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Ugandan scientists and students at Makerere University have built an electric car.

Ugandan scientists and students at Makerere University have built an electric car.

The two-seater Kiira EV ('Kiira' means roaring in Lusoga, a local dialect), which is powered by a lithium-ion battery, was test-driven early this month (1 November) at the university. It can reach a maximum speed of 100 kilometres (km) an hour but needs recharging after an 80km run.

Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa, principal investigator for the project and deputy vice-chancellor at the university, told SciDev.Net that the conceptualisation and design took place between April and August 2009.

"I assembled 25 engineers, electricians and designers. We used a large percentage of local materials to develop the Kiira EV." He said that they imported only the steering wheel and minor accessories.

The inspiration for the project came from Makerere's participation in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Vehicle Design Summit in Italy, in 2008. The inter-university event — in which Makerere was the only African team — led to the development of Vision 200, a prototype hybrid fuel-electric car.

Following the summit, the team decided to return home and build its own electric car.

In December 2009, President Yoweri Museveni expressed confidence in the product and instructed the Ministry of Finance to provide funding for the project of 25 billion Ugandan shillings (around US$10 million) for five years (2009–14).

Tickodri-Togboa added that a prominent Uganda businessman and member of the Private Sector Foundation, Habib Kagimu, has pledged to promote the group's work.

With such entrepreneurs, he said, the group expects the Kiira EV to evolve into low-cost cars for Ugandans in the near future. The next step is to build an electric 28-seater bus, said Tickodri-Togboa.

Kiira EV project manager Paul Musasizi said the car was tested for road-drive performance including its ability to climb steep gradients and pick up speed.

"It picks speed very quickly, the motor is strong and its reversing [ability] is perfect. It also climbed a 55 degrees incline," he said, after test-driving the car for 4km at a speed of 65km per hour. But he added: "More adjustments still need to be done when it is gaining speed to avoid jerking".

But David Mulabi, a community development programme coordinator at the Uganda Czech Development Trust, said that Makerere should redirect its energies.

"Farmers are struggling with drought because irrigation is too expensive … We need [irrigation] technology … not luxury [cars]," he said.

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