Global EV adoption: The reality in Africa may be different

June 9, 2021
5 min read

A decade ago, the notion that Electric Vehicles (EVs) could be an alternative to the popular gas vehicles was unthinkable. Then, electric vehicles were more for research & development projects and the few that roamed the roads were so expensive that they were exclusive to the rich.

However, thanks to technological advancements, evolving policies and the growing popularity of EV companies like Jet Motor Company, EVs are now sharing the same roads with conventional vehicles. And some regions already perceived it as the future of transportation.

According to reports, the adoption of  EVs across the globe is rapidly gaining steam. It is estimated that adoption has increased more than six-fold since 2015. 

Last year, over 11 million registered electric vehicles including cars, buses, vans and trucks were on the road across the world. This number is projected to rise to 145 million by the end of the decade.

The number of different EV car models available in the market has risen to 370

In terms of sales, the past year was similarly a ground-breaking one for EVs. Sales grew globally by 41% in 2020 despite the 16% pandemic related drop in overall car sales across the world.

Europe overtook China as the centre of the global electric car market for the first time.  The region saw electric car sales of 3 million, with registrations doubling to 1.4 million, while in China’s increased to 1.2 million.

China has been the world’s largest market since 2015. It has almost five million EVs, accounting for more than half of the world’s total, according to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.

The US and Africa still lag in the transition to EVs. However, while the world's biggest economy has started adopting measures that would benefit the adoption soon, Africa has shown little progress.

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The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) says the huge gap in adoption between regions is related to the level of the challenges affecting the EVs growth.

EVs Challenges in Africa

Electric vehicles remain rare in most of Africa, the probability of finding one is about one in a million. In South Africa, which is thought to be the largest EV market on the continent, only 1,000 out of more than 12 million vehicles on its roads are EVs. 

Even fewer electric cars are in operation in most other African countries. This is because the most popular vehicles are second-hand cars.

Reports estimated that about 40% of the global exports of used vehicles go to Africa. Specifically, in Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia it is estimated that the proportion reaches about 80–90% of total vehicles imported.

Government Policies

However, this might not change soon. Unlike Europe where government policies are forcing automotive markets to embrace more climate-friendly options like Evs, Africa’s governments are more relaxed.

Only one African country, Cape Verde, has taken steps to phase out the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles by targeting an end to imports of such vehicles by 2035.

In comparison, about 17 countries have made similar laws across Asia, Europe and America. In addition to that, many of the countries pledge to SDGs net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Poor Infrastructure - Roads, Electricity, EV chargers

Secondly, even the relatively slow adoption of EVs in Africa faces infrastructural challenges like weak electricity grids, Bad roads and lack of public E-chargers. 

While grids in Europe have been able to cope with electric mobility, electricity systems in many African countries are already under strain. Frequent blackouts in some countries could limit consumer demand for electric cars, as it cuts off access to transport.

For example, in Nigeria, the average access to electricity is about 12 hours and there are no known public EV charging stations in the country.

Things are a bit better in SouthAfrica. The country is ranked fifth globally in the ratio of public electric vehicle (EV) chargers to electric vehicles in 2020. Only Korea, Chile, Mexico, and the Netherlands have more chargers per EV.

However, that is just one out of 54 countries that are on the continent.

Insufficient charging infrastructure continues to prevent wider use, as does the low supply of appropriate electric vehicles in many sectors, such as heavy industry. 

Less than the average cost of living

The cost of EVs have dropped drastically over the years, the advancement in Battery Technology and the huge investment in EV startups have made buying an EV affordable.

However, despite falling battery costs, the promise of savings over the lifetime of an EV from lower fuel and maintenance costs, the upfront prices remain out of the range of average Africa.

According to Cox Automotive, the average cost of a new electric vehicle is about $55,600 (N23M). This is way above the average yearly salary of N2M made by the average Nigerian living in Lagos.  

A local solution

Despite the many problems plaguing the adoption of EVs in Africa, A handful of startups and companies in several countries are building electronic vehicles to push adoption within the continent.

These companies are finally bringing the electric-car revolution to the streets of Africa with the production of electric-vehicle fleets of light carriers and motorcycles—vehicles well suited for the continent’s challenging roads.

With smart technologies and appropriate regulation, these EVs could become an asset rather than a threat to grid stability, through dynamic charging and vehicle-to-grid applications. 

While electricity systems in many African countries are currently limited, they are expanding fast: power generation capacity is expected to more than double by 2040

Africa has the smallest per-capita car ownership level of any region in the world. Transportation using buses, taxis and motorcycles are more popular than personal cars, this shows that it may be better suited to electrification first.

In addition, the shift to transport electrification will be far easier to manage if it is factored into grid upgrades at an early stage, instead of taking grid operators by surprise further down the line to consumers.

Some examples of these startups are Kenya-based ARC Ride launched electric two- and three-wheelers for UberEats deliveries in Nairobi. In Kigali, Rwandan start-up Ampersand is introducing a fleet of electric motorcycle taxis and plans to expand to other East African countries.

 In Uganda, locally manufactured electric buses from Kiira Motors have started transporting passengers in Kampala. Finally in Nigeria, Jet Motor Company has partnered with GIG Logistics to provide its EVs for both transport and logistics services in the Nigerian market.

In Summary

While progress is being made, electric cars currently make up 1% of the global fleet. And significant barriers to the wholesale adoption of EVs remain. The report predicts that with even bolder climate programmes and emission reduction targets, there could be up to 230 million electric vehicles on our streets – 12% of all road transport – by 2030. 

Similarly in Africa, SDG scenarios are predicting around 40% of light vehicles in Africa are electric by 2050.

With market forces gaining momentum, consumer consciousness on the rise and the emergence of Local EV companies this forecast is not impossible. 

However, for Africa to become a fast-growing source of demand for electric transport, governments and investors need to support these innovations to scale up and accelerate adoption.

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