Published on Voices

In developing countries, the e-mobility revolution is closer than you might think

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Electric buses charging in a parking lot. Electric buses charging in a parking lot.

In growing cities around the world, air pollution is a matter of life or death.  Health complications from poor air quality contribute to nearly 8 million years of life lost annually. The transport sector plays an important part in this global crisis, as many of the pollutants we breathe in every day originate from vehicle engines.
This is a difficult problem to solve because mobility is a fundamental lifeline. There are many parts of the world that still lack even the most basic access to transport infrastructure and services. A pressing challenge is finding ways to curb emissions from transport  while still improving accessible, affordable and safe ways for people to travel.

One important aspect of this transition is electric mobility. Electric vehicles (EVs) – which come in many varieties including private cars, two- and three-wheelers, and buses – have been taking some global markets by storm. Sales of electric cars doubled in 2021, reaching a record 6.6 million. But most of these vehicles are concentrated in Europe, China and the United States. 

EVs offer many benefits, including the most talked about - their potential to shift the world toward net-zero transport. For megacities like Cairo, Jakarta, or Santiago de Chile, which suffer from intense congestion, EVs can greatly improve local air quality for citizens. But the benefits extend beyond transport decarbonization; EVs can have a positive impact on development goals. For instance, electric two- and three-wheelers can meet the last-mile mobility demands of many low-income citizens in places such as Mali and Burkina Faso, where getting to jobs, health services or schools is still difficult due to a lack of public transport systems. 

A growing number of developing countries are looking to harness the potential of e-mobility, and the World Bank is already working with clients in several regions to support this transition.  In India, for instance, the World Bank – together with other partners, is discussing with the Indian authorities how to support their ambitious e-mobility program for two and three wheelers, as well as electric buses. In Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, the Bank is providing technical assistance and expertise to help major cities across the region electrify their public transport fleet.

Given these advantages, why hasn’t e-mobility taken off in more places? One important reason is that, until recently, EVs have been simply too expensive compared to their internal combustion engine counterparts. Electric vehicles come at a cost premium – sometimes upwards of 70-80% more than conventional alternatives. This has been a major hurdle to adoption, both for developing country governments trying to green their fleets, and for consumers looking to purchase private vehicles.

But new research from the World Bank suggests that this unfavorable math is changing, and faster than you might expect. In our new analysis, we took a closer look at the Economics of e-Mobility in low- and middle-income countries, factoring in current and projected EV pricing in the next decade, savings in fuel costs and maintenance, and monetization of health and environmental benefits. The analysis makes it clear that the economic case for increased e-mobility is stronger than ever before. In fact, half of the countries we studied already have a strong economic case for using more EVs, especially buses and two- or three-wheelers. Over the next few years, it is likely that further EV price reductions through efficient procurement and technology innovation will make the economics even more appealing.

Of course, EVs cannot single-handedly solve all transport challenges in developing countries. They need to be pursued as part of broader plans toward a sustainable mobility transition. One way to make that happen is to prioritize the electrification of high-efficiency, high-occupancy transport, such as bus rapid transit (BRT). Experience from the field has shown that the electrification of mass transit can be an excellent way to reduce transport emissions while giving residents access to reliable, affordable mobility. Another promising solution is to activate more financing for electrified two- and three-wheelers. And most importantly, governments can invest in charging infrastructure, the most influential factor behind an EV purchase – even more important than subsidies or incentives.

Accelerating progress toward sustainable mobility in developing countries is crucial, and electric vehicles will be an important part of the equation.  All countries need a plan for incorporating electric mobility into their transport progress and prioritizing investments that are relevant to the local context. The World Bank stands ready to support this transition every step of the way.

Download our latest report: The Economics of Electric Vehicles for Passenger Transportation

Want to learn more about transport decarbonization? Don't miss our #MovingtoZero series.


Riccardo Puliti

IFC Regional Vice President, Asia and the Pacific

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