After the Kiira EV: Where is next “innovation” in automotive industry in East Africa?

kiira_ev_uganda

In November 2011, the Ugandan president launched the first electric vehicle to be manufactured in East Africa, it was a great initiative, but has all this African trend of innovation gone down the drain? Or is it just another car that will seat in the Museum and never see the day of light in commercial production. Okay, before I head down that route, let’s get those who have no idea what the Kiira EV is up to speed.

“It’s a green electric vehicle, the first of its kind this side of the Sahara”

 

The name Kiira is the local dialect for the river Nile, the longest running river in the world passing through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. Hydro electric power is the major source of electric energy in Uganda, and its generated at Owen falls dam on the river Nile, the name Kiira was found befitting for this vehicle.  It’s a green electric vehicle, the first of its kind this side of the Sahara, weighs about 1 metric tonne (1,000kgs in the metric system) and costs about $3,600. The two seater car is powered by a lithium ion battery and can cruise to speeds up to 100km/h. The makers of the car claimed that a full charge would cost about $2.5 using national power grid.

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The Kiira EV

The specs don’t sound bad for a first time project of this magnitude in Uganda. The project was spearheaded by M.I.T but the entire final product was engineered at the Faculty of Technology at Makerere University in collaboration with several stakeholders. I think at some point M.I.T wanted to take ownership of the outcome of the product but seems the stubborn Professor Paul Musaazi refused to circum to
their demands.

You can see the burry video interview below.

[youtube url=”http://youtu.be/XumiTRgSsR8″]

The next big thing in tech

With all that said, we have to ask ourselves where the next big thing in automotive industry. Does Uganda have the potential to quench the commercial need for low cost and low fuel consumption vehicles? The professor claims they will now embark on making a thirty seater vehicle but that’s no longer innovation since they have already attested that it’s possible to make a two seater.

The major car manufactures are all working on hybrid, self driving and fully electric vehicles, so it way beyond any kind of innovation here in Uganda. Will it be the Cadimella (Uganda’s first Space observer)? Cadimella can be tracked by satellite in case it lands in another country. The makers claim that it comes with self defense, anti time missiles that protect it from being hit by missiles. Cadimella also has cameras that will take pictures of Uganda from space and other features on the planet, a thermometer and global positioning system trackers. Cadimella will also pick dust molecules for laboratory research. Okay all this sounds mind blowing but we have to ask ourselves if this is innovation enough to put Africa back on the tech map.

More electric automobiles less fuel: petroleum business at risk

I really don’t need to spell it out, if there is more innovation in the EV space –with cars manufactured and commercialized on African soil — we shall have less reliance on petroleum products. Assuming the market for electric auto-motives booms, this will mean less fuel consumption and this would put the petroleum business at a bigger risk. This is a problem to worry about in the near future. However, just as petrol cars, electric vehicles would also need charging stations, but I would settle for a hybrid car as per now; and this is why. The average charging time for an EV is about 8 hours, a time you cannot sit and wait at a charging point unlike fueling station which takes less than 3 minutes.

 I think just like in cellphones I will raise the same contention here. The next innovation has to do with improving battery life to last longer and reducing the charging time. Candidly speaking Africa is not a continent known for a lot of technological advancements and it’s high time the trend is changed.   We don’t need to invent something entirely new; we could focus of existing problems on an existing product and focus on different solutions to tackling the problem.

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