Despite electricity shortages and high taxes, a Chinese-Italian venture has decided to produce small electric cars in Addis Abba. Another problem Freestyle PLC will have to handle creating a way for people in this poor African county to buy them.
According to Voice of America News, the Solaris Elettra electric car is the brain child of Italian electrical engineer, Carlo Pironti. With the $600,000 backing of investors, most of whom are Chinese, he is building a factory to mass produce the cars that are currently being built six cars at a time. No that is not a typo, currently only six cars are being built per week. That number is expected to eventually become 30 per week once the factory is finished.
The company is using Korean made bodies for the cars and purchasing parts from 57 different suppliers from China, Korea and Singapore. Top speed is expected to be 80 kilometers an hour (50 miles per hour). Pironti’s company Freestyle PLC wants to create small community factories throughout the country that will produce the cars while providing local employment.
The BBC reports that Freestyle PLC will be producing two versions of the car. Depending on which version you purchase, the cost will be $12,000 or $15,000. That price leads to one of the biggest problems with these cars. Ethiopia is a poor country and many Ethiopians will not be able to afford the car. Pironti has said that his company will create a “credit system” for “less affluent” Ethiopians. Taxes on vehicles can be more than 100 percent which makes cars even more expensive, but Pironti is hoping that the government will provide a tax break for electric vehicles.
Other issues that will affect the purchase of these vehicles are the “erratic power supplies” of Africa and the short driving distance of electric cars of only 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 miles). The power issues may be reduced when the hydro-electric dam on the Omo river is finished. Until then Pironti says that electric car owners can use generators or solar power to charge their cars. Of course the charging units for the cars run about $40,000 for one unit that charges five cars or $8,000 per car meaning you better find four other friends buying the Solaris Elettra to help you purchase one.
Most of the cars that are currently driven in Ethiopia use leaded gasoline which is highly polluting. Whether the reduction in vehicle pollution will drive the government to encourage the purchase of the Solaris Elettra is yet to be see. Gas is $5 per gallon which makes switching to an electric vehicle that uses $.10 of electricity to go the same distance attractive. The savings between the cost of gasoline and electricity needed to run this car may be enough to persuade Ethiopians to switch.