Start-up enthusiasm and serious government support are accelerating the uptake of two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles in Africa and Asia—a transformation that is making its mark on global demand for fossil fuels.
“Big Oil faces a tiny foe on the streets of Asia and Africa,” writes the New York Times, in an in-depth report on how “the noisy, noxious vehicles that run on two and three wheels, carrying billions of people daily, are quietly going electric—in turn knocking down oil demand by one million barrels a day this year.”
“In Nairobi and Hanoi, motorcycles serve as taxis. In Mumbai, scooters can carry a family of four. In China, electric bicycles are how millions commute.”
“Electric bikes are quieter, much more efficient, and good for the environment,” Jesse Forrester, founder of Nairobi-based electric motorcycle taxi start-up Mazi Mobility, told the Times. “There’s a quiet revolution now in Kenya driving this transformation for the future.”
Forrester’s 60 motorbike taxis, known as boda-bodas, are part of that revolution, with Mazi Mobility competing with several other similar companies “to establish an electric two-wheeler ecosystem, selling or assembling imported bikes, installing chargers, and working with lenders to offer cheap credit.”
One of Mazi Mobility’s competitors, ARC Ride, is going all-in on battery swap stations, with 72 currently working in Kenya’s capital, and another 25 planned for placement every few kilometres along Nairobi’s busiest roads.
ARC Ride’s head of sustainable growth, Felix Saro-Wiwa (grandson of the renowned Nigeria human rights activist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa) said that the goal is “to enable mass electric transport.”
Clearly aspiring in that direction, Kenya’s president, Will Ruto, has mandated 200,000 electric motorcycles on his country’s streets by 2025.
But there is still much work to be done: of an estimated 1.3 million boda-bodas in Kenya, only 1,500 are electric.
While cheaper to run, the electric boda-bodas are “still about 5% more expensive to purchase than gasoline models,” writes the Times. The struggle for access to spare parts due to a “cumbersome bureaucracy” is a further hurdle, and “the depreciating Kenyan currency doesn’t help.”
Still, Saro-Wiwa remains optimistic. “This is what the future of transportation in Kenya looks like,” he said.
India is already farther down the road to a fully-electric fleet. “More than half of all new three-wheeled vehicles sold and registered there this year were battery-operated,” writes the Times. Helping the shift is US$1.2 billion in incentives designed to ensure that 30% of all vehicles on India’s roads are electric by 2030.
“Much of that government largesse goes to auto dealers, which pass on the savings to buyers of battery-powered rickshaws by lowering prices,” notes the Times.
Courtesy of such rebates, an electric rickshaw can now be purchased at half the price of a gas-powered one. And the economic benefits continue to accrue after purchase: charging the battery to full costs 75% less than filling a tank.