Bonface Orucho, bird story agency..
Motorcycle taxis, a dominant transportation force in Africa, have substantial potential for electrification as electric two- and three-wheelers gain traction across the continent.
These insights stem from a recently launched UNEP report focusing on the state of global electric two- and three-wheelers in emerging markets.
At a virtual report launch on Wednesday, January 10, Tom Courtright, the Research Director at Africa e-Mobility Alliance, who is also the lead researcher for the African region in the report, delved into the underlying electrification potential of two-wheelers in Africa.
“We expect commercial two-wheelers, the motorcycle taxi segment, to be particularly dominant,” he explained during the launch.
Reflecting a global trend, the past three decades have witnessed a surge in the number of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) motorcycles across Africa, reaching an estimated 27 million two and three-wheelers. However, 99% of these vehicles still rely on traditional ICE technology.
While two-wheelers are relatively scarce in some markets, such as Botswana, their adaptation to commercial taxi services, especially in high-density urban areas, has fueled their ascent in most regions.
Data from the UNEP reveals that in the East African Community, for instnce, encompassing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, up to 5 million motorcycle taxis are operational.
The confluence of factors, including an increasing abundance of two-wheelers, lower electrification costs, and relatively high efficiency, positions electric two-wheelers as a high-potential segment for electrification.
Notably, the cost constraints associated with remodelling four-wheelers underscore the pivotal role that two and three-wheelers can play in kick-starting a massive transformation towards cleaner alternatives in public transit.
According to the International Energy Agency, conversion costs for a four-wheeler in Africa could cost between US$25,000 and US$45,000 per vehicle depending on the car model. Conversion for motorcycles can cost less than US $1000 according to Roam, a Nairobi-based e-motorcycle manufacturer.
However, despite the immense underlying potential for two and three-wheelers, Courtright explained that “tax incentives are critical here” to realize this potential.
Beyond two-wheelers, certain markets exhibit significant potential for mass deployment of electric three-wheelers.
“There is a large space to play for some of the three-wheelers in certain places like Somalia and northern Nigeria,” he explained.
Despite these prospects, the researchers identify key challenges hindering the sector’s full-scale expansion, such as grid infrastructure limitations in rural areas, high capital costs, and delays in the deployment of favorable models by Asian manufacturing giants.
Financing and investment issues in Africa, with high costs and rates, present additional hurdles for widespread adoption.
“There’s also a lot of issues with financing and investment rates in Africa. Investment financing is often costly. For a company it’s at least 10–12% a year… For a user, the financing for a lot of these vehicles can be 30–50% a year which is quite high,” he added.
Looking ahead, researchers project that, beyond the opportunities in commercial two-wheelers, battery swapping could emerge as a noteworthy trend on the continent.
Notably, the industry is already experiencing rapid growth, with startups like Spiro and Ampersand making strides in the electric two- and three-wheeler market.
In fact, despite less than 1% of two- and three-wheelers currently being electric in Africa, more than 60 startups are actively working to propel the industry forward.
Other ongoing developments that will shape future trends include the adaptation of Asian products for the African market, with lead-acid battery-powered two- and three-wheelers designed for personal use and making early debuts in various countries.
Additionally, the presence of significant natural gas reserves in some African countries, such as Tanzania, is prompting a reconsideration of conventional two- and three-wheeler models.
Researchers highlight concerted efforts to encourage the use of compressed natural gas (CNG), liquified petroleum gas (LPG), or a combination of both in three-wheelers across these markets.
“Africa still has a lot of economic growth ahead of it. We expect the growth of two- and three-wheelers to continue into the foreseeable future,” he concluded.
bird story agency