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Chinese Technology Paves the Way for Affordable Electric Vehicles in Kenya

Some of the HK-EV cars at the assembly line showroom in Limuru, Kenya. HK Motors, a Chinese-owned company, is selling the units at $5,000 each.

Chinese technology is making it possible for Kenyans to buy new electric vehicles (EVs) from one assembler at a price comparable to a high-end Mac computer.

At $5,000, the HK-EV, by Hong Kong (HK) Motors in Nairobi, comes at a time when many vehicle manufacturers around the world are working on producing vehicles with reduced carbon emissions.

HK Motors Director and CEO Feng Hui said that they started assembling the HK-EV to align with the e-mobility shift. The HK-EV is the first model designed for the African market but the car is already available in China with slightly different specifications.

Feng, who has been in Kenya since 1997, said the company began operations as an importer of construction materials but later diversified into other services like heavy machinery importation and then assembling.

The HK-EV, according to Feng, addresses many of the pain points Kenyan car buyers have. The car is affordable and after purchase, it has very low running costs.

“It’s an economical model because it uses very little electricity since it has a solar panel fitted to the roof. And with enough sunlight, you don’t need to charge it from the grid very often. Solar can give you over 30 kilometers of free mileage every day,” Feng said.

One of the downsides is that the HK-EV has a maximum speed of 50KPH which cannot be increased for the current model. Modifications to the car are not possible and if a customer needs to go faster, then they would have to purchase another model. 

The only upgrade to the HK-EV will be a solar panel that can be glued to the roof of the car instead of the current one which is bulky and causes some drag while driving.

Feng said that the HK-EV was taken from a model in China and then adapted for the Kenyan market because the East African country lacks any other EV alternatives.

At the vehicle assembly line in Limuru, an agricultural town about 30 kilometers west of Nairobi, Isaiah Omuchuma oversees the operations. The mechanical engineer said all parts for the EV come in separate batches from China and are then put together in the welding and fabrication departments.

The HK-EV takes two days to assemble starting with molding, in which the frame is set, and then other steps like welding follow. Some of the engineers at the workshop are trained in China and work alongside their two Chinese counterparts who are part of the company’s 50 employees.

After the paint job, the car is taken for a driving inspection before it is put in the showroom.

Kenya’s in the Slow Lane for EVs

Unlike in many developed countries, Kenya’s transition to EVs is moving slowly due to a lack of charging infrastructure, high vehicle prices, and no government subsidies.

Although demand for EVs remains low for now, Chinese technology is nonetheless playing a key role in Kenya’s slow transition to electric-powered mobility, with local assembly of EVs, particularly mass transit buses, leading the way.

However, Kenya’s taxation system and lack of subsidies for EV assembly are hindering the transition. Vehicle costs are passed on to consumers due to the lack of incentives, potentially leaving Kenya behind in the global EV shift.

The Finance Act of 2019 reduced the excise duty on EVs to 10%, compared to 20%-35% for fossil fuel-powered vehicles. This, though, is not enough to make EVs affordable for a majority of Kenyans.

Additionally, the Integrated National Transport Policy (2009) is being revised to include provisions for EVs and the necessary infrastructure to support e-mobility, which has the potential to address pressing environmental challenges in the transport sector.

By 2030, the transport sector in Kenya is expected to account for about 17% of the country’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, up from 13% in 2015.

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