Contact: Matthias Brönner, M. Sc.
The research project deals with the mobility needs in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa in the years 2020 to 2030. The overarching objective is to develop a coherent concept vehicle which addresses the problems of the rural population. The vehicle will enable better access to health care, education and information in the remote areas.
Africa is an economically very fast-growing continent. Due to structural problems and cyclical fluctuations, there is continuing struggle against hunger. Rural areas have a high need for fundamental mobility and connectivity, without expensive the luxury characteristic typical of economically developed populations. The aim of the project is to provide the rural population with an attractive mobility concept, which helps to avoid the migration to the city and to strengthen the self-sufficiency of rural areas . A successful concept has to consider the special market requirements and locally available resources in order to be considered as a "First Miles Vehicle " to tackle the core problems.
By use of autonomous GPS trackers, developed by the Institute of Automotive Technology, mobility data and use processes can be extensively recorded and analyzed by on-site investigations. Using the data collected, the vehicle concept will be further developed and designed in detail.
Within the project, 2 vehicle prototypes will be build: P1 and P2. P1 was finished in Mai 2016 and is used for testings in Germany and Ghana. The building of P2 started in summer 2017.
The main features of the vehicleconcept are:
- Electrical drive train
- Passenger and freight transport
- Cross-country mobility
- Simple and robust
By expanding modules, additional functionality can be achieved:
- Medical supply
- Drinking water supply
- Access to education
- Energy supply
- Open Source
The vehicle backbone can be equipped with individual modules depending on the scope. Existing technologies and their combination allow multifunctionality of the vehicle. This allows both the research effort, as well as the investment framework costs, to be kept low, while the benefit to end users can be maximized. The basic structure of the low cost vehicle can then be complemented by the modules depending on the desired operation purpose. Different business models to finance the modules are to be investigated such that every possibility regarding the purchase, rent, and the exchange is considered. This modularity leads to increase efficiency while reducing costs for the consumer.
A high value added local vehicle in Africa will place high demands on sustainable product development in terms of environmental effects, selection of raw materials and processing, the material cycle, as well as on social standards. Based on the technical vehicle concept it is necessary to design a sustainable product and manufacturing and recycling properties for the specification and implementation. The materials used should consist of both renewable raw materials and composites that can be manufactured and procured locally. The aim of this raw material management is to realize a concept with the possibility of local sustainability and to evaluate, as well as optimize, in particular the environmental and social impacts.
The production of the components will take place in the target region. Consequently the concept definition should be examined with manufacturing aspects to account for this. Locally available materials should be used, such that a large part of the economic development remains in the target region in the case of possible mass production. Due to the comparatively low pay on site, the manufacturing costs and thus the total cost of the vehicle can be reduced. This will also create new jobs in the target region and thus boost the economy as a whole. In addition, local knowledge of the production can be established, which may be required at a later date for the maintenance of the components. This also leads to further business opportunities. For this purpose, the African market will be explored in order to discover locally available and inexpensive materials.
The aim of the study is to identify needs by means and to translate them into vehicle characteristics. For the design of the interior and exterior factors, cost-efficient robustness and simplicity need to be reconciled with a modern design.
How did the idea for the project come about?
Over four years ago, here at the institute, we became aware of the great potential developing have countries regarding mobility. At that time, Martin Soltes started working at the chair and travelled to Ghana and Kenya with a group of students to assess, on location, the need for mobility. In collaboration with Sascha Koberstaedt, we conceived and implemented the associated research project. The basic intention was altruistic: We wanted to help people locally by offering them a viable mobility concept. In many countries, access to transportation is all but given. But people need mobility to earn a living. To sell their goods, for example, they need to take them to market, or they must travel considerable distances to get to work. Moreover, we firmly believe that Africa has one of the largest future growth markets. Currently, over one billion people live on the continent and the countries of Africa are experiencing enormous economic growth. Nonetheless, there is currently no market for automotive manufacturers to speak of in Africa. We asked ourselves why this is and concluded that current motor vehicle concepts are not well adapted to the local circumstances. Mobility needs in Africa are absolutely different from those in Europe.
How many people work on the project?
