Rwanda goes electric with locally made motorcycles

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KIGALI – For 12 years, Didier Ndabahariye has carried passengers through the streets of Kigali, one of the thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers, known locally as motorcycles.

Recently, he changed his usual route around the Rwandan capital to one of the first electric motorcycles on the African continent, according to a BBC report.

“The first few days things weren’t going well because I wasn’t used to riding electric motorcycles and the bike sometimes cut off.

“However, I continued to work and quickly understood a lot about how the bike works and how to ride it. Then I started saving more money,” explains Didier.

He is one of the 60 electric motorcycle drivers of the Rwandan firm Ampersand.

“Now I like bikes – an electric motorcycle can last a long time without any problem unlike a motor motor – and it’s going well, it’s very smooth to ride.”

Start-up Ampersand is pioneering change and hopes that over the next five years almost all Rwandan motorcycles will be electric.

It’s a lofty dream – there are around 25,000 motorcycle taxis operating in Kigali, some traveling for 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,” said Ampersand CEO Josh Whale.

“Their simple engines don’t have the kind of expensive emission reduction technology you see in modern cars or motorcycles in the north of the world. During that time, they are going over 100 km a day, so that’s is a lot of pollution, a lot of carbon [dioxide].

“In Rwanda, drivers spend more in a year on gasoline than the cost of a new motorcycle. We have shown that we can offer an alternative in the same style as their current bike. [that] costs less to buy, less to power and less to maintain. “

Ampersand says fuel and maintenance savings can double a driver’s income.

With around five million motorcycles on the roads of East Africa, there could be big savings in CO2 emissions if Ampersand and its rivals take a significant share of the market.

The ampersand is more than just a technology platform. It assembles motorcycles, batteries and has set up charging stations.

Each motorcycle has around 150 parts, which are assembled in Kigali. Above all, the battery packs are specially designed and prototyped by Ampersand engineers in Rwanda. They are then manufactured abroad and returned to Rwanda for final assembly by local technicians.

Ampersand currently has 73 employees at its Rwandan motorcycle factory and is moving to a new factory this month as production increases.

“At the moment we are also a motorcycle company, with spare parts and maintenance as well. However, we would be happy to work with the large existing gasoline motorcycle manufacturers on the vehicle side.

“We are still small and we want to move fast – as the climate crisis demands – and do difficult things quickly. So we are very happy to team up with existing big players where we can,” said Mr. Whale.

The company has set up battery exchange stations – where drivers exchange their exhausted batteries for recharged batteries – five of which are already operational around Kigali.

Each exchange station costs around $ 5,000 (£ 3,700) – and the company says it can build around 20 exchange stations for the price of a conventional gas station.

The Rwandan government has a big role to play in the transition to e-transport, balancing the pros and cons of electric mobility. There will be a loss in fuel tax revenue, but the benefits include a shift to locally produced energy sources, lower fuel import costs, and job creation if assembly takes place locally.

The country has launched a series of incentives to encourage electric mobility.

This includes capped electricity tariffs for and free land for charging stations, preferential parking and traffic lanes for electric vehicles around Kigali, and restrictions on vehicle age and emissions. pollutants.

Established transport companies are also showing their willingness to contribute to electric mobility efforts.

In Rwanda, Volkswagen has been running an e-mobility pilot project since 2019 in partnership with Siemens, which has seen it launch 20 electric golf courses and two charging stations in Kigali.

Volkswagen says the country has the potential to switch from 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 model for electric mobility in Africa,” said Andile Dlamini, of Volkswagen Group South Africa.

For Ampersand, Rwanda was only the first step in Africa, with the company currently being launched in neighboring Kenya and other countries shortly thereafter.

While the deployment of electric vehicles across Africa poses challenges – such as a shortage of specialist skills, reluctance from venture capitalists and disrupted supply chains – Mr Whale argues that the continent can to be a leader in a global transition to electric mobility.

The amount of working capital required is “easily realistic”, he says, and could be put in place by global governments to speed up deployment.

“We hope that we can show that the electric age is here – for everyone – and that clean mobility is not something that is going to spread to the south of the world in a secondary way, in decades. It is rather profitable. , fundable, investable – now. “


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