The motorcycle sector in Africa is one of the largest vehicle segments on the continent. There are over 27 million ICE motorbikes registered across Africa, with around 80% of them used in the motorcycle taxi industry. Many operators in this industry face rising costs and dwindling profits due to high operational costs associated with frequent oil changes and maintenance services for internal combustion engine motorbikes, as well as the ever increasing cost of petrol. This has resulted in a lot of attention being given to solutions for the electrification of the motorcycle taxi industry on the continent.
Spiro is the largest EV platform in Africa, with over 6,000 electric motorcycles and scooters and more than 30,000 projected for the end of 2023. Spiro says the plan is to be the largest energy provider for the transport sector, leading and powering the electrification of the transport sector in Africa by 2025. Originally called M-Auto, Spiro started operations in Benin and Togo, West Africa, in May 2022. Spiro is now expanding to East Africa starting with Rwanda and Uganda. Spiro is looking to have operations in at least 7 countries by the end of 2023.
M-Auto was originally a company from Chennai, in southern India, doing retrofits and conversions of ICE 3-wheelers to electric. Shegun, a partner at ATIF and CEO of SPIRO along with the rest of the Spiro team, felt the best way to initiate the electric mobility project in Benin and Togo was not to start from scratch, but to build on something that had already been proven, riding on an existing skills base, skillsets, and other critical intellectual property. They then looked for an existing company in the EV sector to acquire. This led them to acquire M-Auto and refocus its operations around Africa, starting with the two-wheeler sector.
Having grown their footprint and market share, the team felt it was now the right time to rebrand the company, de-linking it from its 3-wheeler heritage and positioning it more towards its transport and energy-as-a-service provider focus, hence the new rebranding to Spiro.
In order to provide an efficient energy service that lowered the barriers to adoption for operators in the motorcycle taxi industry, Spiro has incorporated a model that has been successfully employed in other markets. In this model, Spiro retains ownership of the motorcycle batteries and then bundles energy services as part of an all-inclusive package for riders to enjoy a seamless transition from ICE motorcycles to the new Spiro electric motorcycles.
Under Spiro’s exchange model, riders get a brand new electric motorcycle in exchange for the old ICE one, for no money down. They then pay a daily subscription of $5 which is inclusive of 2 battery swaps per day (4 small batteries providing a total mileage of 160 km), maintenance costs of the motorcycle, and a comprehensive insurance package for their motorcycle. This $5 bundle is paid from their daily earnings and works out to be about 20% cheaper per day than the normal daily operational costs for an ICE motorcycle. By switching to electric motorcycles, the riders can save up to $360 per year. Most of the savings come from reduced fueling and maintenance costs.
Spiro points out that the battery swapping model is ideal for most African markets, as it ensures the safe operation of batteries and optimized charging experience in a more controlled/monitored environment at their charging hubs, as opposed to charging in apartments and homes of the motorcycle taxi riders. This, along with their choice of LFP batteries, which are more stable and better suited to the higher temperatures in Africa, will ensure enhanced safety overall, says Spiro. The battery swapping model, along with the associated charging hubs, also help address issues around grid stability and network congestion in major cities, as the hubs are carefully planned and located in areas with available grid capacity.
Spiro has two sizes of battery packs, one with 3.4 kWh capacity and the other smaller one with 2 kWh. Spiro’s motorcycle can accommodate 1 big battery or 2 small batteries. This gives riders the flexibility to go for longer trips should the need arise, having the comfort of the backup battery. Spiro says it has designed its motorcycle from the ground up, and the current models on the road have been assembled and manufactured in China through a contract manufacturer. Spiro is in the process of building its own assembly lines in Togo and Benin to localize a significant component of the production of the motorcycles. After the completion of the plants in Togo and Benin, the contract manufacturer will start shipping completely knocked-down kits to Benin and Togo where the final assembly of the motorcycles will be carried out, incorporating at maturity up to 50% local components.
Spiro has 200 swap stations in Benin, 125 swap stations in Togo, and has already secured 30 swap stations in Kigali, Rwanda. To fund these operations, Spiro raised $60 million from its main shareholder, the Africa Transformation and Industrialisation Fund (ATIF), based in Abu Dhabi. ATIF is an investment company that aims to bring solutions to the problems hampering African development. To do so, it will invest, alone or with co-investors, in assets supporting the continent’s industrialization and economic development, while keeping a strong commitment to environmental and social sustainability. Spiro is currently in discussions for a new funding round with several private equity funds, where it plans to raise about $250 million to fund iits growth. Spiro has now grown to more than 1,000 employees in all markets.
Here are some of the specs of Spiro’s motorcycle and scooter:
Spiro Commando Motorcycle
- Power: 6.5 kW
- Top Speed: 80 km/h
- Range: 40 km (per 2 kWh battery)
- Swapping Time: 2-3 mins
- Net Weight: 120 kg
With a smart Wi-Fi-powered screen projection, riders get all the data they want right in front of them on a wide 7-inch TFT display. Developed on a Linux system, the display has two modes, day and night, that switch automatically. It also features an OBD fault reminder and tire pressure monitoring.
Spiro Chap Chap Scooter
- Power: 2.5 kW
- Speed: 65 km
- Range: 70 km (per battery of 2.4 kWh)
- Swapping Time: 2-3 mins
- Net Weight: 92 kg
Spiro has recently signed a Framework Agreement (FA) with the Government of Uganda to encourage the adoption of up to 140,000 electric motorcycles. About 120,000 ICE motorcycles are imported into Uganda per year. Given Uganda’s green electricity grid that is mostly powered by hydro, the country stands to benefit from import substitution of petrol, saving much-needed foreign currency. This FA for 140,000 motorcycles will be a significant catalyst to accelerate the growth of the electric motorcycle industry in the country.
There are already several players in the electric motorcycle industry in Uganda, and Spiro plans to collaborate with these players, as well as with an energy service company. There is already a mature financing industry for motorcycles in Uganda from third party financiers. Spiro plans to work with these players to promote the adoption of the targeted 140,000 motorcycles. It’s really interesting to see these developments in Africa’s electric motorcycle industry. The sector is now moving from pilot programs to full scale commercial roll-outs of electric motorcycles. Interesting times ahead.
Images courtesy of Spiro
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