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Electric lorries are late to arrive in Africa but catching up fast

Turning the continent’s freight green is one of the biggest missing pieces in the electrification of transport. Or at least it was.

Hello – Moving to a post-fossil fuel future is about much more than just promoting battery-powered vehicles. It means building an economic system where all transport systematically shifts away from internal combustion engines. That would be incomplete without tackling Africa’s ubiquitous commercial vehicles. The continent’s EV landscape is bigger than many thought. 

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The only electric vehicles found on African roads until very recently were passenger cars, motorbikes and public buses. Now they are joined by a growing number of lorries (or trucks, depending on your version of English). 

The numbers: Early estimates say there are a few hundred (see chart) out of about a quarter of a million commercial vehicles sold in Africa annually. 

Why it matters: Electrifying transportation is key to a sustainable future. 

  • Transport is responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions in Africa. 

  • Lorries transport up to 90% of freight, especially in urban areas. 

  • Urbanisation further boosts demand for consumer goods (and hence transport). 

The good news: Most lorries follow predetermined routes and operate on fixed schedules. 

  • That makes it easier to build charging infrastructure than for private cars, which travel less predictably. 

The best opportunities: Electric lorries, says McKinsey, have potential even with today’s limited batteries. Specifically in: 

  • Last-mile delivery by light commercial vehicles that don’t require en-route charging.

  • Dry goods distribution, carried out by medium lorries from warehouses to retailers. 

  • Heavy trucks travelling up to 400 km from ports or production sites to distribution centres and warehouses. En-route charging is necessary, typically at fixed stops.

Global shift: Electrification is gathering pace in commercial transportation outside Africa. 

  • In 2022, about 60,000 electric lorries were sold worldwide, or 1.2% of total sales.

  • The picture is skewed by China accounting for 86% of sales.

The foreriders: A few African companies across various sectors are following suit. 

  • Shoprite, a South African retailer got electric delivery lorries in 2022.

  • Arma, a Moroccan waste collector, introduced electric trucks in 2023.

  • Larfarge Africa, a construction supplier, uses electric lorries to transport cement.

Stepping further: A few innovators and startups are growing the market by designing and eventually manufacturing vehicles for the continent.

  • OX Delivers, an electric mobility company, is building lorries for first-mile transport of agricultural produce in Rwanda.

  • BasiGo, a Kenya-based startup focused on electric buses, wants to target courier deliveries.

Useful overlap: Electric lorries and buses can typically use the same charge connector depending on the manufacturer – even if their charging needs differ due to battery capacity, load and travel distance. 

  • Medium and heavy trucks require DC fast charging given big batteries and payloads. 

  • AC charging is slower and typically used for overnight home charging.

The challenges: Plenty of reasons exist why lorries lag behind other electric vehicles in Africa so far. Start with technical challenges:

  • Not only is charging infrastructure limited but the grids of most African countries cannot handle the additional load. 

  • Transmission lines are often incapable of supporting the high-voltage charging required for heavy trucks.

The government: An almost total lack of policies and regulations is also a hindrance, along with cosy relations between officials and old-style truckers.

  • Most African countries support importation of cheap second-hand diesel lorries that skew cost equations.

Better financing: EVs typically cost 2-3 times more than diesel competitors. Since the African market is nascent it currently offers few financing options. But…

  • Pay-as-you-drive models used for buses & motorcycles may eventually be adopted.

  • Takealot, South Africa’s leading online retailer, partnered with Aeversa, an EV dealer, and Avis, the leasing firm, to transition to electric lorries for its delivery services.

2. Cheat sheet: Two facts explain why electric lorries will become a lot cheaper

Fact 1: Batteries account for 40-60% of a commercial vehicle’s capital cost… if it’s electric. The level of battery input cost is much higher than with other vehicles. 

Fact 2: Battery prices keep on falling. They are 82% cheaper now than 10 years ago. Average prices for lithium-ion batteries are expected to drop from $139 per kilowatt-hour last year to $80/kWh by 2030.

Now let's consider the Scania EV lorry purchased by South African retailer Shoprite. In 2013, the 300 kWh battery of the vehicles would have cost $234,000. By 2023, the price dropped to $41,700. And by 2030, it is projected to cost only $24,000. 

… is the amount of climate finance that Africa will be short of by 2030, says the UN. And according to an opinion paper published on the IMF website, most of the funding needs to be private. Western taxpayers won’t dig that deep into their pockets. 

4. Network corner

Gaia Impact sold its stake in Cameroon-based solar home systems company upOwa to global energy company Électricité de France (EDF)

An Africa-wide project by BURN to sell electric cookstoves has officially been listed by Gold Standard, a carbon project certifier.

Omondi Isaiah is the Nairobi-based Head of Operations at BILITI Electric, an electric mobility company with a long-standing interest in tuk tuks

Q: Why do you think freight EVs are overlooked? A: Buses are easier to market as environmentally friendly due to their visibility in public transport. Trucks receive less attention and enjoy less hype despite their significant contribution to emissions. Key stakeholders in this space are less conscious of the environmental impact. 

Q: What will the EV lorry space look like in five or ten years? A: I see growth, especially in last-mile logistics. A lot of potential. Investors may take note. 

Q: You’d say that, given who you work for, wouldn’t you? A: Biliti is headquartered in California but originated in India. Initially it was focused on manufacturing three-wheelers. With a shift to EVs, particularly in the cargo sector, the company rebranded itself. 

Q: What’s been challenging? A: The influx of substandard EV imports from China poses a significant threat to the reputation and credibility of EVs in the market. We need stringent regulation to maintain quality standards and consumer trust.

Q: What role does data play at Biliti? A: We are very proactive in gathering data, even analysing social trends. Car and General [a competitor] recently advertised what they called the first Electric 3-Wheeler in Kenya. But we’ve been here for almost three years!

6. Media monitoring

  • Deal: Kenya and Saudi Arabia strike a voluntary carbon agreement.

  • Green hydrogen: Egypt signs seven deals worth a potential $40 billion.

  • Forest: Ethiopia and Norway sign a $75 million deal to reduce emissions from deforestation.

  • Carbon: Nigeria takes over disputed land with plans to generate voluntary carbon credits.

  • New money: The Southern African Power Pool launched a $1.3 billion fund for creating more high-voltage transmission lines.

Don’t have time to read 100+ media sources every day? We’ve done the reading for you. Check out our full media monitoring here 

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Thanks to the Green Rising team for putting this together.

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