Nairobi Mechanics Turning Fuel Cars Into Electric Vehicles

Motorists on a Colossal Traffic Jam Along Busy Uhuru Highway in Nairobi
Traffic jam witnessed along busy Uhuru Highway in Nairobi in 2019
Simon Kiragu

A  vehicle, reportedly the Tesla Model X 75D, sparked debate online after it was spotted with a Kenyan number plate. In a video shared on social media on Monday, November 2, 2020, the electric car was further spotted being towed on a Kenyan highway. 

Kenyans raised questions on how the popular global electric vehicle was operating in Kenya, with others wondering how it would be charged.

How many charging stations exist in Kenya and how it will survive power outages? - these were common questions after photos of the vehicle went viral. Many countries are opting to convert fuel cars to electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce congestion on roads and emissions of exhaust gases but Kenya has made little progress in this regard. spoke with Mikael Gange, an engineer from Opibus, a Kenyan startup based in Industrial Area, Nairobi. He explained how they are converting fuel automobiles into EVs

A plan is currently underway between the Nairobi City County Government, the Minibus Owners Association, and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) to have Opibus convert minibuses and motorcycles to EV. 

Viju Patel (right) and his son Jayesh Patel (left) pose with the Tesla Model X 75D

How Do EV's Fit in Kenya 

EV conversion plans fit quite nicely into Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP 2018-2023). The NCCAP has identified operational inefficiencies in the transport sector, heavy traffic congestion, and high fuel consumption as a major contributor to high levels of emissions.

Kenya enjoys geothermal, wind, utility-scale solar, and hydropower plants which can facilitate a conversion. 

Pilot Phase 

"We already started a pilot phase where we have converted Safari Vehicles into EVs," Gange stated adding that all they do is to remove the combustion engine and replace it with an electric motor engine inside the chassis. 

Game vehicles were tested as they have scheduled drives, well-defined routes and softer regulations in areas without traffic snarls. Another firm, Iyadi,  also took a 35 kWh  Electric Volkswagen e-Golf on a 200 km nonstop trip to Nanyuki from Nairobi in a test drive.  

Opibus offers battery packs built with prismatic Lithium Iron Phosphate cells in three battery pack sizes. These are the 30 kWh, 50 kWh, and 70 kWh packs with ranges of up to 140 km, 245 km, and 350 km (87, 152, and 217 miles) respectively depending on the weight of the vehicle, terrain, and driving style.

How to Convert a car into an EV

1. Choose a Suitable Vehicle

The condition of the vehicle can range from factory new to having a faulty engine and gearbox since these components will be changed. 

2. Conversion process begins

When received at the workshop the vehicle is thoroughly cleaned and inspected to ensure improved performance after the completed conversion. The process takes less than 2 weeks with optional refurbishment and extension of chassis for safari use.

3. Disassembly and Installation

Engine, fuel tanks and other combustion-related components are removed to give room for mounting of the new electric motor, batteries and power electronics. Functionalities such as power steering, 4WD and driving in shallow water are retained within the same total weight.

4. Testing and inspection


A graphic explanation of how an EV works

The electric conversion is performed according to international standards and Kenyan law, going through both extensive testing and quality control from our side, but also government inspections before approval.

5. Connecting Energy System

Your current solar energy system is connected to smart charging stations providing electricity to the vehicles when not used according to your demand. Several charging solutions can be chosen from and mechanics will make sure it suits a motorist's need and the vehicle is ready to be driven. 

Advantages of EV’s 

EV's are superior to the combustion engine when it comes to torque and power. One can achieve peak torque from stationary with a continuous powerful acceleration.

It also has clean power (no emissions), increased performance, lower running costs and silent operation (no rumbling noise). To power the vehicles, mechanics offer a complete solution stretching from energy production to energy storage and charging. 

Types of EV's 

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors. Plug-in hybrids use a petrol or diesel engine alongside the electric motor and 100% EVs need to be charged. Their high-performance batteries are used to provide power to an electric motor, which in turn drives the wheels. 

A section of the Thika Superhighway at Allsops
A section of the Thika Superhighway at Allsops
Simon Kiragu