Zimbabwe literally burning hard-earned foreign currency

IF YOU only had US$1, you would definitely want to use it wisely and stretch it as far as you can. You wouldn’t just throw away 87 cents of your only dollar.

Especially if you found out that you could actually spend just 27 cents to achieve the same goal.

Now let’s apply this example to mobility. The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) literally burns fossil fuels and emits harmful gases. In doing all that, it is only about 13% efficient.

This is represented beautifully in this wonderful chart from Transport & Environment as recently covered by Zachary Shahan.

On the other hand, battery electric vehicles’ efficiency is around 73%. In this article, we will ignore one of Toyota’s favorite technologies, hydrogen fuel cell cars.

This story easily applies to a lot of countries, but we will again use Zimbabwe as an example to paint this picture as we saw in our recent article. Ditching ICE vehicles as fast as we can makes a lot of economic sense.

Petrol and diesel imports account for a massive 30% of Zimbabwe’s total import bill! That’s about $1.2 billion annually. Don’t forget, they spend a little more on top of that to import ICE vehicle spare parts and engine oils, etc.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing a prolonged petrol and diesel shortage for 3 years and counting, with no solution in sight. The country is struggling to raise foreign currency to import these fossil fuels, so spending 30% of its hard-earned foreign currency by literally burning it in ICE vehicles is just crazy!

Zimbabwe earns most of its foreign currency from exporting its mining and agricultural products.

After all that work from families trying to make a living toiling on the farms and mines for several months, the country really should be more prudent with all those hard-earned US Dollars. Filling up an ICE vehicle’s tank can also be quite a challenge in Zimbabwe, and it could involve waiting in a queue at a petrol station for a day or two! Charging EVs overnight at homes or at office parks and malls whilst they’re parked could help solve this problem. That’s bringing a solution whose value proposition would be convenience. But the biggest benefit would still be on the financial side.

 A 2015 Subaru Crosstrek ordered online from IBC Japan and delivered to Harare Zimbabwe. Picture by Gladys Mukwazhi.

Let’s take a look at some examples. Zimbabwe has been importing around 70,000 vehicles per year in recent times. Most of these are used vehicles from Japan and the United Kingdom.

Most people shop online on sites such as BeforwardYes, buying a car online is actually quite common in this part of the world, as covered here. A

fter making a payment, the cars generally arrive within 6 weeks. In fact, you can even buy a car online with Bitcoin, especially in countries like Zimbabwe where there is a shortage of foreign currency and moving foreign currency can be a nightmare with long wait times as local banks struggle to meet demand.

Some of the popular vehicles that are part of the 70,000 are listed in the table below:

Vehicle Year Model Mileage Retail Cost in Zimbabwe (USD)
Honda Fit (1300 cc) 2010 80,000 $7000
Nissan Bluebird (1800 cc) 2010 70,000 $11,000
Toyota Mark X (2500 cc) 2010 90,000 $13,000
Nissan Leaf* 2014 40,000 $15,000

*Nissan Leaf added for comparison purposes, although some used Nissan Leafs are now being imported by some people as well.

The Wright family’s Nissan Leaf. Image courtesy of Brendan Wright

If we take the lower limit from this table and assume all the 70,000 vehicles are the $7000 vehicles, that’s at least $490 million spent on importing used motor vehicles per year.

Then $1.2 billion to fuel them and the rest of the existing fleet, which is about 1.5 million vehicles.

It would make much more sense to catalyze the adoption of EVs such as the Nissan Leafs, saving the much-needed foreign currency. Reducing or removing import duties and taxes would be a good starting point.

The used Nissan Leafs could then end up being cheaper than a used Toyota Mark X. On the TCO front, it’s not even a contest, as the Leaf wins by a mile.

Living with an EV in Zimbabwe is not as hard as people may think, as discussed here.

About the Author

  • Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since.
  • At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors.
  • He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.