#169 Lessons from the Smarter Mobility Africa Summit

At first the idea of mobility being smart without access was my concern, however the depth and focus on the mobility space was highlighted at its core. Whether it is the launch of a Electric Vehicle (EV) road trip in South Africa, the industrial scope of the discussions from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) or the start-up companies penetrating the hardware, regulatory and software sectors— the summit hosted a voice of confidence in the future. One of the key tensions worth noting has to do with educational, industrial, regulatory and infrastructural readiness against the backdrop of user needs as passengers and drivers. Some of these themes wouldn’t have surfaced without a summit of this nature, introducing key players in the market. However, most spectators and participants might ask “what will be the impact of this initiative? Is it another talk show, or will there be action?” From the event, it’s quite clear that a lot more is happening than we know; but without the right actors to receive, see and act on the opportunities then nothing will happen.

The value of electric vehicles and smart mobility

Electric vehicles have by and large become one of the biggest conversations points for the transportation industry— however, electro-mobility has leaned in more aggressively due to the rapid progression in the technology itself. EVs are drawing in more attention largely because the cost per unit in the Bill of Materials is declining, although the value of the specification underlying the materials is on the rise. Darren Chapman, a Chief Engineer at Eskom emphasizes that the industrial capacity to respond to electric vehicle energy demand if they accounted for 50% of all vehicles would only result in an 8% change in energy demand.

Are electric minibus taxis in our future?

Industrial readiness to introduce these vehicles to the market also depends on the players. Entering the vehicle manufacturing space for companies building electric minibus taxis in their first phase of business, like HALA Motors is in a different ballgame compared to those that aim to covert Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles to EV, like EV Dynamics. However, Vuyisile Majola from the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) emphasized two major issues: (1) the taxi industry will own its data; protect the value of their industry to build itself and reinforce its asset base. (2) SANTACO does not consider the minibus taxi industry as “ready” for electrification because there are “basic” issues that still need to be addressed, without which conversion may not take place.

However, the value proposition of electric vehicles is much more important from a business perspective than the emotional or environmental concerns. In a meeting with a taxi industry leader prior to the event, the gentleman made it clear that “if it makes financial sense the taxi industry will be happy to transition”, especially if the bottom line improves. Furthermore, the industrial skills implications of locating factories in townships (as HALA Motors intends to), introducing new skills and curricula (as Valarie Geen from the Wits Business School highlighted) take the narrative beyond the market and into the realm of development-based-business. As the idea of asset-based community development and industrial change become part of the hidden agenda for future leaders, it seems like the electrification of the industry is well en-route.

Electromobility requires policies with an entrepreneurial spirit

It was quite clear from the onset that institutional readiness was going to be a recurring topic throughout the event. Geoffrey Brickford from the South African Cities Network presented a scenario analysis of the future of policy making in the minibus taxi industry. The report highlights tensions between proactive and reactive leadership, and somewhat inclusive and descriptive innovation. It is, in his view very difficult to move forward without a user focus, and the lack of a transport user voice is essentially a key challenge in the transport planning space. Ntsie Mathloko from AftaRobot presented a platform which shows how technology can help support drivers, commuters, marshals and associations as users of the transportation system in an integrated platform. All while the automotive industry is expanding its focus toward customer experience through electrification, connectivity and automation all within a sharing economy— these strategies are core to Mercedes Benz and BMW. Again, customer experience and user centric approaches are key to the future of smarter mobility, but is the legislative environment ready?

For the anywhere.africa team legislative framework, to enable electric freight bicycles just does not exist. These eCargo bikes carry almost 200kg at their maximum and according to Nicho Ntema enable a new township economy. Locally assembled from imported kits, and distributed within the townships these services open a new economy for the township and rural environments. However, there’s limited legislative room to enable these bikes to serve between townships because of the highway restrictions which exist by law.

At the end of the day, the future of electric vehicles and electomobilty are core conversations around Smarter Mobility, but there’s so much more to share from the sessions this week. For this post in particular, consider the idea of readiness: who should lead the way-/ government, industry, operators and or users?

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