In East Africa, the motorcycle is the dominant mode of motorized transport. In Kenya, for example, motorcycle registrations started to grow significantly in the country in 2007. 16,293 motorcycles were registered in 2007, and 140,215 motorcycles were registered in 2011. Registrations started to show strong growth again from 2017 with 186,434 motorcycles registered in that year. A record 210,103 motorcycles were registered in 2019. This trend can be seen across East Africa. The number of motorcycles is expected to keep growing exponentially as demand soars due to the growth of the on-demand delivery market as well as the motorcycle taxi (Boda Boba) industry.
Rwanda-based Ampersand wants to help all these motorcycle riders switch to electric and help them save money and the environment at the same time. Ampersand’s CEO, Josh Whale, (JW) gives us an update on Ampersand’s progress in Rwanda:
CT: How is the electric Boda business going?
JW: It’s going great! We’re excited to have led the creation of a new sector in Africa and a new era in mobility. We’ve proven that we can put a motorbike on the road that’s better and cheaper, and just happens to be electric. Now we’re ready to grow. We’ve had 20 electric motorcycles on the road for over a year now. Together those motorbikes have now covered the distance to the moon and back. We’ve had 7000 Kigali motorbike taxi drivers get on our waiting list, and the President of Rwanda also announced that all motorbikes in Rwanda would become electric. Then Covid came along. That threw a spanner in the works for sure, and we’ve had investors walk away at the last minute. But we’ve been weathering the storm and making good use of our time. We’ve also raised significant grants in the interim. Now we’re now raising a Series A round to take our solution to scale.
CT: The Bodas are made in Rwanda, or imported as is?
JW: Our Bodas are imported as parts from several suppliers and assembled in Rwanda. We design and build the battery packs ourselves. Our fleet of connected batteries, vehicles and network of swap stations is also run on a proprietary software platform, which we created ourselves in Rwanda.
CT: Is your main model to convert old bikes to electric or to bring in new models?
JW: Our main model is to sell new motorcycles. We’ve built conversions, but these make less economic sense overall. After you remove the petrol drivetrain from a used taxi motorcycle, there isn’t much value left after a year or so. There’s a lot of extra work to ensure that it’s roadworthy, and questions about who’s then responsible for what. On the other hand, installing our electric drivetrain in a new chassis from an existing petrol model (without the petrol engine parts) often makes good sense, and we’re happy to work with OEM manufacturers.
CT: What is the top speed of the bike, and what is the range of the bike?
JW: Our current generation of motorbikes has a top speed of 80kph, the same as the incumbent 125cc bikes here. The current range is 65km per charge in real world conditions, i.e. the urban hilly landscape of Kigali, with a motorbike taxi driver carrying passengers. Our next iteration will have a top speed of over 90kph and a range of 90km. To tackle steep hills, the bikes have a starting torque of 200nm. That’s more like a 250cc petrol motorbike than the 110cc to 150cc petrol bikes used in East Africa. Charging generally takes a little over one hour. But drivers are already riding 12 hours a day and up to 230km, so they can’t wait around for that. Fortunately, with Ampersand they don’t have to worry about that: A swap only takes about 2 minutes.
CT: How many have you sold?
JW: We’ve had 20 motorbikes out on rent-to-own contracts for over a year now. Another 40 motorbikes will hit the road by November, with drivers already signed up and paying deposits. We have a waiting list of 7000 moto drivers.
CT: How much is each bike?
JW: We’ve designed our pricing model to match the way that the vast majority of drivers currently pay for their bikes and fuel, but with much with lower prices. That keeps the value proposition and maths nice and easy to understand for the customer. In Rwanda that means bikes are paid off over 18 months on a rent-to-own contract. Drivers end up paying about $37 a week for the bike, which is pretty typical for the average contract for a petrol bike. The real savings come from battery swaps, which cost at least 25% less than buying fuel. We also provide a service package for $5.25 per week for maintenance, which is nearly half of what drivers normally pay. That comes with roadside assistance and a loaner bike if their repair takes more than 45 minutes. Drivers here tend to cover 130-200km per day, so service is a big component and drivers will reach the typical lifespan for a single-cylinder motorbike within 1-2 years. We’re now working out a sale price for the bike, but it will be similar to the petrol motorbike price. Overall, drivers save at least $500 a year. That’s a lot of cash around here.
CT: How does your battery swapping model work?
JW: We use a battery swap model from a network of low-cost swap stations. These work like a cross between a petrol station and a Formula-1 pit-stop. We’ve performed over 15,000 swaps at these stations now. Drivers pay according to how much power they use, just like buying fuel. All payments are cashless via the sort of mobile phone cash systems that are widespread in Africa. These work a lot like the ‘pay as you go’ remote mobile payment tech that’s used in the solar home system industry that regular CleanTechnica readers may be familiar with.
Its great to see that Ampersand is actually assembling the motorcycles in Rwanda and bringing in much needed job opportunities. The company’s waiting list of over 7,000 shows that the demand for these electric motorcycles in the country is huge. Several countries, including Kenya and Uganda, are now in an enviable position of having excess electricity generation capacity, with over 90% of this capacity coming from renewable energy. This puts the region in a nice position to really have an impact in cutting down emissions in the transport sector.