21.06.2021

Electric 2- and 3-wheelers in East Africa and Southeast Asia

Pasig city, Philippines: PHL Post pilot units. Photo: Clean Air Asia

2- and 3-wheelers play a major role in low- and middle-income countries around the world, with many of their users earning their livelihood in low-income sectors such as the para-transit sector, using motorcycles and 3-wheelers as taxis. The Covid-19 pandemic has also supported the expansion of e-commerce further highlighting the indispensable role of motorcycle deliveries. Electrification of 2-and 3- wheelers for public transportation, service and food deliveries will help to reduce fossil fuel consumption and air pollution and CO2 emissions from the transport sector. 

In 2017 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiated the ‘Integrating electric 2 & 3-wheelers into existing urban transport systems in developing countries’ with support from International Climate Initiative (IKI) in East Africa and Southeast Asia. At that time, electric 2- and 3-wheelers were virtually non-existent in East Africa, and only a handful of projects were implemented in Southeast Asia, primarily focusing on electric 3-wheelers, with limited penetration of electric 2-wheelers. At the same time, China already had more than 200 million electric 2-wheelers and had started exporting the units to other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Today, there are more than 20 start-ups and companies promoting and developing electric motorcycles and 3- wheelers in East Africa. In Southeast Asia these start-ups and companies easily number more than 100 homegrown companies, local subsidiaries and joint ventures with mostly Chinese, Indian, and Japanese companies. One can easily buy electric bicycles, electric motorcycles, and electric 3-wheelers on Southeast Asia’s e-commerce platforms. 

IKI supports the development policy guidelines for electric 2- and 3-wheelers in Southeast Asia

The number of electric 2- and 3-wheelers on the road is also more apparent compared to 2017, especially in Southeast Asian countries. In Viet Nam alone, there were already 1.35 million registered electric 2-wheelers as of June 2020.  In Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, around 8600 electric two- and three-wheelers were registered as of June 2020.  In these countries the vast majority of electric 2- and 3-wheelers remain unregistered, in part due to the lack of national policies regarding these new vehicle categories. UNEP, together with experts and EV Associations in Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam developed the “Policy Guidelines for Electric 2- and 3-wheelers in Southeast Asia” in 2020 to help governments develop and strengthen their policies and standards for electric 2- and 3-wheelers.

UNEP’s Global Electric Mobility Programme has ongoing projects in the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, and soon in Indonesia. 

Pilot projects in East Africa

In East Africa, the total number and sales of motorcycles is small compared to Southeast Asia, but the growth of motorcycle sales has now exceeded that of private vehicles, with annual growth rates of registration of motorbikes standing at more than 8 percent between 2013 and 2017. In absolute terms motorcycle sales are predicted to increase to 500,000 by 2030. 

In March 2021, UNEP launched the first public-private electric mobility pilot projects in Kenya and Uganda testing 100 electric motorcycles donated by a Chinese electric 2- and 3- wheeler company, TAILG, in various fleet applications – including national park rangers in Nairobi’s Karura Forest, meter reading operations performed by Kenya’s national utility, boda-boda taxi services in Kisii County and use by city officials in Kisumu. In East Africa, UNEP is working closely with governments in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia and more recently in Burundi, Madagascar and the Seychelles to spearhead the transition to electric mobility in the region.

Global Electric Mobility Programme

UNEP is leading a Global Electric Mobility Programme with support from IKI, the EU, the Global Environment Facility, the FIA Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. The programme seeks to build capacity, develop national strategies and roadmaps, design policies and establish business models and financial schemes to support the transition to electric mobility. In addition, demonstration projects will be launched to generate know-how on the ground and further raise confidence of financiers such as development banks, green funds and venture capital to invest in e-mobility. The IKI project on electric 2- and 3-wheelers scaled up UNEP’s electric mobility programme and the lessons learnt from the demo projects will feed into the outputs of the global working group on electric 2- and 3-wheelers. 

National e-mobility projects are supported by Global Working Groups on electric cars, electric 2- and 3-wheelers , electric buses  and charging infrastructure, batteries and renewable power integration providing policy advise, e.g. on regulation and standardization, and offering knowledge products to help establishing a conducive e-mobility environment. On a regional level, national projects are assisted by Support and Investment Platforms in Africa, Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, West Asia and Middle East to create Communities of Practice and to develop an E-Mobility Marketplace to facilitate match-making between e-mobility projects, financiers and manufacturers.