The Kiira EV Smack at Sankara Hotel, Nairobi. Photo Credit: Nairobi Wire
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By 2018, Uganda’s planned automotive industry will be making 7,000 hybrid cars a year, says Paul Isaac Musasizi, acting CEO of the state-run Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC).

According to reports, the Kiira SMACK, will have five seats, a top speed of 180 kilometres an hour and will be able to travel 50 kilometres using its lithium-ion battery alone.

The firm says it will also sell station wagons and pick-up trucks made in Uganda, but industry insiders say the project faces “very high risks to its success”.

The government is backing the project with 154 billion shillings (US$43.5 million) and 40 hectares of land for a factory at an industrial park in the southeastern town of Jinja, according to Musasizi. The funds come from the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology, which is part of President Yoweri Museveni’s plan to turn Uganda into an upper middle-income country by 2040.

Although more funding may be needed, KMC finance manager Arthur Tumusiime Asiimwe  says he is confident the firm will eventually get more money and will find many customers in the region.

But industry newsletter Automotives Insight was less enthusiastic in a June analysis brief. “In addition to facing burdensome manufacturing costs owing to Uganda’s poor energy supply and limited availability of skilled labour, the company will also struggle to find enough buyers in Uganda and the East African region,” it said. In addition, “production volumes [will be] unlikely to compete with other producers in Kenya, the region’s largest automaker”.

Alex Mbaziira, a PhD student in the Department of Applied Information Technology at George Mason University, United States, said in an email response that the project to develop electric and hybrid vehicles was interesting. But he added that it was unclear what it was trying to achieve.

“If one of the goals was producing an affordable, brand new car for a Ugandan or African market, then that car is still far from affordable and commercially viable,” he said.

But a low-polluting car would make sense within congested cities as an alternative to taxi minivans and boda-boda motorbike taxis, Mbaziira said.

“The city and municipal councils could acquire these vehicles and have them as rentals or self-drive cars for people that need to move around the cities,” he said. “Furthermore, there should be incentives for buying an electric vehicle, like green tax credits, reserved green parking lots and free or affordable charging stations.”

First published on Sci Dev Net by Esther Nakkazi