benz unveiled an array of electric vehicles that envision the future of auto-mobility.

Electric Tour Van Opibus TV47
NO PURR ON GAME DRIVES: An electric Toyota Landcruiser tour van converted by Opibus. PHOTO/COURTESY

Renault on the other hand will introduce its Megane Electric concept that is ready for production. It has a range of 400 kilometers and has energy regeneration systems to harvest power when braking. All said and done it looks like the manufacturers have solved the range factor, but that’s just a part of the puzzle. Is Kenya ready for the influx of this electric vehicles?

Impact of EVs in Kenya

Currently South Africa and Mauritius lead the pack in developing electric car charging facilities. Companies have begun to collaborate to build this system. For example, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan have a framework for building charging systems across South Africa to support their electric vehicles. We must acknowledge that Rome wasn’t built in a day but neither should us burry our heads in the sand when it comes to adopting new technologies.

Nopia Ride Electric Car
CHARGE ME, PLEASE: A Nopia Ride cab getting some electric juice. The company was a pioneer in importing electric cars to Kenya. PHOTO/COURTESY

Back home Caetano Kenya recently made the biggest step by any dealership when they introduced the KONA Electric SUV locally. Buoyed by the fact that Kenya is an early adopter of technology, we have witnessed adoption of electric vehicles by ride hailing company Nopia, Opibus who are converting Safari Land Cruisers to fully electric vehicles, plus Mehta Electric with their electric delivery vans.

Challenges facing Adoption

The major shortcoming in adopting Electric Vehicle technology is the charging infrastructure. To make this sustainable we need to first start a pilot programme in Nairobi and Mombasa, where Kenya Power can play a major role in supplying constant power at designated zones.

This involves creating partnerships with the private sector to supply smart charging technologies, of which one Kenyan start-up EV Chaja is already in the process of building a locally-designed charging station for electric vehicles.

Electric car charging stations
GREAT STRIDES: Currently, there are vehicle charging stations at Thika Road Mall, Two Rivers Mall, Holy Family Basilica Parking, The Hub and at Sarit Centre. PHOTO/COURTESY

The second issue is disposing off the hybrid vehicle batteries, which fundamentally raises the question: How safely can we handle the highly hazardous battery pack? It is my considered opinion that all government agencies should sit together and come up with a policy framework to encourage clean energy adaptation and also take in to account the ways and means of training stakeholders in harnessing the full potential of electric vehicles in Kenya.

-Trevor Lamenya, Automotive Correspondent

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