Zimbabwe’s electronic vehicle market slowly shifts into gear, but it’s a long road ahead

Zimbabwe's first EV centre, in Harare (picture by Inviktvs Design Group: @inviktvsDG)

By Mukai-Sarah Williams

Is Zimbabwe turning the ignition on the electric vehicle (EV) market? A large international player has entered the Zimbabwe market and local players are shifting into higher gear to drive demand.

BYD, the EV battery manufacturer based in Shenzhen, China, and one of the world leaders in the EV market, has recently introduced its BYD T3 commercial vehicle to the Zimbabwean market, and built a new outlet.

BYD entered Zim market with BYD T3 van, plans bus range

The van, which runs 100% on electricity, was launched into the Zimbabwe market in January. It can do up to 310 km in an urban setting and 269km on a 90minute charge, the company says. The BYD T3 is also capable of carrying a payload of 720 kg.

A new showroom and test centre has been built on Joshua Nkomo Road (Airport Road).

In Zimbabwe, BYD is run by Tsapo, the company that also holds the franchises of the FAW and Golden Dragon buses.

“In the future, we will sell electric buses and several other BYD models available for right-hand drive,” says BYD.

Nissan Zimbabwe has launched its Nissan Leaf electronic car in Zimbabwe. Recently, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA), which regulates the energy sector in the country, adopted the 62 kWh Nissan Leaf e+.

“A series of EV awareness raising and sensitisation programmes is lined up across the country,” a ZERA spokesperson said.

But the challenges are many on the road ahead. Scepticism is still high. Zimbabwe is short of electricity, and charging may be a concern for anyone willing to buy a full EV or hybrid. This has been a problem across Africa, which has depressed demand for EVs.

Energy firm, Distributed Power Africa, a unit of Econet Wireless, has already seen a gap in this market. DPA has moved in by deploying charging stations

The EV stations are made up of 7kW and 22kW AC chargers and 60kW DC chargers. The target, the company says, is to deploy these along major highways. Three stations are already live at Econet’s headquarters at Msasa, while 17 more are being installed across Zimbabwe.

(pic: DPA)

Vaya Africa, the taxi hailing service, already uses the 24kw Nissan Leaf, which can reach a charge of 80% in 30 minutes.

“Our charging stations will ease a major concern for consumers looking to move to EVs, by removing the fear of running out of battery on their journey.” said Divyajeet Mahajan, CEO of DPA Zimbabwe.

To drive uptake, DPA is offering packages that allow companies installing solar power at their premises to also install EV charging stations, Mahajan says.

Some car dealers are making the brave plunge to import hybrids, even into a market that still remains unsure about the cars. One such dealer is Tanaka Kutama, the co-founder of ZimTorque, car dealership based in Harare.

(pic: ZimTorque)

Selling EVs means convincing the market to get over real fears about charging, driving range, servicing and cost. Even the ‘lowest cost’ EVs – such as the Nissan Leaf at US$11,000 – are beyond the reach of many, who struggle to import the smallest cars, such as the Toyota Vitz or the hugely popular Honda Fit.

But Kutama says he has done the math; it’s cheaper, he argues, to buy and run the Nissan Leaf, than to own the Honda Fit. Head-to-head, the Nissan Leaf owner saves US$3,720 in fuel and maintenance per year when doing 140km every day. 

Kutama’s company is linking up with insurers and banks to make purchases more affordable. ZimTorque sold 30 vehicles in 2020.

Looking to expand, Kutama has sold part of is his company in exchange for shares in Agilitee, a South African assembler of electric motorcycles. Agilitee, which has recently listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, plans to set up its first dealership in Zimbabwe this year.

“We are going to start with the manufacture of motor bikes first before moving to the cars,” says Agilitee CEO Mandla Lamba.