Wemimo Osanipin, is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of JET Motor Company, a Nigeria-based automobile assembly and design company building sophisticated user-tailored vehicles. In this interview with Ridwan Adelaja —to commemorate World EV Day— he relates his experience in the Electric Vehicle (EV) motor sub-sector, highlighting major milestones, challenges as well as the role of the government in seeing EV adaptation flourish in Nigeria.
The 2022 Global EV Outlook reveals that sales of electric vehicles (EVs) doubled in 2021 from the previous year to a new record of 6.6 million. Exactly 10 years ago (2012) a total of 120,000 electric cars were sold worldwide. Today, we have about 16 million electric vehicles on the road globally. As an EV industry leader from Nigeria, is the country recording progress in this direction? What are the numbers like, to start with?
I must be sincere with you, the numbers globally are impressive but the reality at home is discouraging. This is Nigeria. There is fear in the minds of our people. Many are not ready to try something as novel as electric vehicles. And, you can’t blame them.
There is the fear of not buying something that may require additional expertise and infrastructure to manage —which is a legitimate fear. Imagine driving your car to a city and not finding a single charging station. In the event that you run out of power, what do you do?
There is also the fear of cost —the cost of acquisition. Some people still consider it too expensive. Whether that’s correct or not, it is another reason Nigeria is yet to record a promising figure compared to other countries.
Today, China is leading. America, the UK, France and Germany are also doing relatively well in this regard. Nigeria is becoming a dumping ground for Internal Combustion engine (ICE) cars. While many of these countries are already proposing to face-out ICEs by 2035, Nigeria has not realised the consequences of what may be a major drawback on the economy should we delay any further.
As a matter of fact, this humbling reality is the inspiration behind the JET Motor Company. We launched to push against this narrative and see how Nigeria can actively be a leading country in the race towards electrification and de-carbonisation of the globe.
What do you mean by Nigeria delaying? Do you mean we don’t have people riding electric vehicles in Nigeria?
The number is negligible. When we speak of the EV adoption rate in countries like the US and the UK or in France, Germany or China, we are talking about users going into millions. We don’t have such figures here. One, two, or three persons per state do not count as EV adoption.
Of course, we have people using EVs in Nigeria. We have sold EVs to different people and businesses in Nigeria but we can’t contend with realities on the global scene.
For example, China has the largest and fastest-growing EV market in the world. In the first half (H1) of 2022, it is on record that 2.4 million EVs were delivered to customers in mainland China. Do you see the difference?
And, yes, we must not delay as a country. Else, we will suffer for it. There is a lot that the government needs to do to see EVs penetrate the country. Many of the promising countries we are citing were strategically backed by investments from the government. In addition to capital investments, these governments are enacting good policies that can boost the confidence of the masses as well as compensate for the investment from private sector players.
Imagine there is a policy on the need for mall owners to build at least a charging station on the mall premises. Not by choice but by obligation. Imagine the same for hotels, eateries, and plazas. No one will be afraid of buying an EV when the issue of access to getting it charged is solved.
In fact, some of these countries we are celebrating as EV adopters went to the point of giving discounts to buyers in a bid to encourage their citizens. America, for instance, is working to have a charging station at every 30km distance. That’s what an ideal government is about.
Judging from this, we cannot say Nigeria has recorded much progress in this light.
Experts say with EVs, the world can be cleaner, safer and economically viable. How true is this, considering how pricy EVs can be?
My background in accounting tells me that the cost implication of a commodity covers the cost of acquisition and cost of maintenance. During our research and development stage, we have done the maths. And, what we discovered is that switching to EVs is more economical.
We are talking about a car that doesn’t require fuel. A car with about 2-5% of the engine and body parts of an ICE because it doesn’t need a fuel filter or fuel pump —just body, tyre, and brake pad. When we did the maths, we discovered that the average cost of charging will cost about one-third of what one needs to fuel an ICE. Not to talk of low maintenance.
With EVs, carbon emission is reduced and energy is conserved. When you are stuck in traffic, while ICEs will continue to consume fuel, EVs don’t discharge the battery. For EVs, it’s about distance covered, not time spent. This means that you will consume the same amount of battery charge whenever you’re travelling regardless of the traffic situation. What more do you think can be economical?
Coming to the background of the company, how long has the company been operating? Did it specialize from the start with the assembly of EVs? What was the inspiration behind the motor ambition? And, what stands the brand out among the crowd of other manufacturers?
