Just like Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the future of electric vehicles is unlimited and the time for Africa to switch to clean, efficient and reliable energy is now

Eliud Kipchoge in white vest running with his pacemaking team behind the official car and lasers on the Hauptallee. (SVG Europe)
  • Without a doubt the electric car remains the ‘unsung hero’ in aiding Eliud Kipchoge become the first man ever to run a marathon in under two hours.
  • With fast depleting oil reserves across the world and the effects of climate change becoming more evident every day and at the heart of it all a smart and conscious population, there’s no stopping the electric vehicle wave.
  • Electric car has had a few false starts for sure but with Kipchoge’s win it's long overdue time is now, the future of electric vehicles is unlimited just like Eliud Kipchoge.

On October 12th in Vienna, Austria, the world’s greatest marathoner and Kenyan athlete, Eliud Kipchoge become the first man ever to run a marathon in under two hours.

The Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder run for unbelievable 1:59:40. to completely shatter the belief that humans can never perform such a feat.

Before the race had even begun Kipchoge exuberated confidence that he would shatter the record and boy didn’t he do a beautiful job at it.

“I want to unlock that thought that there are limitations in the human being.” he said when he announced his intent to break the two-hour barrier on May 6 this year.

He added: “There are no barriers when you believe in yourself and try and trust in what you are doing.

And come the D day he didn’t disappoint. Kipchoge kept a sub-4 minute, 34 second-per-mile pace over the course of 26.2 miles in a stunning mix of speed and endurance. 

“My mind was clear,” the 34 year old dad of three children told the times after the race.

“From the first kilometer to the last kilometer, I knew I had it.”

How the whole feat went down

This was the second time Kipchoge was attempting to run a marathon in under two hours. He did attempt to break the two-hour barrier in Monza, Italy on May 6, 2017, but ended up 25 seconds shot when he returned 2 hours and 25 seconds (2:00:25).

Two years later and in a much better shape according to his coach, Patrick Sang, Kipchoge was determined to take another stab at history.

The challenge was the same - run under 2 hours - but there were a few noticeable differences between the Nike breaking 2 challenge and the INEOS 1:59 Challenge.

This time around instead of just 6 pacemakers as was the case in Monza Italy, Kipchoge was assisted by 41 pacemakers, who included some of the best distance runners in the world, like defending 1,500-meter Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz and Bernard Lagat, another Olympic medalist.

These pace setters took turns running in a V formation in front of Kipchoge to reduce drag. 

Unlike in Monza where he ran on a closed-off auto track with only a few hundred people in attendance in Vienna Kipchoge run across a largely tree-lined park and even better he had a crowd supporting him along the entire course. 

In both attempts he wore a pair of Nike Vaporflys and a pace car was leading the race. 

The X factor that remained constant

The only factor that remained constant and was central to Kipchoge pulling off the feat was the use of an electric car. In 2017 a Tesla electric pace car was used and in 2019 an Audi fully electric car led the race from start to finish.

Peter Vint, Performance Team Manager for the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, said it was the best – and only – way to ensure Eliud ran at the same speed for the entire 26.2 miles.

Anyone who has ever run a marathon will know just how hard it is to run the whole distance at the exact same pace,” he said. “And while elite athletes are very much better at it, a marathon distance run in just a few seconds under two hours requires exceptional accuracy.”

Therefore the Audi electric pace car was programmed to complete the course in 1:59.50 to ensure that Kipchoge ran a steady pace.

More crucial was the fact that an electric pace car could make a clean and reliable gateway leading Kipchoge’s team to an inevitable win without as much as a trace.

There will be no emissions out of the back to upset any of the runners,” said Chris Francis, who heads up the Powertrain division at RML’s HQ in Wellingborough in the UK.

Without it is safe to say while not impossible the feat would have been much harder to pull or worse had they opted for a thirsty gasoline ‘jalopy’ the race would have been over before they even started. 

Without a doubt the electric car remains the ‘unsung hero’ in all the two attempts.

“On the day of the challenge, it is likely to fade into the background,” said Peter. “But spectators should maybe spare a thought for the boys in Wellingborough as their timing car leads Eliud towards the finish.”

