Back towards the end of the time when Motoring Weekly was a podcast (at the end of 2010), we wrote a small article about a new vehicle called the Solaris Elettra – another vehicle that was supposed to be manufactured in Africa. What happened to this vehicle?
The plan was simple – build an electric car in Ethiopia. The company that thought up the idea was Freestyle PLC, a British company who had been developing solar power equipment since the mid 1990s. They had a manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Addis Ababa and they thought that they could convert it to car assembly. Interestingly, some reports said that the company was in fact an Italian-Chinese venture run by an Italian electrical engineer.
Freestyle planned to bring in components from China and Singapore with plastic bodies made in Korea. In 2010 when the story broke, they claimed they were already assembling six vehicles a week and anticipated that increasing to thirty – some reports suggested 300 a week, so it seems that it depended on how excited the PR team were!
Pricing was expected to be quite cheap: $13-$15k equivalent for each car and they wanted the Government to drop import fees on the components to reduce the consumer price further. The company also wanted to provide a credit system for low-income buyers. The country had quite a lot of hydro power generating their electricity however it wasn’t super reliable! There was no oil industry in the country, so the company felt that it was a great place to start an electric car company.
So there was a flurry of media reports during the mid part of 2010 and then …. nothing. However, over the years several companies have done exactly the same thing: a big announcement that lead to nothing. After the Solaris, in 2015 a US company, Global Electric Transportation (GET), also announced they would go down this route – only they could produce 4,000 cars a month! Then in 2017, a Canadian company, Energy Co-Invest Corp (ECC), announced that they too had selected Ethiopia as a site to build electric cars for the African market. GET and ECC had the same result as Freestyle – no manufacturing ever started!
Late in 2018, Marathon Motor Engineering announced that it had signed a deal to build Hyundai Iqonic electric cars in the country, so maybe they will do what Freestyle, GET and ECC couldn’t. What is surprising is that the country hosts several Chinese manufacturers who have access to electric cars through their parents, yet they haven’t imported any kits into the country. Perhaps it is because the electricity delivery market is still fairly unreliable compared to other countries.
It is always interesting to read media reports and the associated enthusiasm when a new vehicle is announced, however it takes a lot of cash and Government backing to start a car assembly plant. Freestyle thought they could do it with a mere $600,000 and it went nowhere. In this case, nearly a decade has past and the idea still hasn’t been fulfilled.
The image used for this article was sourced from autoblog and is a very low resolution image – there were only two images found, both of poor quality and they were of different coloured vehicles, so they could have built only two rather than the six a week that was claimed at the time!