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Small Cars With Big Plans. First Microcar Coalition In The World Could Influence Automotive Industry In Africa

A group of European L7e microcar makers last week at Micromobility Europe 2023 announced the formation of a coalition which aims to increase their voice when speaking with the public and government around the benefits of microcars in urban environments.

The coalition believes that encouraging the microcars segment and strengthening its attractiveness, will help policymakers restore cities back for people and make cities more sustainable, liveable, and fun places to live.

The founding companies of the coalition include MicrolinoCity Transformer, and Circle Mobility. Many others are expected to join soon, and one company present at Micromobility Europe stated they were considering joining 

The coalition will focus their energy on taxes and incentives being deployed to encourage end-users to go small when looking for a four-wheeled vehicle. They will support city leaders by working with them to design exemptions and benefits for microcars in urban traffic and parking (today approximately 50% of urban public space is devoted for roads and parking). 

L7e (heavy quadricycle) is the EU category for four-wheeled fast microcars that are allowed to drive on any type of road, like all full-size cars. This category shouldn’t be confused with L6e vehicles (light quadricycle) which are usually cheap and slow (limited to 45km/h) and are restricted to driving in limited areas. L6e vehicles are used mainly to support the mobility of elderly people or teenagers who don’t have a driving license. 

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Benefits of microcars
The L7e microcars, on the other hand, are, the coalition argue, “an incredible solution to many societal problems”. The benefits they highlight from the deployment of microcars include: 

  • less pollution 
  • less urban congestion 
  • more energy-efficient transportation 
  • More safety for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • more public space for green areas, sidewalks, and all kinds of urban community life
Downsides of full-size cars
They go on to highlight the downsides of f
ull-size cars (1-2 tons), whether ICE or EV generated:
 
  • consume huge amounts of public space and swallow more and more urban areas for highways, lanes, and parking 
  • approximately 80% of these vehicles are carrying only a single person 
  • The environmental footprint (even EVs) is much higher than the footprint of an electric L7e microcar 

In September 2022 the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility published: “Mini mobility might be the next big thing in urban mobility” and argue that “because of their smaller size, mini-mobility (this is how they define the microcars category) vehicles are less expensive than standard EVs, consume less space, and have more parking options”. The global consultancy firm emphasizes that mini-mobility vehicles increase safety as they usually travel more slowly and are more visible than their larger counterparts, as well as requiring fewer resources, with less energy needed during production and operation.

When compared to two-wheeled micro-mobility options McKinsey stated that “mini-mobility vehicles offer greater convenience and comfort, including the ability to sit and better protection from the weather. Further, they offer extended storage space and a capacity of two passengers”.

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What does this mean for Africa
Let’s look at the production and consumption sides of how this new coalition might impact Africa in regard to how cities develop, automotive manufacturingjobs, the economy, and the role of Africa in the global automotive market. 
 

Firstly, let’s look at the Production side of this potential impact. Currently over 70% of vehicles manufactured in South Africa are exported to Europe, which means that what the European market is demanding will impact South African exports. The same can be seen in Morocco, where around 80% of the 400,000 cars produced are sold to Europe, with France, Spain, Germany and Italy being the main destinations (all four of these countries have the potential to accelerate microcars in their countries due to the direction of travel for city development, what’s more 2 out of 3 of the companies forming the coalition are from these countries).  

The ban on the sale of Internal Combustion Engines in Europe by 2035 is an indicator for what further changes to European car habits will do. The 2035 ICE ban has forced many stakeholders across South Africa to rethink their automotive strategy as the EU Policy change can impact the country’s GDP, local jobs, local businesses, provincial economic development, and domestic consumption. If microcars take off and influence the types of cars being driven in Europe and across the world, this could have a similar effect on the South African automotive industry as the 2035 ICE ban.  

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On the Consumption side, this newly formed microcar coalition might influence the type of vehicles that will be driven in Africa. We have already seen smaller microcars being showcased and launched in South Africa. At the Smarter Mobility Africa summit hosted in South Africa in October last year, a company called Funky Electric demonstrated a smaller electric microcar. Last month in South Africa a company called City Blitz launched an electric microcar with a price tag of R199,900 (around $10,000 – $11,000)It’s no secret that Africa has the fastest growing cities when it comes to population, there are more and more people moving into the same location which creates challenges (and opportunities) around how space is being used. This could increase the demand for smaller microcars. By 2050 the OECD expect African cities to be home to an additional 950 million people.  

The current and future Automotive industry in Africa is important for the continent, in many ways, and the World Economic Forum recently shared a report suggesting that the African Free Trade Area can herald $12 billion growth for the continent’s automotive industry. It will be interesting to see how changes in habits around the car sizes people drive across the world will influence the African Automotive industry.  

Three representatives of the coalition founding companies attended a round table together at the Micromobility Europe Conference in Amsterdam: Oliver Ouboter, Co-Founder and COO of Microlino, Alain Di Duca, Founder and VP Business Development of Circle Mobility, and Dr. Anat Bonshtien, VP Business Development of City Transformer.

“We are going to revolutionise the future of urban mobility and reclaim cities for people, not for 2-ton cars”, said the three.

This topic and many other topics around integrated smarter mobility Africa will be explored during the annual Smarter Mobility Africa summit taking place 3-4 October 2023 in the Gauteng Province, South Africa.

Join us at Smarter Mobility Africa summit on 3-4 October 2023, and explore the global mobility transition through an African lens. 

REGISTER to attend!

About the author

Anazi Zote
Mobility Content & Stakeholder Manager
Anazi Zote is a multifaceted woman with a passion for creativity and innovation. With her diverse skill set encompassing creatives arts, technology, and entrepreneurship, she continuously pushes boundaries and explores new frontiers. She is known for their unique perspective and out-of-the-box thinking and strives to inspire and challenge conventional norms.
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