Whisper it quietly, but Africa is starting to mass-manufacture electric vehicles

Climate Energy

Whisper it quietly, but Africa is starting to mass-manufacture electric vehicles

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21 countries have EV plants or are about to get them. Is the continent wisely attuned to a strategic opportunity — or getting ahead of itself?

Editors note: There is perhaps no better digest of climate business news from Africa than Oliver August’s weekly newsletter, Green Rising. It is a breezy, informative read that captures the energy and excitement of climate business developments across the continent. August’s report:

We have all watched Asia industrialize over the past generation, thanks partly to localized vehicle manufacture. Africa missed out. But electric mobility could be the continent’s chance to catch up. 

Africa has barely more than 20,000 electric vehicles and less than a thousand charging stations. But that is changing fast. EV manufacturers are setting up locally with production plants already in or coming to 21 countries on the continent. 

Why it matters

Africa’s green economy must offer prosperity to local people as much as climate relief for the planet. Founding a competitive, large-scale African EV manufacturer would be a critical step to bringing the EV revolution to Africa. Homegrown EV manufacturers can reduce imports, create jobs, and build the local capital base. The jobs they develop are relatively high-paying, offer entry into the formal economy, and increase entrepreneurial opportunities for women. Affordable and available transportation also positively impacts the broader economy by increasing accessibility. 


South Africa has long been a fuel car manufacturing site on the continent, producing more than 500,000 a year, employing 100,000 people, and contributing 5% to GDP. However, it is now pivoting away from internal combustion engines and toward a greener variety. Ford has invested $281 million in a hybrid vehicle facility to make 44,000 cars this year, and Stellantis is investing $158 million in an electric Jeep plant starting this month. 

Africa’s green economy must offer prosperity to local people as much as climate relief for the planet.

Nigeria has been mostly absent from the global vehicle industry despite its more than 200 million population. That is changing. Innoson, a local champion, plans to set up an EV manufacturing plant in Nigeria. The Nigerian government is also requesting that Korean automakers set up EV production in the country. 

Supply chain: Beyond manufacturing vehicles, operators aim to make parts onshore in Africa. “It just doesn’t make sense to import batteries and major components,” says an Innoson spokesman. Botswana is investing $26 million to produce EV batteries.

First step

Critics suggest Africa is not engaged in “real” manufacturing but mostly “assembly.” However, critics misunderstand how modern manufacturing works. Nobody builds from scratch. All production is a form of (more or less) assembly. Assembly means low-skill labor fitting together a few parts of a standard kit. The immediate value-add is small. But this is a stepping stone to full manufacturing. The difference between the steps is often fluid. It’s a progression on a value curve. One leads to the next. Once demand is proven, assembly can be upgraded.

Explosive growth

Which is exactly what is happening. Assembly has popped up all over the continent in the past year. Roam created an East African assembly plant for 50,000 e-motorbikes annually. Spiro plans to assemble 1,000 e-bikes daily in Togo and Benin later this year. Siltech and Orbit are two West African competitors, sourcing up to 80% of parts locally. 

And it’s not only motorbikes but also buses, cars, lorries and bicycles. BasiGo unveiled an e-bus assembled in Kenya, the first of thousands by 2027. Kiira Motors is set up to assemble 20 buses per day in Uganda. Ethiopia inaugurated its biggest electric car and lorry plant this month.

As the number and size of assembly projects grow, consumer prices are tumbling. Egyptian investors have partnered with FAW, the Shanghai auto giant, to assemble and then manufacture the Bestune E05, among the world’s most affordable electric cars at $17,500.

Morocco: Africa’s New Detroit

The fastest growth is in Morocco, which now produces more vehicles than South Africa. With 220,000 jobs, its auto industry accounts for 22% of GDP and $14 billion in exports. Infrastructure investments and proximity to Spain allowed it to overtake car exports from China, India, and Japan to Europe. “We didn’t export one car 15 years ago,” said Ryad Mezzour, the industry minister. By 2030, he aims for electricity to be 60% of the annual vehicle production capacity of currently 700,000 cars. 

Can other African nations follow this path to industrialization?

Can other African nations follow this path to industrialization? Most answers focus on investment, infrastructure & policy frameworks. They’re all vital – and tricky. But an even higher hurdle looms. Free trade. Most national markets are too small to manufacture only for themselves. Vehicles plants need to export to neighbors to be viable. However, that requires open African borders and collaborative industrial policies. If every country tries to get to the head of the queue, none will. Europe has struggled with similar problems for decades. Too many national champions could stall the entire mobility transition. Tanzania has shown that collaborative industrial policy can work. Its capital Dar es Salam ordered electric buses assembled in Uganda for rapid transit. 

To succeed in the African market, an African EV manufacturer must address key challenges, including the high cost of capital, competition from second-hand imports, low energy access, a poor grid infrastructure, and a legacy of depending on fossil fuels. 

But the opportunity has never been more promising. The Africa Electric Vehicle Market is expected to reach $15.80 billion in 2024 and $25.40 billion by 2029, driven by consumer demand, government initiatives, and strategic partnerships.

Featured photo: Roam electric motorbike assemly. Source: Roam

Written by

Oliver August

Oliver August is the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Nation Media Group, one of the largest content companies in Africa.