The e-mobility revolution has hit African shores and the newest company making waves in this space is Kenya’s BasiGo.
Speaking to Auto Futures, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Jit Bhattacharya, said: “Our mission is to create the future of clean, electric public transit in Africa.”
“Buses remain the heart of Africa’s mobility ecosystem. But diesel buses are a major problem for bus operators and residents of African cities. Emissions from diesel vehicles are a major source of the air pollution choking our cities and they are one of the single largest sources of urban CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the recent fuel crisis in Kenya created an environment where the price and availability of diesel became very uncertain. BasiGo aims to solve this problem for bus operators by offering high-quality, affordable electric buses that provide freedom from the rising costs and uncertainty of diesel.”
“Over 90% of Kenya’s electricity comes from clean, renewable sources such as geothermal and hydropower. Kenya also has a surplus of renewable energy on its electricity grid. As a result, electric buses in Kenya would have a greater impact on climate and the environment than similar initiatives elsewhere in the world, while also shifting transportation energy from imported petroleum fuel to domestically produced renewable energy,” he added.
While sustainability is an important motivation for people to switch to electric mobility from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, things are slightly different in the developing world. The most important reason that these markets are now ready to welcome the electric revolution is that electric mobility is so cost-effective.
What’s more, emerging mobility companies across Africa are combining electric vehicles with shared services to have an even greater impact on the environment. These companies are electrifying the continent’s most popular form of transportation — its mass-transit buses and Matatus. A Matatu, if you’re not familiar, is a privately owned minibus operating in Kenya.
BasiGo’s Pilot Programme
At the moment, BasiGo is running a pilot programme in Nairobi with two BYD buses.
Bhattacharya said: “Our pilot buses have been operating for two months. They have driven over 30,000 km and they have completed over 35,000 passenger trips in Nairobi. The response from commuters and operators has been very positive. Passengers love the quiet comfort of our electric bus without the smell of diesel permeating the cabin. They especially appreciate the premium technology features such as free WiFi, USB phone charging, and stop buttons.
“Meanwhile, drivers find the buses fill very quickly with passengers making their jobs much easier. They also comment on how the buses are much easier to drive than their traditional diesel buses. Bus operators are quick to point out the fact that service and maintenance of the buses is fully handled by BasiGo which simplifies their business processes considerably.”
Electric mobility comes with its own set of challenges ranging from insufficient charging infrastructure, long wait times for charging, and lack of information. A lot of these challenges are amplified in developing countries.
To help understand challenges that might hinder the adoption of electric mobility in a market like Kenya, Bhattacharya said:
“The two greatest challenges that need to be overcome for Electric Buses to be adopted in Kenya are the high upfront cost and convenient, reliable charging. BasiGo’s unique pay-as-you-drive financing model is designed to solve exactly these two problems. Through pay-as-you-drive, bus operators are able to purchase an e-bus for the same upfront cost as a diesel bus. Operators then pay BasiGo a simple daily fee based on kilometres driven. This fee covers the lease of the battery within the bus, all service and maintenance, and charging at BasiGo charging stations located directly on operator bus routes. BasiGo’s pay-as-you-drive subscription is specifically designed to be competitive with what bus operators currently pay for diesel fuel and maintenance.”
While governments around the world are doing all that they can to help fuel the transition from ICE to electric, Bhattacharya is quite vocal about the positive role that the government of Kenya is playing to further the electric revolution in the country.
According to him, the government of Kenya and the local authorities have been very supportive of the transition to electric mobility. In fact, the government is working with the industry to develop standards and policies to support the industry and ensure Kenya becomes a leader in the transition to e-mobility on the continent.
Support from the central government, as well as local authorities, is extremely important, especially considering that BasiGo has concrete plans to establish a foundation for itself in Kenya.
“BasiGo plans to work with local commercial vehicle assemblers to assemble BYD electric buses here in Kenya,” Bhattacharya said.
“We will deliver our first locally assembled E-Buses in 2023. We are thrilled to be offering electric buses from BYD, the world’s leading electric bus OEM.
“We are receiving overwhelming interest from bus operators in Kenya. Our first electric buses for customers are currently in production and will be delivered later this year. Our near-term goal is to deliver 1,000 electric buses to bus operators in Kenya by 2025.”
However, BasiGo’s ambitions aren’t limited to just Kenya.
“To address the air quality and climate challenges facing us, we need to electrify public transport across Africa’s rapidly growing cities. BasiGo is excited to prove our model in Kenya first and then replicate it in other markets across Africa in the coming years,” he added.
BasiGo secured $4.3 million in funding earlier this year to see its plans through. The funding round was led by Novastar Ventures and saw several prominent names from Silicon Valley participating, including the likes of Moxxie Ventures, Nimble Partners, Spring Ventures, Climate Capital, and Third Derivative.
Speaking about the investment round and the company’s plans for this investment, Bhattacharya said:
“We are using the investment to transition from a pilot test to actual production and delivery of electric buses to customers through our Pay-As-You-Drive model. We are rapidly growing our teams in vehicle engineering, software, manufacturing, and charging infrastructure in order to get electric buses on the road here in Kenya where they can begin to have an impact.”