Since project kick-off, 20 doctoral candidates and over 100 students have enthusiastically taken part in the project. In addition, we have received a great deal of support from numerous industry partners and other backers.
How did you go about identifying, for example, the actual mobility needs of potential future users?
Our current project was born of myriad ideas. Discussions with local populations played a key role, since the requirements for vehicles are very different from those in Europe. For example, we discovered that the optimal loading bed length is sufficient to accomodate for two sacks of rice. Rice sacks are the “Europallets” of Africa, used to transport all kinds of goods. In addition to the user requirements, which we ascertained from personal interviews, we were able generate an array of technical data. We used GPS trackers installed in local vehicles, for example, to quantify the actual mobility requirements. A key insight was that distances are not specified in kilometers, but rather in time units. Due to the generally poor road quality, drivers spend a lot of time on the road without covering many kilometers. Our vehicle’s range of 80 km is thus more than adequate, a conclusion verified conclusively during our two-week trial in Ghana.
Why electric propulsion?
We opted for an electric drive because we believe this provides the technically best and ecologically most sustainable solution. Falling battery prices will make vehicle operation even more economical in the long term, and daily operation is also cheaper than using gasoline. From a technical perspective, electric motors are also easier to implement locally than combustion engines. High torque during acceleration combined with the ability to quickly reach maximum power give electric engines the best prerequisites for good off-road performance.
Power supply is not particularly reliable in Africa. How can a local farmer charge his vehicle?
There is a clear trend towards renewable energy in Africa. Countries are expanding their grids in a decentralized manner. Many companies are already building distributed solar and wind power plants that work optimally in combination with electric vehicles. In this way, performance peaks from solar energy during the day or hydropower at night can be buffered using internal energy storage.
What did you learn from the road tests in Ghana?
The local response was overwhelming and uniformly positive. The king of the Ashanti region wanted to personally test drive our Prototype 1 – an absolute sensation, because the king normally never drives himself, but is always chauffeured. People had heard of us even as far away as the capitol city of Accra, 2500 km away. Shortly before the return shipment of the container, a crowd of people who wanted to catch a glimpse of the car formed at the harbor. Our expectations were thus not only fulfilled, but even greatly exceeded. The same applied to the technical tests. We successfully drove countless test kilometers under local road conditions, collecting huge amounts of data in the process. During the two weeks of trials we experienced no technical limitations whatsoever and the vehicle performed absolutely reliably. This is quite exceptional for a first prototype tested under difficult conditions. A major insight was that the 80-km range was more than sufficient. Due to the generally poor road conditions, traveling only a few short kilometers takes quite a long time.
What is the difference between the second prototype and its precursor?
The vehicle has a straightforward, clear and modern design. In the first prototype the emphasis lay on functional testing, meaning that the design played only a secondary role. The vehicle has been advanced significantly from a technical perspective. We improved numerous issues identified during the road tests in Germany and Ghana. These included weight optimization, electronic and software systems, acoustics, and seat and visibility ergonomics. The new construction stage of the engines facilitates even more robust and efficient operation without a change in size or weight. The solar panel of the second prototype is dimensioned specifically to the vehicle specification and affords a significant improvement in range. An optional winch is available for operation in rough terrain and ground clearance has been increased with a slimmer transmission construction design. The chassis was tested for suitability and optimized in comparison to the first prototype. For example, the kinematic arrangement of the chassis and the steering concept have been redesigned, and the shock absorbers tailored to their specific requirements.
Where will the vehicle be manufactured?
To technically optimize the new production facility, the initial manufacturing site will be located in Germany. Workers will be trained at this model factory to subsequently build up local production facilities in Africa, thereby reducing costs while creating new jobs. This will also allow import tariffs and expensive freight charges to be avoided. Availability of the first small-scale production series is slated for mid 2019.
How will the project proceed from here?
The research project will be industrialized by Evum Motors GmbH to ensure that it remains not only an idea, but is actually serialized. The startup, founded by us, is currently looking for investors and backers.
The project "Rural mobility in developing countries" was funded by the Bavarian Research Foundation (until 2017); since 2020 it has been funded by the German Association for International Cooperation.