Africa’s first hybrid electric vehicle was driven through Uganda’s business district, showcasing this advance in automation and the promising future of locally made energy-effective vehicles on local roads.
Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) is “an automotive manufacturing company incorporated by the government of Uganda and Makerere University to champion value addition in the domestic automotive industry for job creation and diversification of the economy”, according to the company’s website. KMC aims to provide sustainable green mobility solutions for the future, while its three strategic pillars are value for the customer, opportunity for the community and profit for the shareholders.
The company has three concept vehicles: the Kiira EV POC – Africa’s first electric vehicle; the Kiira EV Smack – Africa’s first hybrid electric vehicle; and Kayoola Solar Bus – Africa’s first solar-powered electric bus. KMC is also the proud recipient of the 2016 Frost and Sullivan Visionary Innovation Leadership award in Sustainable Mobility.
Last week their Kiira EV Smack was taken on a test drive through Kampala’s business district by veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda and singer Bebe Cool. The website says the Smack is “the first electric hybrid designed and built in Africa”. The five-seater front-wheel-drive sedan has “a traction motor powered by a rechargeable battery bank and an internal combustion engine-based generator… This configuration of two power sources ensures an unlimited range and increases the efficiency of the powertrain, hence enhancing fuel economy.”
KMC was envisioned by Uganda’s Makerere University in 2007, when a group of Makerere University students and staff participated in the Vehicle Design Summit in the United States, hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The idea crystalised into reality in 2009, when the university received money from the Presidential Initiative for Science and Technology Innovation Programme. It is now supported by this initiative to spearhead development and innovation in the car industry, job creation and the diversification of the country’s economy.
The government, acting through the Uganda Investment Authority, even allocated 100 acres of land at the Jinja Industrial and Business Park for the establishment of the Kiira Vehicle Plant and furnished them with billions to have Ugandan-made cars on road by 2022.
Paul Isaac Musasizi, the CEO of KMC, said the minimum requirements to begin initial production will finally be in place by December 2019.
The conundrum of accessibility
The majority of Africans – and Ugandans are no exception – cannot afford new cars. The question therefore arises of who will provide the market for these concept vehicles once production commences. Test driver and journalist Andrew Mwenda told NBS TV that government is a big buyer of cars and it now had the opportunity to stipulate that all the cars bought for and by government must be Ugandan-made. Government could also subsidise these vehicles to make them affordable for Ugandans.
Mwenda used the case of Toyota in Japan as a case study of the impact government can have on the longevity and viability of a company such as KMC. The Japanese government offered subsidies to Toyota for a period of 20 years and financially intervened whenever necessary, thus being the main force behind the success of the company today.
On a positive note, it is estimated that the project will provide 2 000 direct jobs and about 12 000 indirect jobs to Ugandans.