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Power outages, Covid-19, global warming, corruption. The list of challenges facing African businesses is a long one. But some local companies are fighting back. One of them is South Africa’s Agilitee, a provider of electric vehicle (EV) solutions, which include battery swapping stations and solar charging facilities.

Agilitee’s CEO and entrepreneur, Mandla Lamba, has been talking to Auto Futures.

“Africa has been one of the greatest contributors to global warming through coal mining among others, yet Africa still suffers the most in the shortage of electricity and there’s still a bigger chunk of the population that doesn’t have electricity still 24 years post-democracy. Most recently, South Africa had a week long power outage,” says Lamba. 

“At the same time, petrol prices are sky rocketing at a similar rate as that of unemployment. Before even the impact of Covid-19 on global economies, Africa was already on its knees, proof to that is the fact that South Africa was even downgraded to junk status before Covid-19. With corruption rate on its peak, this calls for innovation to entrepreneurs who care about social changes that will make the world they live in better and for generations to come,” he explains.

This wide range of challenges, especially the effects of global warming, inspired the team to launch Agilitee, with a mission to provide affordable and eco-friendly means of transportation. The company is primarily focusing on electric motorbikes, starting with a range of three models – LoadEx (a delivery scooter), RTF (a student bike) and Wild Grace (a classic cafe racer). 

Its motorbikes feature removeable batteries that can be swapped at Agilitee’s dealerships.

“Our customers don’t need to worry about charging when the battery is flat, since we are using a battery swapping facility rather than a charging one. This means that, whenever their batteries are almost finished, they can go to any Agilitee Franchise dealership where they can swap the almost empty battery for a full one free of charge and still go on about their business,” says Lamba.

“It’s a less than 60 seconds process that is free of charge, saving thousands of rands on petrol and it is so convenient that they can go to any of Agilitee Franchise dealership to do it. At Agilitee you only buy the vehicle, and you ride it for free,” he adds.

Lamba goes on to explain why he chose to develop and sell two-wheelers rather than four-wheel EVs.

“Though Africa is an emerging economy, we have continued to witness growth in population which would create more traffic jams, but with two-wheelers life still goes on. In a market where people can’t afford to buy cars let alone combustion engines that will require expensive maintenance including the high prices of petroleum, it surely makes EV bikes the best option.”

In terms of selling EVs, Agilitee has adopted a franchise model. Franchise owners receive financial backing, training and marketing support.

“Through our franchises we will be able to be everywhere quicker than it would have taken us organically. We work with Absa bank in South Africa who provide people with franchise finance to anyone who wants to buy our franchises, which gives us presence quicker. We have used the approach of Presence Over Profit (POP) for the next few years. We are also selling licenses in Africa, we are already present in Nigeria, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa,” he says.

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“You can’t expect people to buy into EV if there’s no readily available information about EV.”

Agilitee’s assembly plant is expected to be operational in the last quarter of 2022, and will consist of approximately 1,000 employees.

However, Lamba believes that, for it to grow, sustainable mobility in Africa needs the support of governments. The sector also suffers from other major difficulties.

“The biggest one is corruption, where you are required to give a percentage of your company to corruption all in the name of securing government support. The lack of government participation in the EV industry, participation as you have seen in other economies, where government provides incentives and subsidies to both manufacturers and consumers. Education is also key, you can’t expect people to buy into EV if there’s no readily available information about EV,” explains Lamba.

“Recently I travelled to the Eastern Cape and I couldn’t believe that there are people who don’t believe that there are vehicles that don’t use petrol but are EVs, that’s where you realize that education is a necessity. We can’t expect the population to easily adopt EVs without education, we cannot even do it without infrastructure development. How do you tell someone to give up their combustion vehicle for an EV when there there’s no nearby places to charge the EV. A lot still needs to be done,” he adds.

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The Future of African Mobility 

In May 2021, Agilitee unveiled a business partnership with India’s eBikeGo to produce and distribute electric motorcycles in Africa. The two companies are also partnering to develop new high-tech features.

“As part of the transaction we have with eBikeGo, we have developed the best of an ecosystem which is a combination of many AI components from telematics for RFID to facial recognition. Our vehicles are full AI.” 

Recently it sponsored an event where entrepreneurs got to showcase their technologies and innovations.

“We are now working on a competition that will pick one winner who will get financing in the AI and green tech space. This competition will happen four times a year.”

Finally, we asked Lamba to predict what mobility in Africa will look like by 2030.

“I believe that individually and collectively we will have an established market by then, although I believe that freight services will take much longer to go green given the need to charge since this would require a huge chunk of range since freight does long distances. This I believe globally will take time to get there,” he concludes.

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