Bright future awaits electric cars but adoption still lagging behind
By Graham Kajilwa | May 20th 2021
It is getting increasingly clear that the future of the automobile industry is in electric vehicles - at least before flying cars take over.
Countries such as the United Kingdom are already in the race to get rid of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2030 to reduce pollution levels.
Such moves by big economies leave Kenya helpless in the decision to go electric, yet the adoption of electric vehicles is dragging.
“It is a chicken and egg situation where for us to have infrastructure on charging electric cars, we have to have vehicles on the road; and for us to have vehicles on the road we need to have infrastructure around charging,” says Brian Chege, general manager of Meta Electric, a machinery dealership.
Meta Electric is one of the firms seeking to speed up adoption of electric vehicles. The firm in November last year imported two BYD T3 electric vans, one which has been leased to transport company Neo Kenya Mpya to be used for parcel delivery.
“The main purpose of the venture is to help businesses save money by reducing their operating costs through replacing their petrol or diesel vehicles with electric,” said Mr Chege.
“We are looking at trucks, buses, public service vehicle buses, matatus and in the near future we hope to replace all of Nairobi vehicles with electric ones.”
Chege said there is a substantial interest from businesses to adopt electric vehicles, especially from firms dealing with fast-moving consumer goods.
“If you are able to give a solution that is 80 per cent cheaper, and runs on clean energy and also helps sustain the environment it is definitely a win-win for us,” he said.
The low maintenance and operating cost is the key selling point of electric automobiles, whether motorcycles or vehicles.
For example, Chege says for every 100 kilometres an electric vehicle will cost Sh300 while one running on petrol or diesel will dent the pocket by Sh1,400.
Electric motorcycles cut the cost by 90 per cent compared to the conventional ones, according to Ecobodaa Chief Executive Victor Kimosop.
It costs between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 to service a petrol bike, which is done every two weeks, he said.
“We realised compared to petrol-powered bikes, we save 30 per cent daily on fuel and up to 90 per cent in three months for services,” said Mr Kimosop.
Ecobodaa was started in March 2020 and has been monitoring the reception of the bikes in preparation for commercial launch this year.
Kimosop said they target a business partnership with Kibera Bodaboda Association and an unnamed transport firm on food delivery.
The lithium ion battery fitted in the bike has a range of 60 to 75 kilometres on full charge while the battery in the T3 BYD electric van can run between 250 and 300 kilometres.
This short range is the downside that could make potential buyers get cold feet.
Once the battery is depleted it has to be recharged, which takes longer compared to the about five-minute stop at the petrol station.
The least time one can take to charge the T3 BYD van is one-and-a-half hours using direct current (DC) but eight hours using alternating current (AC). For a business, eight hours is a whole day, which may limit the profit one can make.
Chege said if one chooses to use DC, a converter is needed to adjust voltage level from AC current to DC. This costs about Sh100,000.
These dynamics raise the question on how the vehicles will be used not only for carrying consumer goods but also in large sectors such as matatus.
Kimosop said this has already been addressed through battery swapping, considering this is the most expensive part of the bike.
“The biker pays a fee and we exchange his battery for a fully-charged one. It takes five hours to charge,” he said.
“The battery is the most expensive part of the bike and we do not want to give the biker the headache of replacing it every three years as this costs Sh70,000.”
Neo Kenya Mpya CEO Douglas Kuria is optimistic that they will adopt electric buses, but he is not going “all money in” at the moment.
He says the reason behind using the BYD T3 van is not necessarily to maximise profits but to get knowledge on how electric vehicles work.
Neo Kenya Mpya manages over 170 matatus plying Nairobi, Machakos and Kiambu counties, and also has courier services.
“We are starting with this vehicle for courier services. We want to have electric buses too, so this is for us to have the knowledge and gain experience,” Mr Kuria said.
“We feel towards 2024 we need to have partnerships like this towards what we want to achieve.”
He, however, would not say when the company will go fully electric.
“Even the first world countries have not really fully replaced theirs (for electric), that is why we have a research and improvement arm, ‘Transport for Tomorrow’ purposed to drive our logistics to a different level.”
Kuria said the idea of converting their buses to electric is also not viable.
“When it comes to technology we do not want to have a barrier on what it (technology) can do, but we believe the best way around it is to have a new bus that is fully electric rather than a conversion,” he said.
Electric motoring has been on Kenyan roads for some years now, though in the form of hybrid cars.
A hybrid car is powered by both fuel and electricity. It is fitted with an electric motor and an internal combustion engine for diesel and petrol use.
These two work together interchangeably depending on how much power the car needs at the time.
But in an electric car, the vehicle is fully powered by electric motors.
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