The race to the electric vehicle has been long and winding, it's only now making headway

It's hard to believe that electric vehicles have existed since at least 1834, long before gasoline cars were invented. The first person to drive over 100 kilometers an hour, or 62 miles per hour, was Belgian race driver Camille Jenatzy who pulled off the feat in a specially built electric car called "La Jamais Contente,” or “The Never Satisfied.”

Today the picture is completely different and the reverse is true. Roads across the world are littered with millions of polluting gasoline cars with electric vehicles making just a handful.

Until the emission scandal, Volkswagen never really cared much about electric cars, choosing instead to pump billions of dollars into making its diesel engines more fuel efficient and affordable.

In 2018, for example, Volkswagen delivered a record 10.8 million cars out of which it says only 40,000, or 0.4%, were electric vehicles. Another 60,000 were plug-in hybrids. 

Global sales of electric cars have been only slightly less anemic: 1.3 million of the roughly 95 million cars sold around the world in 2018 were battery electrics, according to the consultancy LMC Automotive.

However, despite all these challenges, and believe me they are many talk of limited driving range, a lack of charging infrastructure and bulky batteries, the dream of electric vehicles has refused to die.

In the midst of all this hopelessness there remains a profound hope that finally electric vehicles is turning around a corner.

Thanks to technology which has made it possible for efficient, power saving and powerful yet nimble electric vehicles to be manufactured coupled with rise of ambitious and smart car manufacturers the likes of Tesla who are now firmly on the driving seat driving the change back to clean and efficient energy.

In 2018, Tesla sold over 220,000 electric cars according to LMC Automotive, roughly 70,000 more than its nearest competitor, Chinese state-owned BAIC Group. 

The global alliance of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors sold roughly 130,000 electrics last year, while Volkswagen’s German rivals BMW and Daimler sold 33,000 and 14,400, respectively. 

Toyota, the world’s second largest carmaker, which has chosen to focus on hybrid cars and fuel cell technology sold only 1,000 electric vehicles last year, an increase from zero in 2017. 

Jaguar has just unveiled its first all-electric virtual sports car – the Jaguar Vision Gran Turismo Coupé. The futuristic EV is set to join the grid as the latest addition to the Vision Gran Turismo line-up for the Gran Turismo series.

Providing gamers with 750kW of power, 1,200Nm of torque, a 0-100km/h time of less than two seconds and perfectly balanced handling, the Jaguar Vision GT Coupé will be on the starting grid for GT Sport fans from the end of November.

 “This project has been completely led by our young designers and represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to create a vehicle steeped in our incredible heritage but pushing the boundaries of future design. The team have done an incredible job in creating something which is clearly identifiable as a Jaguar, inspired – but not constrained – by our iconic past.” said Julian Thomson, Jaguar Design Director.

Politicians, once the biggest stumbling block in the drive to clean energy are also seeing finally the light.

In US. for example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed a $454 billion plan over 10 years to help shift ‘uncle sam’ away from gasoline-powered cars and trucks by offering cash vouchers to help Americans buy cleaner vehicles.

The New York Democrat said in a statement that his plan, which would provide rebates of $3,000 or more to individual buyers, would help transition 25% of the U.S. fleet, or 63 million vehicles, away from traditional internal combustion-engine vehicles within 10 years. 

Electric vehicles are also taking root in far flung areas once thought to only boast of rickety old black mamba bicycles. This further shows the future of electric vehicles is but blinding bright.

In 2018, EkoRent, a leading Finnish electric mobility company operating under local name EkoRent Africa, launched Nopia Ride, the first ever full electric mobility service in Kenya and East Africa.

A year later and Nopia ride has already successfully zoomed past its pilot phase to scalability phase emboldened by public interest and local market which looks ready for takeoff.

Juha Suojanen, EkoRent founder and CEO who was over the moon by the feat says there is only one option for the world- Switch to clean energy or perish.

“Current way can not continue, it is not sustainable and things are only getting worse. Alternative is to stay as is and status quo,” He told Business Insider SSA.

