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The highway to electric vehicles

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An electric vehicle revolution is underway as a more eco-conscious world slowly but steadily moves away from petroleum and diesel-fuelled vehicles to rechargeable ones. Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a zero vehicle emission alternative to the combustion engine, thanks to recent global investments and advances in battery technology.

Auto industry experts anticipate that the next generation of EVs is likely going to deliver new and thrilling experiences. For this reason, a growing number of Chinese brands have set their sights on the African automobile chessboard. From Great Wall Motors to Chery and Fonton, there is a long list of Chinese and other car manufacturers that have launched car and truck assembly lines on the continent with the aim of making breakthroughs in science and technology, as well as producing energy-saving, environmentally friendly and intelligently interconnected automobile products.

With over 20 million passenger vehicles manufactured in 2019, and a 3.2-percent year-on-year growth, China remains the world’s largest car manufacturer. Over the years Chinese auto makers have been picking up speed, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

Game changer

Global oil prices have dropped dramatically in recent months. The long-term reasons for the freefall are increased US shale oil production and greater use of renewable fuels around the world. More recently, the coronavirus pandemic has also contributed to prices dropping even lower. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has been trying to cut production to prop up prices, but the effort is increasingly problematic.

For many, this is an exciting opportunity to move to electric vehicles and to enjoy a vastly different driving and ownership experience. With electricity supplies increasingly being delivered from renewable sources, electric cars offer environmental benefits over traditional fuel-burning engines too. This is increasingly being recognised by governments around the world with the availability of a wide range of incentives to reduce purchase costs and car taxation issues.

As the yearning for EVs increases, experts say it is high time Zambia sets up an EV battery manufacturing plant, a move that has massive potential to create jobs and other support sectors. This is relevant to Zambia because electric vehicle batteries require cobalt, which is a bi-product of copper, something which Zambia possesses in abundance.

Recently, a lawmaker and former energy minister, Kapembwa Simbao, moved a motion in parliament that urged government to phase out gasoline driven vehicles and replace them with electric ones by 2030.

“This motion is driven by the fact that there has been a paradigm shift in the transport sector that will seriously affect the way we do business in the future. Before our own eyes, we are witnessing a shift from fossil, diesel and petrol driven vehicles to electric driven vehicles,” Simbao stated.

It is no secret that in about 30 years’ time fossil fuels will run out, with oil reserves dwindling due to the rising global population that has continued to induce a growing demand for energy. The growing demand has repercussions for our future. It is estimated that oil will run out by 2052, while gas is expected to be depleted by 2060 and coal is predicted to last till 2090, according to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB), a global civil society organization that addresses the interconnections among the greatest threats to human well-being.

Environmentalists also argue that as people become more environmentally conscious, it is high time Zambia walks the talk by investing in battery technology for EVs on the continent. Lusaka based economist Mambo Haamaundu believes that there are a lot of areas where the country can do very well but hasn’t applied itself properly.

“We wish we can exploit this opportunity and see how we can utilise copper and its bi-product [cobalt] in enhancing our future economic prospects. Even the wiring of vehicles needs copper and this is the way to go as technology for electric cars is ripe,” Haamaundu told Nkwazi.

The economic and environmental benefits of EVs plus the fact that fossil fuels will inevitably run out, there is a strong case for many people in the country to transition to EVs.

However, this begs the question, does Zambia have the ability to invest in an industry where it can utilise its raw materials to manufacture or assemble products needed in this yawning market?

EVs can fuel job creation

The success of Toyota Motor Corporation in Africa and Zambia in particular has shown how firms with the right product and strategic pricing can influence socio-economic growth in any society they operate in. This has in turn created more jobs and businesses such as car dealerships, car hire companies and intercity transport services have sprung up.

In most Zambian towns, busy streets are awash with Toyota vehicles, a sign that shows how the giant Japanese vehicle manufacturer has over the years been transforming lives of local entrepreneurs and other residents.

“As we approach 2050, our aim is to develop sustainably together with society. In order to do this, we intend to reduce the environmental burden attributed to automobiles to as close to zero as possible, while also contributing positively to the earth and its societies,” Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda recently said.

Japhet Banda, 42, is a car broker working along Lusaka’s Independence Avenue who shared his views with me. “The technology of electric vehicles is welcome and once implemented, our sector will really benefit in terms of job creation through support service industries of batteries and reduction of import duty on vehicles,” Banda stated.

Undeniably, sometimes what people need is a little head-start, not a handout and the electric vehicle industry can be a game changer in terms of Zambia’s socio-economic emancipation.

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