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We Met With Kenya’s 1st Tesla Model X Owner

There are a lot of Kenyans all over the world who own or drive Teslas. There are also quite a number of Kenyans who work or have worked for Tesla. But getting a Tesla in Kenya itself can be quite a journey since Tesla has not yet opened up motor vehicle sales here or anywhere else on the continent. But people really love Tesla and would love to see Tesla open up sales in this region soon.

A few months ago, a Tesla Model X 75 D imported directly from England by a Kenyan family made quite a buzz on Twitter. We met with Mr. Viju Patel, the owner of the 2017 Model X 75 D, in Nairobi recently to hear his story. Mr. Patel had been wanting to buy an electric car for the past four years, but his family was worried about after-sales support and maintenance since most legacy and “new energy vehicle” manufacturers have not yet started bringing full battery electric vehicles to Kenya. Volkswagen, Daimler, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Porsche, and Bentley are all brands that have an official presence in Kenya, but they are not yet selling any of their electric vehicles or plugin hybrids here. Mr. Patel finally decided to just go for it and get an EV directly from the United Kingdom.

“I just wanted the best electric car. I didn’t worry too much about the price tag, I just wanted the best,” he said. After looking at several options with his son Jayesh, he settled on a Tesla Model X 75 D from London and he had it shipped to Kenya. He also bought a single-phase charger for his home and a 3-phase Level 2 charger for his office. Getting the car registered was an interesting exercise, he noted. “They kept asking what is the vehicle’s ‘CC’/engine capacity and stuff like that.” They also took a while to clear the car, as they wanted to ensure they captured everything correctly, including the import duties and taxes for this type of car. Iyadi, who imported a Volkswagen e-Golf, also from the UK, faced similar issues. Iyadi did mention that registering a Nissan Leaf is a much smoother process, as there are many of these registered in the system dating back to around 2015. The Nissan leaf is the most predominant EV in Kenya since most vehicles brought into the country are used vehicles from Japan, and EVs appear to be following the same pattern. Nopearide even has a fleet of Nissan Leafs for its ride-hailing taxi service in Nairobi. The system will surely get easier and faster as more EVs come to Kenya.

Mr. Patel is really impressed with his car and he is particularly impressed with the suspension, which is very good on some of the interesting roads he uses on his daily commute in Syokimau. You can see the Model X on these interesting roads in this video here. The one thing he is disappointed about is that Tesla has not yet opened up operations in Kenya and Africa. He would love to have the full Tesla experience with Supercharging so that he can comfortably travel around the country and also have access to extra features and updates. He is in contact with Tesla in London, but they are not able to support him with some of the things he wants. Tesla has just announced the refreshed Model X and S, so now would be a great time for Tesla to bring these to Kenya and Africa. We have also recently looked at how opening up new markets in emerging markets could supercharge Model X and S sales. Tesla doesn’t have a demand problem, and all the Model 3 and Ys they build are taken up in their existing markets as soon as they come off the production line due to the backlog of orders. Tesla once had an installed capacity of 100,000 units per year for the Model S/X but built just over 50,000 in 2020. Surely, there should be room to ramp up production and ship some of these to Africa for a start. The Model 3/Y and upcoming $25,000 “Model 2” could follow later — like happened in the US, Europe, and China.

Kenya is a great place to start. The grid is powered by renewable energy, mostly with geothermal, wind, hydro, and a bit of utility-scale solar. Kenya’s installed generation capacity is sitting at over 2,800 MW, which now exceeds the current peak demand, which is around 1,900 MW. At night, during the off-peak periods, this demand goes down even further to about 1,000 MW. This excess and very clean night time electricity is readily available to charge electric vehicles, boosting the Kenyan utility KPLC’s revenue whilst enhancing and optimising KenGen’s energy-generation plants, such as the geothermal plants which are curtailed during times of low demand. Kenya is actually a good place for a Gigafactory! Let’s hope Elon and team seriously start looking into Kenya and Africa soon.

All images by Remeredzai

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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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