Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 13:21 UK

Ethiopia launches electric car despite power shortages

Electric car
Many Ethiopians will struggle to afford a Solaris Elettra

Ethiopia has launched an electric car, despite suffering from power shortages. It is only the second African country to do so, after South Africa.

Two versions of the Solaris Elettra will be manufactured in Addis Ababa, costing around $12,000 and $15,000.

The cars will be sold in Ethiopia and exported to Africa and Europe.

But some doubt if Africa, where erratic power supplies, low levels of personal wealth and poor infrastructure are common, is ready for electric cars.

Carlo Pironti, general manager of Freestyle PLC, the company producing the Solaris, told the BBC's Uduak Amimo in Addis Ababa that Ethiopia's electricity shortages were not a major obstacle to operating an electric car.

"Ethiopia in future will have lots of power supply," he said.

"In any case, the car can be recharged by generator and by solar power."

From a green country to a green world
Carlo Pironti

Taxes on cars in Ethiopia can be more than 100% and many Ethiopians with low incomes will struggle to afford an electric car.

To overcome this problem, Mr Pironti says his company will develop a credit system for less affluent customers.

Six Solaris Elettras will be produced every week for the next three months, rising to 30 per week when Freestyle's factory in Addis Ababa is fully operational, he says.

Mr Pironti says he wants to take the Solaris "from a green country to a green world," referring to the company's plans to export the car from Ethiopia to Africa and beyond.

But Wayne Batty, senior writer at South Africa's Topcar magazine, believes only a small percentage of Africa has the necessary infrastructure to support an electric car.

Mr Batty told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that electric cars are fine for short trips of 40 to 50 km (25 to 31 miles), but African countries lack the recharging points for longer journeys.

Ethiopia's electric car comes after Rwanda launched its first bio-diesel bus last week.

It is currently building a huge hydro-electric dam on the Omo river and hopes to become a major exporter of energy when that is completed.

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