Automotive Industry

Why Electric Mobility May Be the Key to Kenya’s Transition to A Green Economy

After sev­en years of relent­less efforts by a team of engi­neers from Europe, Asia and Kenya, Autopax Lim­it­ed, a com­pa­ny that I found­ed unveiled a ground-break­ing deal with a glob­al lead­ing auto­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­er Saic GM Wul­ing Auto­mo­bile Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed (SGMW) of Chi­na to Pro­duce an afford­able Kenyan Elec­tric Vehi­cle tai­lored to meet the unique needs of the Kenyan mar­ket. This is only the lat­est in a series of devel­op­ments that have put Kenya in pole posi­tion to be become a glob­al leader in the wide­spread adop­tion of elec­tric vehi­cles and motorcycles.

Pres­i­dent Ruto has detailed his gov­ern­ment sup­port for the boda boda sec­tor and that by Sep­tem­ber 1st 2023, all is set to intro­duce thou­sands of elec­tric bikes to the mar­ket. I join Kenya’s Motor­cy­cle fra­ter­ni­ty in sin­cere­ly com­mend­ing the Gov­ern­ment for these crit­i­cal steps in the right direction.

In order to make the most of emerg­ing elec­tric mobil­i­ty oppor­tu­ni­ties, we need to draw lessons from our past and from oth­er countries.

First­ly, we must ensure a lev­el play­ing field for all busi­ness­es in the motor­cy­cle val­ue chain. Twen­ty years ago, the gov­ern­ment famous­ly intro­duced manda­to­ry seat­belt require­ment in pub­lic ser­vice vehi­cles. Sur­pris­ing­ly, no soon­er had the pol­i­cy been enact­ed than seat­belts instant­ly showed up at Mom­basa Port. Evi­dent­ly, con­nect­ed busi­ness play­ers with insid­er infor­ma­tion had pulled a fast one on every­one else.

There are about twen­ty-five motor­cy­cle assem­blers in Kenya with a com­bined installed capac­i­ty of pro­duc­ing 550,000 motor­cy­cles annu­al­ly com­pris­ing elec­tric motor­cy­cles. Accord­ing­ly, Kenya is get­ting set for the African mar­ket. In addi­tion, near­ly 2.5 mil­lion Kenyans depend on the sec­tor for a liv­ing. They include Motor­cy­cle Assem­blers, local com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ers, boda boda rid­ers, deal­ers, and mechan­ics. Accord­ing to Motor­cy­cle Assem­blers Asso­ci­a­tion of Kenya (MAAK) each of them sup­ports the liveli­hoods of an aver­age of 6 Kenyans. As such, rough­ly 15 mil­lion Kenyans depend on the motor­cy­cle sec­tor for their liveli­hoods. That is why the tran­si­tion to elec­tric mobil­i­ty must be man­aged del­i­cate­ly and wisely.

It is heart­warm­ing that most of the sev­en­teen local motor­cy­cle assem­blers have already rec­og­nized the green oppor­tu­ni­ty and have enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly start­ed the jour­ney towards elec­tric motor­cy­cles. The local parts man­u­fac­tur­ers are also engag­ing to pro­duce local com­po­nents as required by the exist­ing Motor­cy­cle reg­u­la­tions. This means green­er jobs.

The sec­ond key les­son can be found in Tai­wan, one of the four Asian Tigers.

In the ear­ly 2000s Tai­wan was like Kenya – its cap­i­tal, Taipei was awash with motor­cy­cles, criss­cross­ing every neighbourhood.

In 2022, 12% of all scoot­ers sold in Tai­wan were elec­tric. Nine­ty per­cent of these scoot­ers rely on an inno­v­a­tive bat­tery swap­ping that has fueled the growth of elec­tric scoot­ers in the coun­try. Over the years, a Tai­wanese com­pa­ny known as Gogoro has estab­lished bat­tery-swap­ping sta­tions that are as com­mon as gas sta­tions in Tai­wan. Most of the country’s 526,000 rid­ers depend on the sta­tions to swap an aver­age of 400,000 bat­ter­ies dai­ly. This sys­tem is wild­ly pop­u­lar because rid­ers don’t have to spend time charg­ing their bat­ter­ies. They sim­ply swap and go.

Such is the infra­struc­ture that has cat­a­pult­ed Tai­wan to the top ech­e­lon of elec­tric two-wheel­ers. In order to emu­late Taiwan’s run­away suc­cess, we must focus on three main areas: infra­struc­ture, prod­uct qual­i­ty and prod­uct safety.

All stake­hold­ers from the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors should spare no effort in con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing and actu­al­iz­ing an elab­o­rate bat­tery charg­ing or swap­ping infra­struc­ture. With­out that, uptake of elec­tric motor­cy­cles will face severe tur­bu­lence. For bat­tery swap­ping to be an option, the motor­cy­cles would have to be spe­cial­ly designed to meet the cur­rent needs of a bod­abo­da rid­er in Kenya today. In this regard, there will be need for an elab­o­rate qual­i­ty assur­ance of the motor­cy­cles. They must be fit for our roads, fit for our pock­ets, fit for our needs and fit for our safe­ty. Due to the extreme­ly high risks involved, the ongo­ing casu­al and dan­ger­ous con­ver­sion of inter­nal com­bus­tion engines into elec­tric motor­cy­cles must be avoid­ed. Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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