For 12 years Didier Ndabahariye has been carrying passengers through the streets of Kigali – one of thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers, known locally as motos.
Recently, he changed his usual rush to tour the capital of Rwanda with one of the first electric motorcycles on the African continent.
“In the early days things were not going well because I was not used to riding e-bikes and the bike would stop at times.
“Anyway I kept working and soon I learned a lot about how the bike works and how to ride it. Then I started saving more money,” explains Didier.
He is one of 60 drivers riding an electric motorcycle from the Rwandan company Ampersand.
“Now I like bikes – an e-bike can last a long time without any problems unlike a motor-powered one – and that’s okay, it’s very smooth to ride.”
Start-up Ampersand is a pioneer in the transition and hopes that nearly all Rwanda’s motorcycles will be electric in the next five years.
It’s an ambitious dream: around 25,000 motorcycle taxis operate in Kigali, some of which drive up to 10 hours a day, often covering hundreds of kilometers a day.
“Motorcycles make up more than half of all vehicles in this part of the world,” says Ampersand CEO Josh Whale.
“Their simple engines lack the kind of expensive emission-reducing technology you see in modern cars or motorbikes in the north of the world. Meanwhile they run over 100km a day, so there’s a lot of pollution, a lot of carbon. [dioxide].
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“In Rwanda, drivers spend more on gasoline in a year than the cost of a new motorcycle. We have shown that we can offer an alternative in the same style as their current motorcycle. [that] it costs less to buy, less power and less to maintain. “
Ampersand says the savings on fuel and maintenance can double a driver’s income.
With an estimated five million motorcycles on East African roads, there could be big savings in CO2 emissions if Ampersand and its rivals grab a significant share of the market.
And commercial is more than just a technology platform. He assembles the motorcycles, the batteries and has set up charging stations.
Each bike has around 150 parts, which are assembled in Kigali. Most importantly, the battery packs are specially designed and prototyped by the engineers at Ampersand in Rwanda. They are then produced overseas and sent back to Rwanda for final assembly by local technicians.
Ampersand currently has 73 employees at its motorcycle factory in Rwanda and is moving to a new facility this month as production grows.
“For the moment we are also a motorcycle company, with parts and maintenance as well. However, we would be happy to work with the large existing gasoline motorcycle manufacturers from a vehicle point of view.
“We are still small and we want to move fast – as the climate crisis demands – and do some difficult things fast. So we are very happy to partner with existing big players where we can,” says Whale.
The company has set up battery swap stations – where drivers swap dead batteries for recharged ones – with five already in operation around Kigali.
Each trading station costs around $ 5,000 (£ 3,700), and the company claims it can build around 20 trading stations for the price of a conventional gas station.
The government of Rwanda has an important role to play in the shift to e-transportation by balancing the pros and cons of e-mobility. There will be a loss of fuel tax revenue, but the benefits include switching to locally produced energy sources, lower fuel import costs and job creation if assembly is done locally.
The country has pioneered a number of incentives to encourage electric mobility.
This includes limited electric tariffs for charging stations and land without rent for them, preferential parking and travel lanes for electric vehicles around Kigali, and restrictions on the age and emissions of polluting vehicles.
Established transport companies are also demonstrating a willingness to contribute to e-mobility efforts.
In Rwanda, Volkswagen has been conducting an electric mobility pilot project since 2019 in partnership with Siemens, which saw the launch of 20 electric Golfs and two charging stations in Kigali.
Volkswagen says the country has the potential to override internal combustion engines to electric cars.
“Together with our development partner Siemens and with the support of the government of Rwanda, Volkswagen aims to make the e-Golf pilot project a project for electric mobility in Africa,” says Andile Dlamini, of Volkswagen Group South Africa.
For Ampersand, Rwanda was only the first step in Africa, with the company launching in neighboring Kenya and other countries shortly thereafter.
While there are challenges to launching EVs across Africa – such as a shortage of specialized skills, venture capital investor reticence and disrupted supply chains – Whale argues that the continent can be a leader in the global shift to mobility. electric.
The amount of working capital required is “easily realistic,” he says, and could be made available by world governments to accelerate rollout.
“We hope to be able to demonstrate that the electric age is here – for everyone – and that clean mobility is not something that is about to arrive in the southern hemisphere second-hand, decades from now. Rather that it is affordable, fundable, investable – Now.”
- Business in Africa
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