At e-mobility startup Roam’s assembly plant in Nairobi, an engineer tests a new electric battery he has just designed. He mounts the battery on one of the waiting bikes, loads a150 kg-metallic box on it and rides it round the warehouse. “See how silent and powerful it is? This is the future of two-wheeler mobility,” co-founder and chairman of Roam (formerly Opibus) Filip Gardler tells Quartz.
On Aug. 16, the startup partnered with M-Kopa, a Nairobi-based clean energy financier to provide thousands of e-motorcycles to riders in Kenya, after becoming the first startup in the country to convert petrol-powered motorbikes to electric last year, starting with a fleet of 100.
“This is one of the biggest leaps for electric mobility in Africa. Enabling a pay-as-you go structure means users can benefit from reduced operational costs, allowing them to make as much as double the daily income from petrol motorcycles,” Gardler says.
After securing $7.5 million funding last year, his firm partnered with Uber to supply 3,000 electric motorcycles. And that set the stage for more e-motorcycle startups in the country, all looking to grab a slice of the growing motorbike market which has over 1.5 million riders in Kenya. A March survey by Car & General indicates that the motorbike sector contributes 3.4% to the country’s GDP generating $10 million every day.
On Aug. 26, Stima, a Nairobi e-motorcycle startup specializing in battery swapping announced a collaboration with Indian e-motorcycle manufacturer OneElectric to deploy 3,000 motorcycles in Nairobi before upscaling to other towns.
Reducing carbon emissions
Stima’s CEO Jason Gras tells Quartz that though he has operated in Chinese and EU e-battery markets he chose Kenya to set up the startup because it requires less capital to invest in green mobility.
“In other markets, you spend more to cut carbon emissions. Electric batteries here help in cutting 90% of the emissions made by petrol motorbikes. Those are 10 tons of carbon dioxide cut off in the e-motorcycle life cycle. They are also 30% cheaper than petrol ones,” Gras explains.
In 2019 alone, air pollution caused around 5,000 premature deaths in Kenya, and investing in e-motorcycles has become a solution to saving lives.
E-motorcycles have a maximum acceleration of 95 km per hour, a load weight of 200 kg and each battery’s power is depleted after riding for 100 km. Their performance matches a 150 cc petrol bike, according to Gras. The pay-as-you ride varies per provider with Stima charging $2.3 per battery swap.
“We have an online monitoring platform for our e-batteries where we collect data about their performance. This helps us do predictive maintenance. We aim to offer our services to other e-mobility companies,” Gras says.
Zero-emission bikes come with a higher initial cost
High fuel costs, soaring maintenance costs and the environmentally damaging nature of petrol bikes is now pushing more riders into e-motorcycles, whose batteries are maintenance free. “With an e-motorbike, there are no gears, clutches, air filters, exhaust pipes to replace or engine oil to buy. I love the calm ride without loud noise,” says Joseph Kimani, a bodaboda (motorbike) rider in Rongai.
He says though, that users must pay a little higher than petrol bikes. “E-motorcycles will cost you between $1,300 to $1,600 compared to $1,200 for petrol ones.”
The higher initial cost is all due to high taxes, which, according to another e-motorcycle provider eBee, should be lowered by 45% to achieve a deeper penetration of e-mobility. “The fiscal hurdle is currently quite high for e-bike import to Kenya. On top of the e-bike price, you’ll have to add 25% import duty, 16% value added tax, 2.25% import declaration fee and 1.5% railway development levy,” it notes on its website.
Online delivery startups are relying on e-motorcycles to cut emissions
The startup, which has been the logistics choice for e-commerce and food delivery startups like Jumia, Glovo, Domino’s, Pizza Inn, Bolt Food and Artcaffe in Nairobi was used to make 10,000 deliveries last year and now wants to grow its fleet to 500. It charges a weekly usage fee of $23 and has been helping its clients cut carbon emissions.
For Kiri EV, also Nairobi-based, the battery swapping fee is $8.3 per month. Users can download an app to locate swapping stations near them. Just like Stima, the startup also monitors the bikes against theft while remotely controlling the batteries for optimum performance. Like Roam, it has now moved into assembling a range of electric scooters and motorcycles at its production plant in Nairobi.
Jua Bike has invested in the business of renting out e-motorcycles and e-trikes, and after-market servicing in its mission of making “electric bikes affordable and accessible to everyone through subscription.”
While estimates show that $2 billion is needed to convert all petrol motorbikes in Kenya to electric, the current efforts are a step in the right direction with the country leading the e-mobility charge in Africa. There are also many e-vehicle startups – such as BasiGo, Nopea Ride, EVM Africa, Solar Impulse, Caetano, and Agilitee Africa.
However, even with the government’s plan to increase EV ownership of all vehicles to 5% by 2025, there is an urgent need for more investments in electric charging stations with Nairobi having only seven stations.