If you spend a few days in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, during winter, you’ll experience its constant traffic congestion while enjoying lungs full of diesel exhaust emissions, while you try to find non-existent parking.
You’ll also see this relatively small city covered in smog in the morning as a result of biomass cooking and the city’s coal-fired power station located within the city limits. You can’t help but think about the earth’s CO2 quota being used up and what health problems people and nature will have to endure when this happens.
Changing the business-as-usual mentality can not be more evident on a smoggy day. Electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy solutions do seem to offer better, healthier solutions for this type of situation.
Who uses the roads?
When looking at road transport requirements, there are generally three types of consumers: The urban short distance users, the rural medium distance users and then the long-distance users. It seems the Namibian vehicle of choice is a large pickup. Yet 80% of the pickups driving around Windhoek only have one occupant.
Asking people to get rid of their pickups or any other internal combustion engines vehicle to save the planet shouldn’t be difficult. The world, unfortunately, does not work that way. With this in mind, working out an EV adoption strategy needs to be clear about its benefits and uptake needs to be a painless process.
The way forward
Given the available technology in an African context, the focus initially for private individuals and companies towards EV adoption will centre around a few questions:
What does an EV cost?Will an EV be cheaper to run(charge) than a similar ICE vehicleWill the maintenance be cheaper?What is the lifetime of an EV?Is an EV safe? Where do I charge it?
The European outlook is that in an urban setting, vehicle ownership should not be encouraged and electric public transport options need to be available – this will lessen traffic pressure.
Private ownership of cars should be replaced with electric transport as a service (TAAS) solutions. This way, fewer vehicles will be operational in cities with obvious environmental benefits. TAAS will also have financial benefits for consumers.
Why the European response to electric vehicles won’t work here
When developing urban transport electrification policies in our African context, the European rule book does not apply. Local manufacturing is ICE focused, filling stations are a significant employer, income from fossil fuels is an integral part of our economies, and public transport is not developed.
The disruptive nature of EVs will not be limited to market disruption; there is a real chance that the end consumer will disrupt the auto industry and the government’s mobility strategies.
The thing is, people all over the globe are turning to EVs as it frees them from established ineffective ecosystems. An EV can be charged during the evening at home or at a business address and can then be used during the day. This offers convenience and lower operating costs.
The idea of going to an auto dealership is similar to going to the dentist. People don’t like to do something they are forced to do and then pay for it. Take ICE vehicle warranties. Most new vehicles are sold with a service plan that forces the user to go at least once a year to an authorised dealership to have the vehicle serviced.
This is normally an included cost when the vehicle is purchased, and is not free. For the consumer to retain the warranty of their vehicle after the service plan has expired, they still need to service the vehicle at an approved dealership. Sometimes this means travelling vast distances to adhere to the requirements.
Now take into account the inherent design obsolescence of automobiles. After taking care of an expensive investment, something is bound to require further maintenance a few years down the line. This will cost the user money to rectify as the part was designed to only last a certain time — a pressure plate as an example. Now add depreciation to this mix and watch all that effort of looking after your asset going to waste because of one calendar day.
The vehicle is still the same the day after a new plate comes out or on the 1 January, yet expect 10-20% less as a trade-in or retailing value. Not least but equally important, add dealership staff, some work for commission and some for a monthly pay cheque. Guess who is always willing to assist?
As a concept, this ICE archaic automotive ring-fenced business model borders on extortion. No wonder consumers are shifting to the EV ownership model.
Just from a used value position, it is clear that EVs are in a class of their own, holding on to their values as a vehicle and as scrap. Then there is maintenance or rather the lack of maintenance. When some is required, the EV company comes to you. Consumers enjoy dealing with EV people and EV manufacturers because they see a new beginning, a way of building a relationship with their chosen brand.
Consumers feel differently towards EVs. It’s no longer considered a trip to the dentist, but rather someone or a brand you have a personal connection with.
What about electric vehicles in Africa?
Everything is against a speedy EV adoption rate, except those who matter most – the end consumer. We as Africans know what it means to have to make a plan to get from A to B. We have to figure things out when there is no assistance.
EV adoption by taxi operators in Africa will change their business model, lower operating costs that could lead to more roadworthy taxis and lower fares. It’s the same, just different. There is not a single taxi driver the I have spoken to that is against an electric vehicle that has less maintenance, is cheaper to run and offers a more relaxed driving experience for the driver and passengers.
Last-mile delivery vehicles are another application that will suit electrification. The same savings on operating costs can be had, with the advantage of entering future ICE banned areas in cities.
The reduction in costs can play a vital role in more types of delivery services being offered such as groceries and fast food deliveries where volumes are lower, thereby creating more convenience by saving time and effort for the consumer.
Rural and long-distance use will remain a challenge for a while. These large geographical areas with small population numbers lack electric charging infrastructure, however both grid-tied and off-grid solutions are around the corner.
Mines, farms and the tourism sector are candidates for electrification in certain applications as electric transport solutions are available. Many of these activities are already generating their own electricity and adding EVs to their mix is a logical step.
EVs will break away with the service station culture, so no more rushing to a service station on a Friday. Instead, consumers will charge their vehicles at home where they charge their mobile phones.
On the financial side, EVs generally take three to four years to pay back the initial investment compared to similar ICE vehicles. This is also set to change as more models become available, and the costs associated with battery packs come down.
On the environmental side, the benefits are immediate.
What if you can save 60-70% on your fuel bill, 70% on your maintenance and save on your depreciation while driving an EV in the city? Charge it at home or at the office and even be able to power your home or office with your vehicle using vehicle-to-grid technology in a case of emergency — all these benefits without emissions.
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