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How electric trucks can drive Africa's green transition

The only electric vehicles found on African roads until very recently were passenger cars, motorbikes and public buses. Now they are joined by a few 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 trucks, 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 bought electric delivery trucks 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 trucks for its delivery services.

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