An emerging market for electric vehicles – Kenya’s Opibus is leading the electric revolution in East Africa


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The new wave of mobility has hit the shores of Africa and leading this revolution from the front is Kenya-based electric mobility company Opibus. Believe it or not, the idea to launch Opibus grew out of a research project to maximize carbon reduction for a Swedish university in 2017.

“At the time, we saw that there were many carbon reduction solutions in Europe, in the United States or even in China. This was clearly lacking on the African continent, which needed bespoke vehicles for the local use cases here. This is why we have made it our mission to build, design and develop bespoke vehicles for the East African region first and then for the African continent as a whole, said Albin Wilson. – director of strategy and marketing at Opibus – speaking to Auto Futures.

Shared mobility is a huge phenomenon in emerging markets, as well as in high-density urban areas, where finding a parking spot can be nearly impossible. Moving away from targeting individual transit vehicles, Opibus set out to electrify most of the shared transit market.

The reason – a very good, efficient and widely used public transport system will result in the lowest possible carbon emissions. To this end, the company has decided to focus on shared, connected and locally developed vehicles, such as electric motorcycle taxis, locally called boda bodas, as well as public minibuses, called matatus,

“The problem with electric motorcycles is that we can charge from any socket you put your cellphone in. This means that the charging infrastructure does not slow down the system. Now, if you have an electric motorcycle, you can plug it into the same outlet as your phone,” says Wilson.

In the case of electric buses, they operate on predefined routes.

“They go from point A to point B or point B to point A, or around a central hub. This means we can predefine the charging stations. This paves the way for a charge of overnight or trickle charging which is easier to deploy because you know where the buses park overnight and then we can have fast charging on the road which allows us to have lower battery capacity and more economical vehicles.” he says.

Going down the path of modernization is very conscious for Opibus. It significantly reduces implementation costs and can be implemented locally, creating more jobs for locals.

The company’s conversion kits are made up of modular batteries, which means that regardless of the size of the vehicle’s system, its control systems and internal combustion engine are replaced by an electric motor that connects directly to the vehicle. ‘drive shaft. This allows Opibus to retain the vehicles driveshaft and transmission system, meaning it can use the paddle system for throttle and brakes.

This gives vehicles a second life and is profitable for both the buyer and the company. But, more importantly, for Opibus, it means not having to reinvent the entire bus body for a new market.

Speaking of the company’s other key target segment, electric motorcycle taxis, Wilson says: “While the electric bus of course makes sense, approximately 90% of motorcycles on the road are motorcycle taxis run by this what you would call micro-entrepreneurs. In most cases, these micro-entrepreneurs acquire their motorcycle by the leasing method, by which they amortize it over a period of fourteen months. With Opibus, these motorcycles run on battery power instead of fuel, reducing running costs by 60%. This greatly reduces their overall operating costs, which is why the response from this community has been really great.

In Kenya, fuel prices have increased by 26% over the last year, so you can see why this has become an attractive offer.

On a mission to electrify Africa

According to Wilson, the fog of apprehension around electric vehicle adoption disappears as soon as the value proposition of the offering becomes clear, which, in this case, is how profitable the electric route is.

In an emerging market, value and savings are very important, and it seems Opibus has hit the nail on the head with its offerings. As a rule, most of these drivers travel less than 100 km per day, and therefore a vehicle with a removable battery offer is compelling for them. And, as Wilson points out, it’s one that immediately takes care of any range anxiety drivers might have.

“Our next generation motorcycle will have a dual battery, which will have a range of 200 km, so well above the needs of users. Of course, we will see one or two years of little apprehension, but I think if you see your friend make 60% more profit than you, it’s pretty compelling for you to change quickly.The general trend we see in technology adoption in East Africa, and especially in Kenya, is that there is very little friction in adopting the technology if it works better,” he adds.

Opibus has 150 motorcycles and 12 vehicles on the road today, with a plan to produce 3,000 motorcycles by early next year and then multiply by 10. The company’s next-generation motorcycle is built from the ground up, with its own frame, powertrain system, seats, the whole nine-meter set.

Although it has the largest number of ongoing pilot projects in Kenya, it is also running pilot projects simultaneously in five other countries – Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The target for these pilots is obviously operators rather than individual customers, and Opibus hopes to respond to local business models.


The African electric vehicle market at dawn

For now, the company is focused on solving daily commuting by providing an appropriate product offering in the bus segment, as well as building a commuter bike with a larger battery and more powerful motor. in the future.

Speaking about the mobility scene in Africa and the role he hopes Opibus will play in the larger scheme of things, Wilson says: “I think the electric mobility scene here is just about to shatter the mass scale and I think our timing, dare I say it, is perfect. We’re ramping up production now to scale our business and we’re seeing a lot of B2B customers very interested in this product and reselling it to B2C customers, so I think it’s going to be absolutely huge. Today, Kenya already has 86% renewable energy production and 20% overproduction every day. If they can sell this to consumers through transport, then why not? »

He concludes: “I think we are currently the leading player in the electric mobility movement in Africa, and we really hope that we will keep it. We also want to show the competition that there is a market and we would like more people to join it. All we want is to accelerate this movement. Our end goal is to maximize impact and reduce carbon emissions, as well as show the world that this is a proven market, and that it’s as ready for electric vehicles as it gets. will be.


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