There are millions of motorcycles on the road in East Africa. Driving around Nairobi, one can’t miss the swarm of motorcycle taxis known as Boda Bodas. The rise and rise of the Boda Boda industry has contributed significantly to the growth of motorcycle registrations in Kenya. Motorcycle registrations started to grow significantly in Kenya 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, bringing the total number of registered motorcycles since 1968 to over 1.6 million. This number 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 industry. The motorcycle taxi industry is also growing across the region in neighboring Tanzania, Uganda, the DRC, and Rwanda.
Kimosop Chepkoit wanted to get in on this Boda Boda action and decided to use his savings to start a motorcycle leasing firm in Nairobi. He started off leasing the popular ICE motorcycles such as the 150 CC TVS and the Bajaj Boxer. He managed to grow his fleet of motorcycles to 75. He installed tracking devices on the motorcycles for security purposes so he would know where his bikes were at all times.
He then started to get fascinated with electric motorcycles and started to ask around to get some insights on how the market would respond to electric bikes. The one question he kept getting was, “How far can you go on one charge?” Some of the feedback was a bit negative, but he didn’t let the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) get to him. Instead he realized that he had a fleet of 75 bikes already on the road with tracking devices that was just a gold mine of real data. He then started to analyze that data and rider habits more closely.
“We aggregated data from sensors installed in over 70 combustion engine Boda Bodas for a period of one year. This enabled us to fully understand the behavior of motorcycle taxi riders as well as the motorcycle usage. We gathered data such as daily mileage, average speeds, fuel consumption, average distance per trip, and hours of operation. We found that most trips range from 2 to 10 km and 90% of the time riders use the same routes every day.”
“This enabled us to build our product from a point of knowledge. We then partnered with a Chinese firm to make an electric motorcycle built to our specifications and adapted to suit our environment. After a 5-month pilot of the Ecobodaa electric motorcycle we are proud to say that we have a product that we believe will start an e-mobility revolution in the most common mode of last mile transport in East Africa,” says Kimosop, founder and CEO of Ecobodaa.
“Our initial fear was that we would be inconveniencing the riders by having them swap more than twice a day for longer journeys, but from the GPS data, we realized that the riders visit petrol stations 2-4 times a day to fill small amounts of fuel at a time since they don’t have money to do a full tank at once. This informed our choice for a battery which can give them more than 120 km on 2 swaps at a reasonable cost (1 swap costs 0.8 dollars).”
“Since the riders usually return back to the same passenger pickup points, it is easy to address the battery range problem by building swap stations on these routes. From our prototype, we have been able to save our riders 36% on daily fuel spend, over 75% on repairs and 90% on servicing for over a period of 3 months. These are incredible savings for our clients.”
Ecobodaa’s electric motorcycle uses LiNiMnCoO2 cells. “From our field tests, we have been able to achieve 75km on one charge with 120kg load, which is about the average weight of two people.”
Motorcycle taxis are the most preferred mode of last-mile connectivity in East Africa. Unfortunately, motorcycle taxis in Africa’s urban cities are one of the main sources of pollution and chaos on the roads. By building a product that reduces the rider’s expenses in terms of maintenance, fueling, and asset acquisition of the motorcycle taxis, Ecobodaa hopes to build a more resilient and sustainable urban mobility solution.
Kenya’s grid is already powered by a generation mix that is 93% renewable thanks to significant contributions from geothermal, hydropower, wind, and some utility-scale solar plants. And since 39% of CO2 emissions in Kenya are from the transport sector, the transition to electromobility is sure to be the best route to reducing these emissions.
Kimosop and his co-founder Steve Juma have adopted the proven PayGo model adopted from the small home solar industry to help catalyze adoption.
Ecobodaa is available through a PAY-AS-YOU-RIDE model where the riders will only pay a 10% deposit and then pay the reminder through daily or weekly M-PESA remittances. “This way we solve the problem facing many youths and women, which is access to capital. The payments are made for a period of 18 months, after which they get to own the Ecobodaa.”
The company is starting with the under-served Kibera, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest informal settlements. “We are currently rolling out battery swap stations in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, in readiness for our launch in late October. Battery swaps will be billed based on the percentage of power used by the rider. As a strategy to launch and serve this under-served area, we have also shortlisted, vetted, and trained women Boda Boda riders in Kibera who will then benefit from our initial batch of Ecobodaas.”
Several startups in East Africa are looking to expedite the transition to electromobility. These include Ampersand in Rwanda, Bodawerk in Uganda, Fika Mobility, and now Ecobodaa. The electric motorcycle industry in the region is shaping up quite nicely and we hope all these startups get to scale quickly to tap into this huge opportunity.
All images courtesy of Ecobodaa