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Uber Partnering With Opibus After Successful Pilot In Kenya, Aims To Deploy Up To 3,000 Electric Motorcycles By End Of 2022

After the successful completion of a pilot program in Kenya, Opibus and Uber have announced a strategic partnership to scale the use of electric motorcycles in Africa.

Motorcycles play a vital role in the transportation of people and goods in many African cities, and major cities are becoming increasingly congested as the number of vehicles continues to grow. Motorcycles sales have exploded, as they offer a fast and efficient way for both commuters as well as formal and informal service providers to get around these busy cities. The advent of on-demand deliveries and the ride-share economy is also going to help accelerate further growth in motorcycle segment.

In Kenya, for example, the motorcycle segment is now the largest vehicle segment, as seen from the latest statistics on vehicle registrations. Even the slowdown due to the first waves of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t slow down growth in the sector. While registrations in all the other major vehicle segments were down significantly in 2020, motorcycle registrations were up 17% in 2020! 246,705 units were registered in 2020, up from 210,103 units in  2019.  The number of motorcycles registered in 2020 is more than double the number of motorcycles registered in 2016, illustrating the impressive growth in this vehicle segment over the past 5 years.

In Kenya, the motorcycle industry is the single largest employer, estimated to employ over 1.2 million youth. Most of them are employed in the motorcycle taxi industry, popularly known as boda bodas. The sector is booming, with a total of over 1.6 million motorcycles registered in the country, growing with an average of 16,500 units imported per month into the country over the past 5 years.

As the world races to decarbonize the transport sector, which is a major source of emissions, the motorcycle market has attracted a lot of attention in Kenya and the region.  The high rate of emissions brought about by the vast number of ICE motorcycles has contributed to the country’s commitment to harness low-carbon investment opportunities. The large fleet of ICE motorcycles presents an unprecedented opportunity to electrify the industry in keeping with the goals in Kenya’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.

Opibus, a Swedish-Kenyan technology company that develops, designs, and manufactures electric vehicles tailored for the African continent, is leading the transition to sustainable transport in the region. Founded in 2017, it became the first company to deliver locally produced electric motorcycles and vehicles. With nearly 100 employees, 40% of which are female, Opibus is today the leading manufacturer of electric vehicles in Africa and has one of the largest fleets of electric motorcycles deployed.

Alphonse Omondi, Oliver Kegode, Dan Wekesa Nyongesa, Ronald Ogachi Zablon (UberBoda drivers), Brian Achapa (Operations, Kenya) and Thys de Beer (Interim Country Manager Kenya)

Uber’s platform offers services across the continent and will enable Opibus to accelerate the mass adoption of electric vehicles across the continent. The goal of the collaboration with Opibus is to simplify the deployment of electric motorcycles across Africa. This follows an agreement between the two parties where Opibus will supply 3,000 electric motorcycles in 2022 to meet the demand from Uber’s drivers. In line with this, the partnership will see a scale-up of Opibus operations in other countries across Africa.

“We are doing our part to help transform mobility in the country by helping to reduce carbon emissions. Uber is continuously looking for ways to improve the customer experience, and we have a responsibility to invest in product innovations that are safe, reliable, durable, environmentally friendly and have a sustainable impact on drivers and cities. This collaboration with Opibus will do just that.” — Frans Hiemstra, General Manager of Uber Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Opibus motorcycle stands out from others, as it is the first African electric motorcycle, which means it is fully designed and tailored for the local use case, with a robust frame and dual swappable battery packs providing a perfect product-market fit, intended to maximize local content. Transitioning to electric motorcycles makes a significant difference to the driver or operator’s income. The reduced maintenance and operating costs when utilizing Opibus motorcycles leads to a cost reduction of more than 60% in comparison to a traditional ICE motorcycle. The transition is furthermore incentivized by high import taxation and fuel prices that have risen by 25% during 2021, at the same time as Opibus aims to offer its motorcycle for the same prices as a fossil fuel equivalent.

“We’re seeing a huge demand for locally designed electric motorcycles on the African continent, and by working with UBER we’ve now been able to prove the feasibility for large scale deployment. Next year we’re scaling up our production to meet the market demand, both in Kenya and in the region.” — Mikael Gånge, Co-Founder and Chief Sales Officer, Opibus.

The partnership with Uber validates Opibus’ vision to make reliable electric transport more accessible to a broader market. Using the Uber platform, more drivers can now deliver their services to customers using zero-emission motorcycles. This will lead to an immense carbon reduction, while at the same time creating a better environment in cities with less noise, no particle emissions, and lowered carbon emissions globally. This follows a larger shift in Uber’s business to switch to fully electric vehicles and become a zero-emission platform by 2040. This may be the start of the next great leapfrogging event in technology for Africa.

“It has changed the whole way I drive. The motorbike requires no change of mechanical gears, it’s very easy to drive. I was impressed with the instant speed on start-up. It also has a big carrier, which makes it convenient for luggage transportation and a bigger onboard capacity for passengers. Normally, it’s hard to communicate while on transit because of how noisy motorbikes are, but this particular motorbike by Opibus is silent. I can talk to passengers and it’s even designed and built in Kenya.” — Ronald Ogachi Zablon, UberBoda driver.

Opibus’ motorcycle has been built, developed, and designed for and in Africa. Here is a summary of the specifications of its motorcycle:

  • Peak Power: 8.65 kW
  • Torque: 185 Nm
  • Top Speed: 90 km/h
  • Acceleration: 0-90 km/h in 5 seconds
  • Range (Dual Battery): 160 km
  • Battery Capacity: 2x 2.9 kWh
  • Payload: 150 kg

Over 35% of the components used in its vehicles are sourced locally, contributing to more employment opportunities in associated downstream industries. Opibus’ value proposition is riding on some positive unit economics. Opibus says its consumers can enjoy more than a 60% reduction in running costs by switching to its electric motorcycles and buses, when compared with traditional ICE vehicles. Opibus recently raised $7.5 million in funding, which is one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest ever fund raise in electric mobility.

All images courtesy of Opibus

 

 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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