25 oct 22

Go cheap or go home: how Chinese EVs could conquer Africa

China, Europe and North America have taken the lead in e-mobility. But Africa has a chance to catch up – if the right kind of EVs catches on in African markets: small, low-speed ones, like those already popular in China.

Western OEMs are targeting the North American and European EV markets with an emphasis on high-end models. However, EVs that pricey will never make a major dent in Africa, where cheap two- and three-wheeled vehicles for now are the preferred vector for e-mobility.  

A million units

But that doesn’t mean electrification doesn’t have a four-wheeled future in Africa, writes CleanTechnica. The magazine points to Chinese OEMs, who unlike Western OEMs seem to have mastered the art of manufacturing electric vehicles with genuine mass appeal. 

The secret: build ‘em small, and build ‘em cheap. Take for instance the Wuling Hongguang’s Mini EV (pictured), which has sold almost a million units in China since its launch two years ago. Selling from just $4,200 (€4,250), this Mini EV has brought e-mobility within the reach of less well-to-do Chinese. 

Low-Speed EVs

In so doing, it has single-handedly opened up a new market for EVs. Following the success of the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, other Chinese OEMs launched similar basic, small and cheap EVs, including the Letin Mango by Levdeo and the V7 by Derry Auto.

Did we say small and cheap? How about small, cheap and slow? Before the advent of the lithium-ferro phosphate (LFP) batteries, now standard in China, Chinese manufacturers of OEMs had rolled out a whole range of Low Speed Electric Vehicles (LSEVs) powered by lead-acid batteries. 

Major obstacle

Because of their affordability (at less than $3000), and fitness for purpose – with their closed cabin, they offer an upgrade from most two- and three-wheeled competitors – these LSEVs are still very popular, with about 5 million on the roads in China, mainly in rural villages and towns.

‘Standard’ EVs may have lower TCOs in the long run, but the higher initial purchase price is a major obstacle for many African budgets. The answer comes from China, in the shape of cheaper, albeit smaller and sometimes slower alternatives. That is why smaller Chinese EVs – whether low-speed or not – are starting to make inroads in Africa.

Their targets? “Driving schools, high school and college students, recent graduates, early career professionals, the logistics industry and the last-mile delivery sector,” writes CleanTechnica. In other words: key demographics for tomorrow’s car market. When it comes to conquering Africa, Western OEMs have an important lesson to learn from their Chinese competitors: go cheap, or go home. 

Image: GZrex, CC BY-SA 4.0

Authored by: Frank Jacobs