False hope as Makerere touts Research on Electric Cars.

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By Burite Joseph

Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology has announced that it is procuring components for the “Kayoola Bus,” its highly taunted solution for Uganda’s public transport challenges to be launched in later this year, according to a report in the Daily Monitor.

This would be the University’s second project after they launched the Kiira EV 2 years ago, an Electric Car that has achieved little or no success in attracting commercial investment since.

Dons at the College of Engineering, Design, Arts and Technology believe their drive towards Electric cars will help avail alternatives for Gasoline engines.

But as the Dons touted their efforts, Coda Holdings Inc, parent of the electric-car maker, Coda which is backed by billionaire, Philip Falcone today filed for bankruptcy protection and sought to sell its assets in the US.

Coda’s bankruptcy is at least the third by an electric vehicle-related company in just over a year. A123 Systems Inc, a battery supplier to Fisker Automotive Inc., another California-based maker of electric cars, filed for bankruptcy in October. Ener1 Inc., also a maker of batteries for electric cars, entered bankruptcy in January 2012. The latter two received the US government cash-stimulus in 2010 but still failed in under two years.

Since beginning production in 2011, Coda reported sales of a miserable 78 units of its Coda Sedan in the US, a market of over 15mn units a year and estimated growth of 5.5%.

According to Bloomberg, the company’s Chief Restructuring Officer John P. Madden has said Coda was forced to seek bankruptcy protection because of production delays, insufficient capital to market and sell its sedan, and slow growth for the electric-vehicle market, which it blames on the scarcity of charging stations.

The latter element of Coda’s challenge should draw the attention of planners at Makerere, who are investing millions of Shillings into the research. Coda was not only among leading Hybrid Car makers, it also enjoyed access to a lucrative and developed markets like US and Europe.

Another industry leader, Fisker Automotive, maker of the Karma, a hundred-thousand-dollar electric-gas hybrid sports car, is itself reported in deep trouble. It’s laid off seventy-five per cent of its workforce, hasn’t produced a single car in nine months, and may well declare bankruptcy in the next couple of weeks.

Even though the College’s Principal Investigator, Prof Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa is keen on addressing the charging station challenge by adding an internal combustion engine to extend the range of drive, Uganda’s persistent power cuts and expensive alternatives make Electric Cars faintly suitable to the local market. The costs involved in production also make consumer prices of Electric cars prohibitive.

The world’s top-selling highway-capable all-electric cars is the Nissan Leaf, with global sales of more than 49,000 units through December 2012 since its launch in 2010.

But Nissan’s high-profile Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, perhaps the industry’s most outspoken proponent of battery cars recently announced a major strategic shift toward more mainstream gasoline-electric hybrids, which overcome many of the shortcomings of pure EVs.

Instead, Nissan plans to follow rival Toyota Motor Co, the world’s largest purveyor of hybrids, which now is poised to leapfrog pure EVs altogether to pursue what might be the next big green-tech breakthrough: pollution- and petroleum-free fuel-cell cars that convert hydrogen to electricity.

Overall, Worldwide sales of Electric cars stood at 120,000 unit sales, though analysts forecast sales could raise to 3.8 million to the year 2020. Compared to Gasoline Engine car sales of over 65 million cars a year.

Hence, the Electric Car, after more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, still is not ready for prime time – and may never be. Makerere University would do this nation good if they diverted the millions of Shillings from Electric Cars, to perhaps researching on alternative fuels.

@BuriteJoseph

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