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Africa Needs Tesla Here’s Why

To help push the transition to electromobility in Africa, I thought brand loyal consumers would perhaps really appreciate an all-electric Toyota, but it is very hard to get one outside China. 

A few months ago, I wrote an article on why Africa needed Toyota-branded BEVs. That’s because traditionally the Toyota brand has been the most popular on the continent. The Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution says consumers in Africa are brand conscious and brand loyal. In the brand new vehicle market, the Toyota Hilux is king in South Africa and also tops other charts.

Other popular models in the new vehicle market are the Corolla, the Fortuner, and the Yaris. Excluding Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, and Morocco, where the importation of used vehicles is banned, the majority of vehicles brought to the continent are used vehicles. In this used vehicle market Toyota is also topping the sales charts. Popular models in the used vehicle market that are imported mostly from Japan include the Corolla, Vitz, Belta, Passo, Fielder, Noah, Hiace, and the Crown. 

Toyota has been slow to release mass-market BEVs, having chosen to focus for a very long time on mild hybrids and plug-in hybrids like the Prius. It has also spent a lot of time and money on fuel cell tech vehicles like the Mirai. To help push the transition to electromobility on the continent, I thought these brand loyal consumers would perhaps really appreciate an all-electric Toyota, but it is very hard to get one outside China. 

Lexus UX300e

Image credit: Lexus, all-electric Lexus UX300e

There is, however, now an all-electric Lexus UX300e. The last few days got me thinking. If someone had the Lexus UX300e in Kenya, for example, and just happened to be driving it all over the place, would this create a buzz and get people talking about EVs? I’m not so sure. But this week the “first” Tesla in Kenya caused quite a storm on Twitter, generating an insane amount of engagement. This opened up the EV conversation to a wide cross-section of the population in Kenya, including people that don’t usually follow the EV scene. Today another video of Kenya’s “first” Tesla was the talk of the town on these Twitter streets of Kenya.

In this video, someone spotted the Tesla Model X 75 D driving on an interesting road in Syokimau. Syokimau is a residential area just south of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Some of the comments are hilarious, with @BrandNameJoel saying people shouldn’t be so worried about the road as Kenya’s own Charles Mwangi, a former Senior Director of Engineering at Tesla and now an Executive Vice President at Rivian, had Kenyan roads in mind when he worked on the Tesla models. Kenya also has very good roads by the way — check out this video of Nairobi’s Southern Bypass:

And also this video of the new Nairobi Expressway that’s under construction.

From the latest video, it is clear that people keep taking and sharing random videos of the Tesla Model X 75 D when they spot it. Would the Lexus UX300e or any other EV have the same effect? I don’t think so. This is why I think Africa really needs Tesla. Tesla could have the same effect as other major brands in that it would represent a whole class of products (EVs in this case) catalyzing adoption.

Growing up in the 1980s in Zimbabwe, it was pretty normal for people to refer to sodas as Coca-Cola. Parents would send their children to the supermarket to shop for Coca-Cola or Coke, but that could mean a Fanta, Sprite, or dare I say it, even a Pepsi. It was the same thing for toothpaste. Colgate meant any toothpaste brand really. I believe the Tesla conversation could spark a real interest in EVs and people would then look into EVs that fit their budget, which may not necessarily be a Tesla. This fits in well with Elon Musk’s goal to accelerate the transition to electric mobility and encouraging other brands to go electric.

It’s interesting as well that this Kenyan Tesla owner picked a Model X. Recently I suggested that Tesla should look into bringing the Tesla Model X and S to Kenya, South Africa, and other new markets to supercharge sales of those models that appear to have plateaued. Although these would not be high volume models, I strongly believe they would have a significant effect in stimulating the market, paving the way for cheaper models to enter the market riding on this Tesla effect. Porsche has an official dealership in Nairobi. Mercedes and BMW do as well. You can even buy a Bentley in Nairobi if you like. Some of these buyers could be swayed to upgrade to electric. Same in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Let’s hope we start to see more Teslas on the road in Africa, and of course more EVs in general.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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