A Startup Wants Kenya to Embrace EVs

A university group identified Kenya as an ideal spot for EVs. And now a group is working to make that move
Written by Clare Behe
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Updated on Jun 01, 2022
In the mid-2010s a group of university students in Sweden, led by Filip Lövström, started a research project investigating the ideal location for
electric mobility
to have the most powerful impact. Their findings led them to conclude that the location was Kenya, the fastest developing nation in east Africa. 
Now, a few years later, they are Opibus, a startup rapidly changing the face of public and personal transportation in Kenya, and working out $7.5 million
with rideshare superstar Uber. What is Opibus looking to accomplish in Africa, and will they expand that vision to other countries?

Taking pride in electric vehicles 

It all started with safari vehicles. A booming business in Kenya is safari tourism, an industry uniquely in need of quiet, unobtrusive vehicles that won't disturb the integrity of the very land visitors are exploring.
It was partially this factor that enabled Opibus to begin its startup outfitting 4x4s with electric motors. The fact that safari routes are cyclical have a set number of miles to travel, and a home base—an obvious location for a charging station—merely perfected the arrangement.
Although the electrification of a vehicle is expensive—starting around $40,000—it's a practical choice for safari tours. Most vehicles in Kenya, including 4X4s, are typically purchased used from around the world, so electrification not only imbues them with new life, but brings with it a host of benefits both practical—as mentioned above—and ethical, as for the environment.

A one-way ticket to a healthy planet

Next on the Opibus agenda is public transport. Kenyan cities are expanding, furthering a need for efficient public transportation. Much like safari tours, nothing quite overcomes range anxiety like a predetermined route, but Opibus is prepared to sustain electric buses even in the case of one of the country's
notorious blackouts
: their 51-seater pilot electric bus is equipped with off-grid solar panels on its roof!
If you notice a trend in Opibus’ approach, you're not alone. Unlike most other electric transportation movements, they're not focusing on personal cars—and for good reason. Fransua Vytautas Razvadauskas of Euromonitor International
told CNN
, "In 2021, Kenya was home to 1.8 million motorcycles and mopeds compared with 1.2 million passenger cars -- a tendency that is analogous in other regional countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda.”
In other words, 2- and 3-wheeled EVs are a wide-open market. That doesn't make it an easy task. “We need something that is very strong, very versatile, very robust, easy to repair, and cheap at the same time," said Lövström. Because of the high demands, the Opibus team decided to design their own original electric motorcycle. 
It starts at $1,400, a more than fair price, but still slightly more costly than traditionally-fueled competitors’ bikes. Portable battery packs to swap out for long-distance travel helps to negate any complaints of range limits.
As for plans to expand outside of Kenya?  

Where will the future take Opibus?

Motorcycle trials are already being arranged with partners in other sub-Saharan countries such as Ghana, Uganda, and Nigeria. The Stockholm and Nairobi offices continue to function as headquarters, and the team has no plans to stop there, but first, they're focusing on growing what they have. Hiring more employees and getting boots on the ground is priority number one.
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