Electric cars gradually drive into Kenyan roads


Bernard Wasike, electrical engineer, Chargenet Kenya, at an EV charging station at ABC Place, Waiyaki Way, Westlands on September 14, 2021. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

A few years ago, Kenyans and most of us knew little about electric vehicles (EVs) that were synonymous with developed nations such as the US, United Kingdom, China, and Germany.

The main reason for Kenya’s, and indeed Africa’s, slow adoption of electric vehicles is that the transition requires heavy investments in technology and infrastructure that many developing countries cannot afford.

However, things are changing and at a rather fast pace, especially here in Kenya as international EV startups enter the country in troops. And the momentum to adopt electric vehicles will only accelerate as calls for measures to curb pollution in a bid to reverse climate change impacts get louder.

Some of the startups that have set their bases in Kenya include BasiGo, Kiri, and Opibus. And from the look of things, more and more are set to join the bandwagon.

BasiGo is pioneering a new generation of eco-friendly buses that are set to reduce carbon emissions in major cities like Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa that are choking in dangerous fumes.

"For years, diesel-powered buses have been the only viable solution for bus operators in Kenya. We are excited to provide public transport operators with a new option: state-of-the-art electric buses that are more affordable, and reliable, and reduce bus operator exposure to the rising costs of diesel fuel,” says Jit Bhattacharya, BasiGo CEO and co-founder.

Bhattacharya brings a wealth of experience in the local EV ecosystem having worked as CEO of Missiion Motors in Silicon Valley as well as senior manager for Project Titan, an electric car project by Apple Inc.

Early this month, BasiGo raised Sh111.3 million in pre-seed funding to electrify Kenya's public transport system. The capital will fund the construction of 25 and 36-seater capacities with a range of about 250 kilometres, enough to cover daily trips.

Clients will also be able to acquire buses through a financing deal, whose pilot programme will be rolled out once the first bus arrives later in the year. This will allow customers to purchase buses on a usage-based subscription.

“The cost of electric bus technology has come down dramatically over the last 10 years, to the point where electric buses can offer significant savings compared to fossil-fuel buses,” Mr Bhattacharya noted.

Our goal is to help bus owners in Kenya realise these savings, and in the process, help Kenya become a global leader in sustainable public transport.”

Opibus also raised Sh834.37 million ($7.5 million) in equity and grant funding to scale up production of electric motorcycle and bus manufacturing from next year.

“We are proud to be backed by globally recognised investors providing a balance between deep-tech and emerging market expertise,” said Filip Gardler, Opibus co-founder and chief executive officer.

“We have together reached a clear strategic and visionary alignment – with the conviction that mass manufacturing of electric mobility solutions in Africa will not only make the products more accessible and affordable but also lead to one of the largest industrialisation and welfare transitions of the region in modern time.”

Opibus, which was started in 2017, converts diesel and petrol vehicles and motorcycles engines into electric thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which are the major contributors of air pollution in urban areas.

“The targets and objectives we’ve set for Opibus might seem bold, however, it is a mission that has become more important than ever. We have a responsibility to the coming generations and the earth as a whole.”

In July, the company introduced an electric mining vehicle, which it said will cut mining operational costs by up to 60 percent, helping miners to convert their fleet of vehicles to electric cars without having to invest in new vehicles.

“Their vehicles are half the cost compared to second-hand fossil fuel vehicles and perform better in the harsh road conditions. We are excited to be supporting them in their growth phase to achieve true impact at scale,” said Helen Lin, principal of One Ventures, which is one of Opibus' financiers.

As electric cars drive into Kenya, energy firms are seeking a slice of the rapidly growing market by installing charging stations. Taking the lead in this transformation are firms such as Kenya Power and Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen).

Kenya Power said in March this year that it would build a nationwide network of public charging points, removing one of the hurdles for use of electric cars in Kenya.

“As part of our implementation plan, we are developing appropriate infrastructure and building internal capacity to enable us to support the use of electric vehicles across the value chain,” said Kenya Power managing director Bernard Ngugi.

“To this end, we plan to set up charging facilities across the country beginning with Nairobi to support direct charging of vehicles.”

Another player is ChargeNet Kenya, the zero-emission mobility products and service subsidiary of Mayleen Corporation. The firm has already set up a number of charging stations in Nairobi.

At the ABC Shopping Mall along Waiyaki Way, ChargeNet’s EV station is already in use and has been charging for free for two and half months, a move aimed at promoting the uptake of electric cars in Kenya.

“At ABC Mall we are charging for free for three months to promote the idea of electric cars. We have universal EV chargers that can power an Asian or European electric car,” said Ruwan Fernando, CEO of Mayleen Corporation.

Similar stations in Kasarani and Ngong Racecourse are also set to be opened by ChargeNet.

Other emerging EV companies in Kenya include electric motorcycle manufacturer Kiri Electric, and Drive Electric, which leases electric vehicles and provides charging station installation and e-mobility consultancy.

[email protected]