Motorcycles are a big deal in Kenya. 210,103 motorcycles were registered in 2019, bringing the total number of registered motorcycles since 1968 to over 1.6 million. Motorcycles are mainly used as public transport vehicles. These motorcycle taxis are popularly known as boda bodas. The motorcycle taxi industry is a vital segment of Kenya’s economy. These motorcycle taxi riders enable 22 million rides per day. Average daily earnings for the riders are close to 700 shillings ($6.60). Boda boda operators collect Sh980 million daily ($9.2 million) and the sector’s annual earnings are estimated at 357 billion shillings ($3.3 billion).
Despite playing a critical role in the economy, supporting 5.2 million Kenyans directly or indirectly, which is about 10% of Kenya’s population, boda boda riders’ earnings are throttled by high overheads. High fuel, maintenance, and service costs are a heavy burden for the riders.
Fika Mobility wants to electrify Kenya’s boda bodas and is confident that the unit economics will convince riders to transition quickly to Fika’s electric motorbikes. Rishi Kohli, Fika’s CEO and co-founder, reckons riders can save $609 per year by switching to Fika’s electric motorbikes. This will have a huge impact on their standard of living and will help them build up some savings. The majority of the riders do not own their bikes. Most are employed by someone who owns the bike, while some riders lease bikes. These savings could put them in a better position to buy their own bikes on a rent-to-own model.
Fika plans to sell its electric motorcycle at around $1200, including the battery pack. The current version Fika has been piloting in Kenya has a 3 kWh lithium-ion battery and a range of around 100 kilometers. The next iteration of the Fika motorcycles that is launching in 2021 will have a mid-mounted motor that has a peak power of 3 kW. Fika is rolling out battery swap stations and riders will pay $0.77 per swap, which will give them 100 km range compared to 60 km for one liter of fuel. Fika’s batteries are GPS-linked to enable real-time tracking and monitoring. Fika also hopes to woo riders with this “refueling” experience similar to its current petrol models in terms of wait times, by adopting a battery swapping model. Standard battery charge time ranges from between 4 to 6 hours for these motorcycles. Riders need to always be ready to go and cannot afford to wait this long. The battery swap model will allow the riders to get a fully charged battery in minutes.
Fika is finally launching in Q1 of 2020 after extensive research into the Kenyan motorcycle taxi industry over the past 2 years. Fika has tested its bikes with SafeBoda, Uber, and over 100 boda boda riders. Fika planned to launch in mid-2020, but its plans have been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. “Whilst Covid delayed us, it allowed us to test and iterate and make improvements,” says Rishi Kohli.
Kenya definitely needs cleaner vehicles on its roads as soon as possible, since 39 % of CO2 emissions in Kenya are from the transport sector. A 2015 study by the Energy Regulatory Commission, ERC (now called the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, or EPRA), on the “Global Fuel Economy Initiative Study in Kenya (GFEI),” cites that emissions from motorcycles of less than 150 cc are about 46.5 g/km of CO2. Increasing the penetration of electric motorcycles will make a big difference in the abatement of CO2 emissions. Kenya’s grid is already powered by a generation mix that is 93% renewable thanks to significant contributions from geothermal, hydropower, wind, and some utility-scale solar plants. Then there is also the option of charging these motorcycles with onsite solar, further reducing the cost of charging. EVs and PV are a match made in heaven, and the synergies between these industries will help drive growth in both sectors, especially in rural and off-grid communities where motorcycles are also a key pillar in enabling mobility and accessibility. Electric motorcycles powered by solar make it easy to operate in places where bringing in diesel can be a nightmare.
There are an estimated 5 million motorcycles across east Africa, so the total addressable market (TAM) for electrification is huge. Several startups in the east African region are also looking to scale in 2021. These include Ampersand in Rwanda, Bodawerk in Uganda, Ecobodaa, and Opibus in Kenya. 2021 looks like it will be the year where this transition really takes off. We will keep following developments in this space very closely.
All images by Katherine Keango