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What A Lovely Surprise, The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV In Zimbabwe!

After Blessing Nyarai Tawengwa completed her Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at Columbia University in 2015, she decided to look into starting a business with a sustainable focus. She also wanted the business to actively promote sustainable ventures back home in Zimbabwe. She began to explore several areas. Her research also involved some travel to Zimbabwe to try and find the best product and market fit. She looked into public transport and also explored electric vehicle conversions. She then started to look at electric cars in general, exploring brands and models that could be affordable in a market dominated by imports of used vehicles.

Used vehicles make up over 90% of vehicles imported into Zimbabwe. She zoned in on electric cars because she believed they could solve some real problems. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country that imports all of its petrol and diesel. These imports make up a huge chunk of the country’s total import bill. That means Zimbabwe is literally burning its hard-earned foreign currency with its fleet of internal combustion engine vehicles. Foreign currency shortages also mean that petrol queues at service sections appear every now and then. Accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles that will be powered by locally generated electricity and even from solar panels installed on homes could help reduce this huge import bill.

Just when Blessing was about to accelerate her plans to establish the business back home in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing hard lockdowns across the globe put the brakes on her project. She was very determined to get the project off the ground, therefore she continued her research on potential models to bring to Zimbabwe. She was keen on cars associated with reputable brands.

It so happened that in July of 2020 a new game-changing car was launched in China. In a bold move, the tripartite alliance of SAIC, GM, and Wuling unleashed the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV! Starting at just $4,200, the Mini EV’s appeal to non-consumers or the market not traditionally targeted by automakers, the mini EV has created a new and exciting market. As Jose Pontes puts it “people buying it (mostly females, mostly under 35 years old) are usually a hard-to-capture audience. The model and its success mark a new chapter in EV mobility.”

The Mini EV has been consistently selling over 30,000 units per month. The success of the Hongguang Mini EV is a great example of market-creating innovation, and several firms are also ramping up production of vehicles in this segment while other firms are now introducing new vehicles into this market, launching similarly priced small EVs. The Changan BenBen E-Star and the Cherry QQ Ice Cream are some of the models in a similar price range that are doing quite well in the Chinese market, following in the path of the Mini EV.

The Original Hongguang Mini EV’s Specs:

  • 120 km of range (NEDC) using 9.2 kWh battery for just $4,112
  • 170 km of range (NEDC) using 13.8 kWh battery for $5,540
  • A top speed of 100 km/h
  • A 13 kW and 85 Nm electric motor
  • Can seat up to 4 people
  • Very decent boot space of 741 liters of space when the rear seats are folded down
  • 2,917 millimeters long, 1,493 millimeters wide, and 1,621 millimeters high, with a 1,940-millimeter wheelbase.

Some of the people I have spoken with think that it is a useful city car with a decent range of approximately 100 km. Some say that they think it is too small and they have some concerns about its safety. However, the success of the Hongguang Mini EV in China and its reasonable pricing has led to many people around the globe asking when this type of vehicle might be available in their home countries.

Last year, the Hongguang Mini EV was the star of the show at Ghana’s 1st E-Mobility Conference. Now, this past weekend in Harare, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into the Hongguang Mini EV in Borrowdale. I hadn’t expected to see one in Harare so soon since the original version of the Mini EV is only available in left-hand drive (LHD). However, in Zimbabwe people can register left-hand drive vehicles, and given the compact and narrow nature of the mini EV, the LHD drive version should be easy to drive in Zimbabwe. In fact, Citroën is offering a LHD Ami, a similarly sized compact vehicle, in the United Kingdom, and says “the Ami’s compact size means there isn’t much difference between where the driver and passenger sit in terms of road positioning. Its left-hand drive configuration also means a safe kerbside exit for the driver.”

Blessing and her husband Jose Luis Castellano Perez, who has experience in the import export business, as well as in the automotive sector, have now set up The Unbelievable Company. The Unbelievable Company is the holding company that will spearhead the electric vehicle sales and will also offer Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) consulting services to blue chip companies starting with Zimbabwe. They are ready to take orders for the Wuling Mini EV in Zimbabwe and are finalizing plans to open their flagship showroom in Harare.

Blessing and Jose use the Wuling Mini EV as their main every day vehicle around town. They say it draws a lot of attention and generates a lot of excitement. People are always stopping them to ask about the car. It’s the first one in Zimbabwe and therefore not many people have seen it before. One person even offered to swap his Mercedes for the Wuling Mini EV, saying the high fuel prices are straining his pockets and he is looking to change his gas guzzler. Blessing and Jose charge the Mini EV at their home. Their home has 2kWp of solar panels and 10 kWh of Li-ion stationary battery storage, meaning that the Wuling Mini EV gets quite a bit of charge from some very clean electricity. Zimbabwe’s grid is powered by a combination of coal and hydro. It’s interesting to note the that their stationary storage to store excess solar generation is about the same size in terms of energy capacity as the Mini EV’s traction battery, which just goes to show how small the Mini EV is.

Jose says he really hopes the current high shipping costs come down soon so that they can offer the Mini EV at competitive prices locally compared to some of the popular used vehicles that come in to the country when they are 10 years old. The question then to consumers is, would you rather have a 10-year-old Toyota Yaris or a brand new Wuling Mini EV?

 

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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