Volkswagen is starting a pilot project with electric vehicles in Rwanda and will start small series production in Ghana. Thomas Schäfer, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa and Volkswagen South Africa, talks about the potential of the African continent.
Interview with Thomas Schäfer, Head of the Sub-Saharan Region and Volkswagen South Africa
Thomas Schaefer (left), Head of the Volkswagen Sub-Saharan Region, and Alan Kyerenmaten, Minister of Trade and Industry in Ghana
Mr. Schäfer, in addition to Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ethiopia, Volkswagen now also wants to start small-series assembly in Ghana. Why there?
After Rwanda, Ghana is probably the most progressive and organized country in the sub-Saharan region – politically very stable with a democratic government, excellent legal security and administration. But that’s not all: the country has 30 million inhabitants, but currently imports almost exclusively only used cars. Strategically, it is located in Western Africa with access to the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) free trade zone, which comprises 15 countries and 350 million inhabitants. For all these reasons, we believe that Ghana will play a key role in the development of the car industry in sub-Saharan Africa.
How does small series assembly work in the different countries?
We are satisfied with the progress. We have learned a lot in the past three years. There have been many unexpected issues to solve. We are taking small steps forwards. Above all, we have established ourselves as a brand in Kenya and Rwanda. And we now know our customers and their wishes. We are growing sustainably, but larger sales figures will not come until the three biggest problems on the African car market have been solved: Used car dumping, poor fuel quality and a lack of financing. In some key countries we will soon be presenting solutions to tackle some of these problems. The next few years will be exciting.
The main facility in Africa, with by far the largest volume, remains that in Port Elizabeth in South Africa. How is the development there?
We will build 162,000 vehicles and 97,000 engines this year. We recently concluded collective bargaining without a strike. Another milestone: the danger of a hard Brexit without a deal is a thing of the past. The South African government has concluded an agreement with the UK that will continue to ensure duty-free access for vehicles from South Africa to the UK. This is important in view of the fact that we build around 50,000 vehicles per year in South Africa for the British market, all right-hand drive vehicles. In South Africa itself, the Volkswagen brand alone has a market share of more than 20 percent and generates good results.
E-Cars and the switch to electromobility are currently on everyone’s lips in Germany and Europe. How is the situation on the African continent?
The South African government has so far been rather reluctant to do so. Unfortunately, the electricity supply is unstable. And the long distances between cities, make the population and the government doubt that the issue of e-mobility will be treated as a priority. Through the Automobile Association, however, we are engaged in an intensive dialogue with the government in order to bring more movement on the issue. After all, as a production location that is heavily dependent on exports, we cannot lag behind technologically. There is already more movement in other African countries: At the end of October, for example, we will launch our e-mobility initiative in Rwanda, with 50 e-Golfs1 as part of our mobility services – driven by the strong focus of some African countries on environmental protection and the high cost of fossil fuels, which have to be imported from the Middle East at high prices. They must not forget: Africa has many sustainable energy sources such as wind, gas and certainly sun.
Electromobility in Africa
Rwanda becomes the first African country to introduce Volkswagen electric mobility. Together with Siemens, Volkswagen has launched a pilot project to test the feasibility of electromobility in the East African country. Initially, four Volkswagen e-Golfs1 and a charging station will be provided in the capital Kigali. In the following months, this offer could grow to up to 50 e-Golfs. Siemens plans to install up to 15 charging stations.
The electric vehicles are part of the fleet of Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda. The Volkswagen subsidiary offers mobility services such as ride-hailing and corporate car sharing. By the end of 2019, the fleet will have grown to 200 vehicles, including the models Polo, Amarok, Teramont and Passat. All vehicles in the fleet are assembled at Volkswagen Rwanda’s assembly facility in Kigali. Customers book the services via an app developed by the Rwandan startup Awesomity Lab. The Move app has 27,000 registered users, and since the beginning of 2019 almost 60,000 ride-hailing trips have been carried out.
The electric mobility project is part of the Moving Rwanda initiative, a cooperation between GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) and German companies like Volkswagen and Siemens. These German companies have pledged to collaborate to develop digital mobility solutions in Rwanda which will contribute to the sustainable development of the country.
1 e-Golf: power consumption, kWh / 100 km: combined 14.1 with 17-inch wheels – 13.2 16-inch; combined CO₂ emissions, g/km: 0; efficiency class: A+