Zimbabwean professional and businessman Devine Mafa has partnered an Indian and Italian car manufacturer to set up a hybrid car assembly plant in Kwekwe. Hybrid cars use both conventional fuel (petrol/diesel) and electric power. They are known to be environmentally friendly and cost efficient as they reduce fuel costs. Fully electric vehicles do not emit any toxic gases. Interesting developments are happening around hybrid and electric cars all over the world and we look at these in relation to Zimbabwe in greater detail below.

Hende Moto

According to Zoom Zimbabwe, Devine Mafa who is based in the United States of America says his plant will produce affordable brand new vehicles. He bemoaned the old and highly priced second hand vehicles being imported from Japan and Singapore which are draining the country of scarce foreign currency. Mafa says initially, they will import 75% pre-assembled vehicles and finish off the cars here. The first delivery of these is expected in April or May 2019. The brand will be named Hende Moto. His plant will benefit immensely from lithium mining activities currently happening in the country.

Electric buses in Uganda

It is important to note that in Uganda, Kiira Motors Corporation is already assembling and will roll out the first three electric buses in March 2019. More importantly, the buses are a result of a partnership between the government of Uganda and Makerere University. Such an approach could work wonders in Zimbabwe where recent fuel price hikes triggered violent protests leading to the re-introduction of ZUPCO services. ZUPCO is a struggling mass transport parastatal. Clearly, the ZUPCO services are inadequate and many commuters are left stranded daily and have to use more expensive means of transport. Electric buses may just be the answer. Government can partner with companies like Devine Mafa’s Hende Moto to come up with cheaper electric buses assembled locally. An increase in the ZUPCO fleet will be a massive first step towards an efficient mass transportation system in Zimbabwe. Private players can also take advantage of this trend.

Electric cars and the world

By the year 2040, most European countries want all the cars on their roads to be fully electric so as to reduce carbon emission. According to experts, 54% of new global car sales and 33% of the world’s car fleet will be electric by 2040. These numbers point to the direction which we must all be looking. Italy has set 2024 to be the year by which all their cars will be electric. Norway’s deadline is a year later in 2025. The Chinese government has already spent more than US$3 billion on promoting electric vehicles. While they have not specified a deadline by which all cars on the roads must be electric, they have put in place milestones which car manufacturers should reach along the way. The trend around the world is to move towards a completely electrified fleet and it is a good thing that Zimbabwe appears to be following suit although a lot more can be done.

Africa and electric vehicles

In Sub-Saharan Africa, electric cars will eliminate dependency on imported and sometimes expensive fuel. They will also do away with the need for fuel subsidies which are proving unsustainable for many governments, Zimbabwe included. However, electric vehicles will come with their fair share of challenges which countries should consider. Firstly, there is need for significant investment in enabling infrastructure like charging stations. Secondly, a large electric vehicle fleet would need reliable power supply and reasonably low electricity tariffs. Sadly, Sub-Saharan Africa lacks both. Load shedding is a permanent feature in many African countries today. Also, electricity prices can go up to more than double those in China and USA. Ways around these problems need to be sought. Last but not least, environmental issues surrounding battery manufacturing and disposal need to be dealt with beforehand. In Africa, waste management is relatively poor compared to our European counterparts. Despite all this, we cannot run away from the fact that electric cars will solve many of our problems. The huge initial investments in infrastructure and changing consumer attitudes are nothing compared to the benefits that will be reaped.

Lithium mining in Zimbabwe

Now that the coming in of electric cars is inevitable, lithium has just become a hot commodity around the world. Lithium is a key metal in making electric vehicle batteries. Luckily, Zimbabwe is the world’s 5th largest lithium producer. This puts us in a very unique and lucrative position. We could be a powerhouse in electric car and battery manufacturing in a few years time. According to a November 2018 State of the Mining Industry Report by a mineral consulting firm Terra Studio, Zimbabwe has maintained production of 5 000 tonnes a year for the past three years. This is set to increase with Bikita Minerals expansion plans. The Prospect Resources owned Arcadia Lithium Project near Harare is also taking shape. In addition, Premier African Minerals is in the process of defining their lithium resource near Bulawayo. As a country, Zimbabwe needs to expedite these projects so as to scale up lithium production. In fact, government should support them as much as possible.

That Zimbabwe has vast mineral resources is well documented. However, lithium is definitely the new, white gold. Electric vehicle developments in the country and abroad are enough evidence that we are sitting on much more than a goldfield. We need to position ourselves strategically to maximize our returns as the world moves towards full vehicle electrification. This could be Zimbabwe’s time to shine.