Between the close of this year’s climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh and the 2023 climate event slated for December 2023 in the UAE, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are all working to position themselves as new electric vehicle powerhouses.
Signaling an era where next-generation electric vehicles are made in a region most strongly associated with fossil fuels, manufacturers in the three countries are seeing new forms of government backing and technology-driven partnerships with international automotive companies.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has set the most ambitious targets for electric vehicle manufacturing.
Last month Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the first Saudi vehicle brand Ceer to design, manufacture, and sell sedans and sports utility vehicles targeting consumers in the kingdom and the broader Middle East.
Ceer is a joint venture between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and Chinese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn, which will license component technology from BMW.
“Energy and transport developments are very close to the crown prince’s heart. that’s why he put the Ceer company under the umbrella of the Public Investment Fund, which he directly oversees,” said Joseph Salem, lead Travel & Transport partner at Arthur D. Little in Riyadh.
The country aims to manufacture more than 150,000 electric cars annually by 2026.
Today, every vehicle on the road in Saudi Arabia is an import.
“The crown prince approved the aggressive set targets for EV adoption,” said Salem.
Salem’s firm is working with Saudi officials to implement policies that incentivize replacing a fleet dominated by internal combustion engine cars and buses with electric vehicles.
The consultant said environmental imperatives and emissions commitments made by the Saudi government to the world are the main driver of the push to build EVs in the kingdom.
“However, there’s also an economic element that is related to the equation,” Salem explained.
“Today the mobility sector is wholly driven by carbon-emission vehicles. To move these vehicles, you have to use oil which is currently sold locally at a price that is subsidized by the government.”
“By building electric vehicles locally, they can save the oil and export it to the external market. The same logic applies toward renewable energy production efforts in the kingdom,” Salem said.
Past attempts to build so-called “national” cars in the region have faltered over quality issues and a lack of brand enthusiasm.
In the early 1960s, the Egyptian-built compact “Ramses” symbolized the county’s drive for self-sufficiency.
While promoted by Egypt’s post-colonial leader, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ramses’ five-to-six-cars per day assembly line and reputation for mechanical unreliability doomed the national brand.
Nasser kept his presidential vehicle, a 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood.
By 1972, the state-owned Al-Nasr Automotive factory discontinued Ramses’ production.
The Al-Nasr company switched to producing Fiat models licensed by Turkish manufacturer Tofaş.
In January, President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi reprised notes of Nasserist ambition, telling the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh that he was personally committed to seeing EVs built in Egypt.
“We have moved quickly to establish a partnership with many companies to produce electric cars in Egypt,” El-Sisi said. “Starting in 2023, we will produce the first Egyptian electric car.”
At the same event, Hisham Tawfiq, Minister for Public Enterprises, announced that military-owned Al-Nasr Automotive was negotiating with Chinese auto manufacturers to fulfill the presidential directive.
Meanwhile, in the country’s private sector, General Motors and its Egyptian partner Al Mansour Automotive are building a facility to roll out Cadillac’s all-electric midsize luxury SUV Lyriq in Egypt by the end of next year.
GM Middle East plans to launch 13 all-new EVs, building an EV line-up that includes the Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility, a Hummer EV.
In the run-up to the locally hosted COP 27 conference, Egypt made visible strides in building a network of DC fast-charging charging stations required by an electric fleet.
Infinity Power- a joint venture between Egypt’s Infinity Energy company and the UAE firm Masdar- is already operating around 440 charging points across the country.
The company feeds the network electricity from the massive 37.2 square kilometer (14.4 square mile) Benban solar park in Aswan.
“We expect to see up to seven thousand more electrical vehicles on the road in 2023 with an annual 10% increase going forward,” said marketing director Karim El Gazzar. “We are fulfilling the government’s plans to build a robust ecosystem for EVs.”
In 1961 Turkish President Cemal Gürsel summoned a group of local engineers to build a car wholly designed and produced in Turkey called Devrim.
That vehicle barely made it through a Republic Day test run from Istanbul to Ankara -and clocked an even shorter production run than Egypt’s Ramses.
But five decades of steady partnerships with Fiat, Renault, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Ford have helped Turkey rank at number thirteen in the world for automobile production.
Last year cars, trucks, motor vehicle parts, and accessories were the country’s top export earning $25 billion in revenue for Turkey.
Trucks, light commercial vehicles, and buses have been a particular stand out for Turkey, accounting for almost 40 percent of its automotive industry in 2020.
And 2022 has seen Turkish assembly lines producing and selling EVs in the truck and bus sector.
Ford Otosan, a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Koç Holding, shipped the all-electric E-Transit cargo van in April, just two months after customers in the U.S. started receiving orders from the company’s Kansas City plant in Missouri.
According to a company statement, Ford Otosan’s plant in Kocaeli, Turkey, plans to start production of the Transit Custom’s %100 electric version in the second half of 2023.
“Ford Otosan is investing more than two billion dollars and growing employment by around 3,000 to increase vehicle production capacity, including for the next-generation Transit Custom model,” said general manager Güven Özyurt.
Meanwhile, the Bursa-based manufacturer Karsan is leading in the electric minibus and bus field, accounting for 90% of Turkey’s exports.
The company’s electric buses are already on the roads in 16 countries, including the U.S.. Karsan operates its autonomous e-ATAK on a 4-kilometer route at Michigan State University just 140 km northwest of the American automobile capital of Detroit.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is voicing his enthusiasm for the electric vehicle industry.
“With mass production, the name of our country and our brands in this sector will be well known. Erdoğan said. “The world is moving towards clean energy, and we will never fall behind in this field.”
Erdoğan is visibly associated with the new Turkish e-vehicle manufacturer Togg which aims to produce 175,000 midsize SUV’s a year at its 4,300-worker Gemlik Campus located about 125 km south of Istanbul.
In an October echo of his predecessor Gürsel, the president took First Lady Emine Erdoğan along for a test drive of the Togg on Republic Day.
“Of course, Turkey has the engineering talent and manufacturing capacity to build a top-line electric car,” said Kaan Kurşun, an Istanbul entrepreneur and co-investor with Lorenzo Schmid in the Swiss “mindset” electric vehicle prototype built in 2008.
“I wish the team at Togg could have developed an authentic brand story instead of peddling it as President Erdoğan’s car. Yes, he has many supporters in Turkey, but I don’t think that will be compelling for consumers in Dubai or Dublin, “said Kurşun.