We started out on this journey four years ago. We will be five years old next year. When we started out, we knew from the onset we wanted to lead Nigeria and Africa into the EV experience. We knew the economic advantages that come with switching to EVs as a country and continent.
But instead of starting with EVs from the beginning, we launched different lines of ICEs on purpose. We understood our people. We knew the market wasn’t ready for EVs. We knew how difficult it can be for people to adapt to new technologies, especially from a new brand. So, we decided to serve the people with what they were used to —the ICEs.
We released the best designs that inspire comfort with travelling. Many things stood out for us in our signature vehicles. Talk about the spacious headroom that gives passengers the opportunity to stand on the bus without hindrance, and the wide leg room that makes stretching of legs possible during long trips to avoid discomfort. We built entertainment sets for travellers to engage and self-entertain privately. I can continue. We raised the body architecture such that it is not low to avoid hitting the road. We provided adequate space for loads as Nigerians are notorious for carrying loads.
With this impressive stance, our buses became an automobile attraction point that both private and government organizations bided for it.
Riding on the market we have opened for our brand, we started introducing EVs. Today, we still assemble more ICEs with little EVs but strategically we are working to see how we can gradually phase-out ICEs to concentrate on EVs as the market matures.
EV manufacturing is a very specialized space. How do you hunt for talents to make up your team and engineering crew?
The dearth of talent is one of the biggest challenges we face in the industry. We have to pay heavily to get the best hands. Sometimes, we have to sponsor our men abroad for expert training. This is because human resources are not readily available in Nigeria. Because EV is a new space, we encourage training and internship to up-skill our crew.
Today, being world EV Day, in an attempt to review the impact and significant contribution of the Jet Motor Company, how has the journey towards an EV-powered Nigeria been?
It has been really bumpy but worth every ride. As young as we are, we have recorded a number of firsts in the industry. Today, the history of EVs in Nigeria cannot be complete without mentioning the great work we have done at JET Motor Company.
We are the first with cargo electric vehicles in Nigeria. We have our cargo facilitating intracity cargo services.
While trying to see how to encourage people to buy our product, we launched the try-and-buy where customers had to use the product for a stipulated period and then make up their minds to make a purchase.
Because we understand the economic advantage of EVs, we are everywhere in the media today, educating and sensitizing the people. Today, we have a good relationship with NADDC, the agency in charge of automobiles currently under the leadership of Hon. Jelani Aliyu, a seasoned international automobile expert.
For a while now, we have been organizing webinars to further our sensitization drive on the health implications of keeping up with ICEs. An average child starts school at the age of 2. From that early age, till he finishes from university, he is exposed to carbon dioxide released by vehicles on the road. Don’t we know this can reduce life expectancy? When you think about it this way you know we are in a mess. The government is spending billions of naira to subsidize fuel that is killing us. And, we think it isn’t time to divert this investment into EVs for a cleaner, safer and healthier country.
Aside from the challenge of talent, what are other challenges encountered so far? And, how has the team been able to manoeuvre them?
As I have established, Nigeria is just starting out and there is a lot to be done. Nearly every day we are confronted by one challenge or the other. Another major one is the issue of power.
How do our customers charge their cars? To encourage customers, we provide them with a charging station when they buy about five cars. The fact that we haven’t cracked power in Nigeria is a major challenge as opposed to the reality in China.
We also battle the issue of lack of investment, especially from the government. This can be very frustrating. Commercial banks will charge about 20% interest on loans. This isn’t encouraging to say the least.
Today, the exchange rate is another despicable challenge. You need forex to import some car parts. Black market rates are high. Even if you can afford it, sometimes, there is no dollar to change it for. You’re hanging when you should be in the workshop assembling new batches for sales.
I think the worse part is the import duty which is 10% for both imported cars and locally assembled cars. It is only realistic if charges on locally assembled cars are lower to encourage entrepreneurship and business to thrive.
When I said there are too many challenges, I meant it.
How can the government be part of the success story? And, what role can the media play to see this ambition achieved?
The government should support and encourage us through well-thought-out policies. South Africa, today, is doing well off in EVs compared to us. Yet, we are giants of Africa. Government should lead the journey from the front.
As for the media, we need more sensitization. Let’s report on EVs more often. The media is famous for changing the narrative. Nigerian journalists should get to work —tell stories that are of human interest detailing how EVs can transform the world into a safer and healthier space.
The media should also emphasize how supporting local assembly of cars can reduce the unemployment rate which is in line with the vision of any progressive government.
Story was originally published by Ripples Nigeria.