Rwanda’s EV push gets off to a rocky start – Yahoo Finance | CarTailz

Electric car manufacturers were attracted to Rwanda by incentives

Known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda may not be the obvious place to launch electric vehicles.

The rough, rural terrain would give any car a hard time, but especially models that have to lug around heavy batteries.

But Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame wants to transform the tiny landlocked country’s economy.

A key part of the plan is to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuels, which account for 40% of the country’s foreign exchange spending.

Therefore, the government has introduced a number of incentives to encourage electric vehicles.

Electric cars, their spare parts, batteries and charging station equipment are exempt from VAT, import and excise duties.

Electric vehicles can now be charged at a heavily subsidized electricity tariff. The government is also offering rent-free land for charging stations.

e-Golfs at a Siemens charging station

Volkswagen presented its e-Golf in Rwanda

The stimulus, first proposed around 2019 but held up by the Covid pandemic, went into effect in April 2021.

Germany’s Volkswagen was one of the first beneficiaries of the government strategy. In 2019, it launched the e-Golf model in Rwanda. The pilot project started with four of the cars and two charging stations in Kigali.

VW’s original plan was to expand the service to 50 cars and 15 charging stations as part of its taxi calling app called Move.

However, three years later, only 20 of the cars are on the road and they have been removed from service. Instead, they ferry customers from several high-end hotels, the international airport, and the Kigali Convention Center.

“The unevenness of the road infrastructure and the height of the speed bumps proved too challenging for the e-Golf, which has a relatively low ground clearance,” says Allan Kweli, operations manager at Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda.

There were particular concerns about damaging the underside of the car where the batteries are located.

Despite this misfire, VW remains bullish on Rwanda. She plans to import her ID.4 electric car, which has higher ground clearance.

“The beauty of Rwanda is that the government has created a test scenario where you can prove your work in an African environment,” says Mr. Kweli.

Someone using an EvPlugin charger

Rwanda’s EvPlugin plans to build 200 public chargers across the country

A glaring problem for automakers is the lack of any charging facilities outside of Kigali.

In a developing country like Rwanda, it is difficult to justify large investments in nationwide charging infrastructure.

Nevertheless, Rwanda’s charging network EvPlugin, in cooperation with the government and energy companies, plans to build 200 public charging stations across the country over the next two years.

Of these, 35 will be suitable for cars, while the others will be for electric motorcycles.

Changing the battery in an Ampersand system

Electric motorcycle taxis have had some success in Rwanda

Japan’s Mitsubishi is dodging the problem by launching a petrol-electric hybrid car in Rwanda.

It has 135 of its Outlander cars on the streets of Kigali – 90 of which are leased while the others are driven through a rental service.

“A hybrid vehicle eliminates range anxiety as it can switch to petrol, which is relevant as we are still far behind in Rwanda with charging infrastructure,” says Joshua Nshuti of Greenleaf Motors, the official Mitsubishi dealer in Rwanda.

He says demand has increased recently.

“With fuel prices up 60% in the past few months, we’re seeing demand for the Outlander growing as it gives customers the opportunity to cut their fuel costs in half,” he says.

Critics question the Outlander’s positive environmental impact, given that it can only get about 50 to 70 km (30 to 44 miles) in hilly Kigali on battery power alone.

Paul Frobisher Mugambwa

Paul Mugambwa says his hybrid saves him more than $100 a month in fuel costs

No problem for Paul Frobisher Mugambwa, who works for an international accounting firm in Kigali. His leased Outlander runs primarily on battery power for his short 7km commute between his home and office.

He says gas used to cost him $150 (£128) a month, but charging his Outlander costs $40 a month.

He would prefer to switch to a purely electric car, but fears that there is a lack of mechanics in Rwanda who could maintain and repair such a car.

“If you buy an imported Chinese electric SUV, who will fix your car if it breaks down?” wonders Mr Mugambwa.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to developing an electric car market in Rwanda is cost.

Terraced fields for agriculture cover the hills of northwest Rwanda

In a rural developing country like Rwanda, most people cannot afford a car

Although Rwanda has made economic progress over the past decade, about half the population still meets the UN definition of poverty – living on less than US$2.15 a day.

While this makes owning an electric vehicle impossible, driving an electric motorcycle is within the realm of possibility.

The Ampersand company has already managed to sell more than 700 e-motorcycles in Rwanda, where motor taxis are a very important means of transport.

These so-called e-motos with a battery changing system are very popular, also because they cost less to buy and operate than a conventional motorcycle.

Changing the battery in an Ampersand system

Electric motorcycle taxis have had some success in Rwanda

Despite the challenges, many believe Rwanda should press ahead with its electrification plans.

Michelle DeFreese is a senior officer at the Global Green Growth Institute, which provides training and advice to the Rwandan government on an electric public bus plan.

She believes Rwanda, which already produces 53% of its electricity from renewable sources, is well positioned to make the transition.

“The combination of switching to electric vehicles while investing in renewable and clean energy sources is a powerful combination when it comes to reducing emissions,” she says.

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