According to the Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya, there are currently about 600,000 commercial motorcycles in Kenya. Motorcycle taxis, known as Boda Bodas, are extremely popular, as commuters use them to whiz through Nairobi’s infamous traffic. Boba Bobas are also widely used in Kenya’s coastal resort towns, like Malindi, Watamu, Kilifi, Diani, the city of Mombasa, Rift Valley towns like Nakuru, and the inland port city Kisumu in Western Kenya.
The range of modern-day electric motorcycles make electric two-wheelers perfect for small towns like Malindi, as riders can really sweat out the range of these electric vehicles with frequent short trips across town. The use of Boda Bodas has also increased in rural areas, where most places are difficult to access using cars and buses. A combination of the growth in online shopping, the rise of on-demand logistics delivery startups like Sendy, and limited job opportunities for the youth in Kenya, among other factors, is most likely going to result in an exponential growth in the number of motorcycles on the roads.
A lot of unemployed youths aspire to own a Boda Boda, thereby becoming their own bosses by doing deliveries or ferrying passengers across town. A whole ecosystem has been built around the Boda Boda economy. Banks and asset finance companies offer financing packages and loans to assist potential buyers. Spare parts vendors and backyard mechanics maintaining and servicing Boda Bodas are also flourishing.
Seeing this huge addressable market, Fika Mobility has spent over 18 months studying the market to see how best to disrupt the motorcycle ecosystem in Kenya. In that time, the company spoke with over 200 Boda Boda Riders to understand their rider habits and pain points.
Rishi Kohli, cofounder and CEO of Fika Mobility, says: “I always look at the Rasion d’être the reason why I am here, and in the ventures I have been part of its how can I make a difference in someone’s life. As a company our mission is to give Boda Boda owners / riders a more economically conducive energy platform which we hope will one day increase the uptake of electric vehicles in Kenya and across Africa. Currently we are working with a number of stakeholders in Kenya like Sustainable Transport Africa (STA) and others, to help UNEP set up an electric motorcycle.” STA is a Kenyan NGO that works on sustainable mobility and is a regional implementation partner for UNEP.
Fika means “to arrive” in Swahili, and it does seem like the moment for electric motorcycles in East Africa has arrived. Fika plans to sell its electric motorcycle at around $1,200. The current version Fika has been piloting in Kenya has a 2.5 kWh lithium-ion battery and a range of around 100 km. The hub motor has a peak power of 1,500 W. The company is about expand the pilot with an updated version of the Fika motorcycle based on the learnings from the initial pilot. The next iteration will come with a leaner 1.2 kWh battery pack, and riders will then pay a deposit for the 1.2 kWh battery pack.
Fika’s batteries will be GPS-linked to enable real-time tracking and monitoring. Fika’s service will have a bouquet of subscription plans for riders to choose their monthly payment packages for the swaps. This pricing lowers the barriers to entry and could be a game changer. The sticker price puts the Fika motorbikes in the same range as the extremely popular 150 CC Bajaj Boxer, which retails for around $1,118. This could really be significant for the motorcycle industry. Whereas most electric cars have an initial sticker price which is much higher than gasoline/diesel equivalents, and the value proposition of electric cars is made strong based on the total cost of ownership over, say, a 5-year period, here the electric motorcycles could come in at the same starting price.
Just like several companies eyeing the electric motorcycle space in East Africa, Fika hopes to woo riders on the back of daily savings and a “refueling experience” similar to their current petrol models in terms of wait times by adopting a Gogoro-style battery swapping model. Standard battery charge time ranges from between 4 to 6 hours for these motorcycles. Riders would need to be always ready to go and cannot afford to wait this long. The battery swap model will allow the riders to get a fully charged battery in minutes.
Fika plans to set up multiple battery swapping stations across the city. The swapping model in general will not be new to Kenya, as LPG retailers have a hugely successful network already and thus riders who are often the ones hailed by consumers to go and swap out cooking gas cylinders will be well accustomed to this model. Similarly, the same model has been active for decades in Kenya for drinking water, where consumers buy a 20 liter reusable container with a deposit fee and simply go to a supermarket or kiosk with the empty container to get another full container and only pay for the water. Riders will then conveniently go to any battery swapping station, collect a fully charged battery, and only pay a certain amount as a “recharge fee.”
Ultimately, the riders should be able to lower their costs by switching to Fika’s electric motorcycles. Currently, riders spend about $6 per day operating a fossil-fueled motorbike, whereas the recharge costs and lower maintenance costs associated with operating an electric motorbike will save riders 20% daily compared to what they currently spend using their petrol bikes, according to Fika Mobility’s analysis.
A similar startup in Uganda, Bodawerk, offers unlimited battery swaps for riders at $3 per day. Kenya certainly needs cleaner vehicles on its roads since 39% of CO2 emissions in Kenya are from the transport sector. Rishi and his brother Sanuj Kohli, who is also a cofounder, are on a mission to play their part in reducing emissions in the transport sector. Their company, LEME Group, has several eco-friendly businesses in Dubai and Kenya. These businesses focus on LED lighting, stationary energy storage systems (ESS), and a waterless car wash enterprise. Their latest venture hopes to transform Kenya’s mobility sector with plans for the popular three-wheelers (tuk tuks) as well.