5 sep 23

From Polluters to Pioneers: Spiro's 1.2 Million Electric Bikes in Kenya

We wrote about Benin-based start-up Spiro last month, and they’re in the news again. This time, the company is focused on replacing fuel-guzzling motorcycles and scooters with electric alternatives in Kenya. In conjunction with the Africa Climate Summit, which kicked off in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, yesterday, the Kenyan government has announced Spiro's ambitious plan to introduce 1.2 million electric vehicles into the country.

This represents a substantial leap for the company, originally founded in Benin in 2022, which currently operates 10,000 electric bikes in Benin, Togo, and Rwanda. Additionally, Spiro plans to commence a five-year rollout of 140,000 bikes in Uganda this autumn.

Spiro's mission is to reduce pollution and eliminate it entirely. To achieve this, they recycle and repurpose parts from old bikes. In Kenya, motorcycle owners are incentivized to switch to electric bikes with an offer of 50,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $344), roughly one-third of the price of a new electric bike. They can then subscribe to a daily payment of around 255 Kenyan shillings (about $2), which covers the remaining balance and provides access to battery-swap stations for quick battery replacements.

Lowering costs and improving profits for motorbike taxis

This initiative reduces the number of petrol and diesel vehicles on the road, reducing air pollution, and lowers costs for drivers in terms of fuel and maintenance. Since joining the program, some motorbike taxi drivers have reportedly doubled their daily profits from $6-$11 a day.

Spiro has strategically placed hundreds of battery swap and maintenance stations in countries where it operates to ensure convenience for drivers. A report from the FIA Foundation highlights that while electric motorcycles have a higher initial purchase price than petrol-powered ones, their operating costs are lower. Battery-swapping initiatives are crucial in making electric bikes more affordable, as they allow the sale of electric motorcycles without batteries, significantly reducing the initial cost.

For battery-swapping to be successful, reliable and accessible charging infrastructure is essential. Spiro plans to build 3,000 stations in Kenya, alleviating range anxiety and contributing to the country's electric vehicle infrastructure. The company also intends to establish a manufacturing base in Kenya, creating local job opportunities.

Creating jobs and boosting knowledge transfer

Kenya's president, William Ruto, lauded this initiative for its potential job creation and knowledge and technology transfer to the market.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the demand for motorcycles is rising, with a significant portion used for motorcycle taxi services. This demand is expected to continue growing, with estimates suggesting that electric and petrol motorbikes will make up over 45% of the vehicle fleet in sub-Saharan Africa by 2040. Affordable and reliable electrification is critical to prevent the influx of polluting vehicles.

Spiro is one of several startups driving this transition in Africa, with Swedish-Kenyan startup Roam and Ampersand also contributing to the electrification of motorcycle transportation. Uber has recently joined the fray with its electric motorbike service in Kenya.

Spiro's expansion in Kenya is remarkable, with plans to operate in at least 10 African countries by 2030, substantially impacting pollution and promoting sustainable transportation.

Image courtesy of Spiro

Authored by: Alison Pittaway