With fast depleting oil reserves across the world and the effects of climate change becoming more evident with each passing day and at the heart of it all a smart and conscious population, there’s no stopping the electric vehicle wave.

The aviation industry is also looking at electricity as a source of energy and future planes may come packed with batteries and solar panels. 

Way forward and why Africa cannot afford to be left behind

In Africa, however, switch to electric vehicles has not been met with the same enthusiast, save for countries like Rwanda which is quickly becoming the ideal investors paradise with Paul Kagame’s government going flat out to ensure it creates an enabling environment for investors to usher the ‘land of a thousand hills’ to the 4th revolution.

The tiny country has a fast developing electric motorcycles industry known locally as moto-taxi business and is urging its youth to dump ‘dirty’ petrol powered motorcycles for electric ones in an effort to protect the environment and cut fuel costs.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently announced that his government plans to replace all motorcycles with new electric ones.

Elsewhere across much of the African landscape, governments are painfully slow and lethargic in embracing smart solutions such as electric vehicles.

Africa could be the leading continent in clean transportation and energy with correct policies, generating millions of future proof jobs.” Juha says.

Shifting position on import taxes and sometimes changing them overnight without a warning continues to be a big red flashing light to investors and consumers alike that electric vehicles may not be worth the trouble for now.

The sad thing is in all these is Africa has nothing to lose and actually stands to make billions should it switch to electricity. 

"For Africa, the best thing is that with correct policies foreign investors would fund this revolution, and hence it would not cost anything to governments or taxpayers," says Juha.

In a world already run by clean energy such as electricity it beats logic why African universities are still hopelessly lost in replicating innovations of the bygone era instead of being on the forefront of driving change powered by electricity in the 21st century.

What is stopping African universities department of engineering from partnering with electric vehicles car manufacturers such as Tesla or even small electric vehicles factories scattered across northern Europe such as Finland and set up assembly plants for small day to day electric devices.

And unlike other regions, there is no shortage of electrical power in Africa, the region is actually stuck with excess power dying to be used.

Over the past decade, East African countries have sunk billions in multibillion-dollar investments building power plant stations to power the region which for years had been engulfed in darkness.

Currently, electricity surplus in the region stands at 878MW, with only Tanzania and Rwanda experiencing a deficit. The surplus power is projected to hit 3,430MW by 2025.

Talent and skill is in plenty across Africa, take Lincon Wamae, a Kenyan self taught electric entrepreneur who makes homemade electric wheelchair and powers them using discarded laptop batteries.

Wamae biggest challenge remains lack of support from the government who have opted to perfecting fake enthusiasm whenever it suits them and taking him in endless cycles.

When I met him at his small workshop in Githurai 44, found on the outskirts of Nairobi city, he said he currently has over 100 orders of electric wheelchairs but fulfilling them is a tall order. 

Across the border the same sad story is all over. Close to a decade since it was set up,Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC), Uganda's first locally made hybrid car factory is yet to make any meaningful impact.

The project that could have put Uganda on the global map of car manufacturers has fallen behind schedule due to challenges linked to funding.

According to KMC executive chairman Prof Tikodri Togboa, the project has been swimming against the tide, with the Treasury failing to release funds as allocated in the budget.

According to The EastAfrican, the project was supposed to have received $6.44 million during the current financial year. That would be followed by $11.8 million in fiscal 2019/20, $11.54 million in 2020/21 and a final tranche of $8.75 million in 2021/22.

However, only $5.79 million of this year’s allocation has been released so far while the Cabinet has approved only $6.44 million of the $11.8 million that was programmed for 2019/20.

“Up to this point, the funding releases have deviated from the roadmap. The project was allocated seed funding of $38.56 million to be released over a four-year timeline running from 2018 to 2022 as capitalisation to kick-start automobile manufacturing. But we are already dealing with a shortfall of $671,000 in the first year,” said Prof Tikodri.

However, there is no killing of electric vehicles and if anything Africa will soon get its act together and hopefully take its rightful place in leading the clean energy revolution.

Electric car has had a few false starts for sure but with Kipchoge’s win it's long overdue time is firmly back on track, just like Eliud Kipchoge the future of electric vehicles is unlimited.


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