Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ethiopia Charges Ahead With Electric Car

Electric vehicles have been all the rage at the New York International Auto Show this past week, but an Italian firm chose a place half a world away to unveil their entry into the electric market. Freestyle PLC has finalized plans to start production of the Solaris Elettra in Ethiopia; a move they hope will help to spark a “green revolution” in Africa.

The battery-powered Solaris Elettra is expected to have a range of between 50 and 100 miles on a full charge and should cost between $12,000 and $15,000. Freestyle says that production will begin slowly, with only six cars being built each week for the next several months until a new factory in the capital, Addis Ababa, is completed. Once the factory is operational, it will produce up to 30 Solaris Elettras per week and will eventually employ 350 people. Freestyle, which builds renewable energy power systems, hopes that the cars will eventually be exported across Africa and perhaps even to Europe. Their slogan for the Solaris Elettra is “from a green country to a green world.”

But auto industry analysts who spoke with the BBC are skeptical of Freestyle’s rosy projections, saying that the cost of the car – coupled with the 100% tax levied on new vehicles - would put a Solaris out of reach of most Ethiopians. And they question whether an electric-powered car is even practical for Africa, given the spotty electrical service available in much of the continent and the long distances between many African cities, which could make travel in an electric car impractical. Freestyle counters by saying that a hydroelectric dam currently under construction on the Omo River will give Ethiopia a cheap, reliable and plentiful source of electricity. The country expects that the hydroelectric plant will make Ethiopia a net exporter of electricity in Eastern Africa in the coming years.
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