I have spoken with a lot of dealerships in several countries on the African continent. Whenever I ask them why they have not yet introduced electric cars and vans from the brands they represent in the respective countries, yet these same brands have had a number of fully electric models in Europe and other markets for a while now, I get the same answer from most of them. “We feel that the market is not ready for EVs in this country.” They usually add that “the charging infrastructure is not yet fully developed this country and there are no staff trained to work on electric vehicles in terms of repairs and service.” They also say that they are waiting for directives from overseas on when they can bring EVs and that there is not enough demand yet in this part of the world.
So, from the looks of things, the African market, except for South Africa (to some extent) and a few others, is not top of mind when it comes to EVs for the large OEMs which already have a presence on the continent. Even some of BEV-only firms from North America or other places have yet to really take a keen look at the African market. There are even some EV enthusiasts who send daily reminders to these firms on social media to bring their EVs to South Africa and other parts of the continent. I hope they will soon get a positive response.
BYD is among the few that are starting to be active in some markets on the African continent. But in general, it’s a long wait for most people looking into electric cars to get the ones they really need, unless they import them unofficially and directly from Europe and other places. In some countries, direct imports are extremely difficult and people have to wait for official dealerships to bring the vehicles.
A simplistic look at the African brand new car sales market shows that Africa only accounts for about 1% of the global new vehicle sales market. This is mainly due to lower earnings and lower disposable incomes on the continent, coupled with a lack of widespread vehicle financing platforms for personal cars in most African countries. New vehicle sales don’t show the real picture for Africa, as about 90% of vehicles imported into the various countries across the continent are used vehicles from other continents. Having access to more affordable brand new electric vehicles could see the continent leapfrog into the age of mobility by disrupting this used vehicle market. The more affordable new energy vehicles from China and India (supplies allowing) could actually drive this leapfrog.
However, the commercial vehicle sector is in Africa is a bit different and driven by large corporates and multinationals that are active in several high revenue or cash rich enterprises that earn significant amounts of foreign currency such as mining, large agricultural estates, and associated industries including the construction sector. Players in these industries tend to have the money to buy brand new trucks and associated construction vehicles.
A lot of their operations are centered around campus environments. Campus-based operations such as mines are some of the best places for utilizing electric vehicles. The nature of their operations often revolve around regular, repetitive routes at well-known times and intervals, making it fairly straightforward when it comes to setting up charging infrastructure onsite and managing fleet charging. It’s safe to say drivers of heavy electric trucks in these environments will not be too worried about range anxiety even with full loads of heavy rocks.
In the mining sector, in underground operations for example, electric trucks also have the added advantage of no exhaust emissions, as well as providing a much quieter working environment. Other prime candidates are operations that run fleets around depots to distribution centers and retail outlets. These operations also have well known routes and distances that they travel at known intervals and can then plan or schedule charging cycles around these operations and locations. The nature of these operations also mean that they do not necessarily have to rely on a public charging network. These cash rich sectors present a good addressable market for brand new heavy electric trucks.
The good news is that there are now quite a number of heavy duty electric trucks on the market now in Europe and other places from the likes of Scania, Volvo, and BYD. There is more good news in this sector, as unlike in the electric car market where a lot of African countries and their citizens who want EVs have to wait an eternity before OEMs to start offering brand new EVs in those markets, firms in the heavy electric truck business have already started to sell heavy electric trucks in some African states. The good thing is that these types of vehicles are being offered in Africa as soon as they are released on the world market, meaning Africans who need these types of vehicles don’t have to wait as long as they have for new releases of electric cars.
Here is a summary of some of the action we are already seeing on the African continent.
In South Africa, the Shoprite Group became the first South African retailer to pilot a heavy-duty electric truck as part of its fleet last year. The Scania battery-electric heavy duty truck is a refrigerated truck and can hold approximately 16 pallets. It has nine batteries totaling 300 kWh. It has CCS type 2 plug-in connection with up to 130 kW / 200A DC charging. It has a range of 350 km in city driving cycles, depending on the load. It also has a permanent magnet electric motor rated at 295 kW 2,200 Nm (peak) and 230 kW 1,300 Nm (continuous). The truck has solar panels fitted to its roof and a fully electric cooling system which is also powered by the battery packs of the vehicle. The vehicle will be used for local deliveries and will be recharged using renewable energy generated by the Group’s existing solar installations.
In South Africa again, Volvo Trucks recently announced that it will start delivering heavy electric trucks to its customers in South Africa from May 2023. In South Africa, these heavy electric trucks fall within the extra heavy commercial vehicle segment. This classification comprises trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVM) exceeding 16.5 tonnes. Volvo Trucks has identified this sector as one of the key areas to focus on and have developed a line of heavy electric trucks which are customized for the construction industry. By using electric trucks, companies can now meet the increasing demand for vehicles with lower noise levels and zero exhaust emissions at and around urban construction sites.
The demand for electric transport in the construction industry is also increasing, given the emphasis on zero-emission zones in cities and the need for construction companies to meet climate goals as part of their broader ESG targets. Volvo Trucks has therefore developed extra heavy electric trucks that enable customers in the construction segment to shift to more sustainable transport. Conventional trucks with single chassis and built-on applications for a wide range of superstructures, such as tippers, mixers, and cranes, are now offered in an electric version. Volvo Trucks has also opened orders in South Africa for these heavy electric trucks for the construction sector. Customers can choose battery packs from six batteries down to two, to match their specific requirements for range and payload. The new rigid trucks have a battery capacity between 180-540 kWh.
In Morocco, Volvo Trucks has already started deliveries for electric refuse trucks. The truck was delivered to Arma, the Moroccan refuse collection company. Hope to see more companies in the heavy duty electric vehicle segment start to offer their vehicles in this part of the world as well and that, supply allowing, these vehicles start to come in decent numbers.
Images courtesy of Volvo and The Shoprite Group.
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