Can e-Motorcycles Survive Sub-Saharan Africa’s Infrastructure? A Question of Durability and Possibility
To accelerate progress in the e-mobility sector and meet the demands of a rapidly expanding customer base for two-wheelers, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed.
Electric motorcycles (e-Motorcycles) are set to be a dominant force in sub-Saharan Africa’s sustainable mobility transformation, but continued investment in startups tackling barriers across the value chain will be critical to maximizing the full potential.
Two-wheelers provide stable income opportunities and they are quicker and more easily maneuverable than four-wheeled vehicles, especially across sub-Saharan Africa, where countries often have poor-quality roads.
The Charging Ahead — Accelerating e-mobility in Africa report from PREO outlines the market opportunity for e-motorcycles to become a driving force in the African e-mobility sector as, according to an analysis by Mordor Intelligence, the market for motorcycles in Africa was worth USD$3.65 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to USD$5.07 billion by 2027.
However, to accelerate progress in the e-mobility sector and meet the demands of a rapidly expanding customer base for two-wheelers, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed including improving the availability of durable hardware, reliable charging infrastructure, and access to high-quality battery solutions.
PREO-supported companies — Roam (previously Opibus), Mobile Power, and Zembo — are successfully addressing each of these barriers, and together are providing the solutions needed to support an enabling ecosystem to accelerate progress across the entire e-mobility sector.
- Durable hardware: Roam is a Swedish-Kenyan company that manufactures robust electric motorcycles in Kenya. The company is demonstrating that with the support of local manufacturing and assembly, the final price of electric motorcycles can be lowered to compete with ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles while also customizing the product to local conditions.
Roam has now acquired the capacity to fully design the vehicles and manufacture 35% of them in-house with a goal to reach 70% in the next three to five years. The company plans to expand beyond Kenya to other African markets through strategic partnerships, raise USD$17.5 million in equity and debt for working capital, and hopes to supply Uber with 3,000 electric motorcycles for its delivery services across sub-Saharan Africa.
- Reliable charging infrastructure: Ugandan company Zembo has developed a solution to enable the roll-out of e-motorcycles in areas with weak and unreliable access to electricity by using solar energy to charge the batteries.
In Uganda, Zembo operates 27 battery-swap stations for electric motorcycles, considered one of the largest networks in the region. It sells motorcycles to taxi operators on a pay-as-you-go basis and provides batteries-as-a-service through its battery-swap network. 73% (personnel cost – 55%, rent – 18%) of the monthly cost of operating a swap station is fixed cost in nature, delaying profitability and slowing down expansion.
Zembo’s scale-up strategy involves expanding its network using risk-sharing mechanisms such as franchisee models and reducing personnel costs by deploying automatic swap cabinets.
The company is also installing solar power solutions for off-grid areas and hybrid power for on-grid areas with weak or unreliable grids. This will enable batteries to be charged even in areas that are not on the grid and during grid blackouts.
Zembo plans to expand its fleet to more than 2,000 motorcycles and 60 swap stations by 2025.
- High-quality battery solutions: Mobile Power operates in Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria and is tackling the scarcity of high-quality battery technologies for small-scale businesses. The company has developed clean energy storage products (lithium-ion batteries) that it offers to businesses and individuals through a rental model.
Mobile Power is now replicating its rental model in the mobility sector and generator replacement sector by leveraging the same technology components: batteries, battery management systems, and battery charging hubs. They have now reached a stage whereby they can manufacture robust batteries tailored to African conditions at scale for their in-house use and satisfy the demand of their electric mobility peers.
Mobile Power’s pay-per-use battery-swap model enables customers to access the service based on their needs.
Meanwhile, PREO is funded by the IKEA Foundation and UK aid (via the Transforming Energy Access platform) and is delivered by the Carbon Trust and Energy 4 Impact. To date, it has supported 27 productive use-of-energy enterprises across 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, four of which are in the e-mobility sector.
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