Firm bets on electric bodabodas and tuktuks to grow market share

Rishi Kohli, CEO and Co-founder Fika Mobility.

Local boda bodas and tuk-tuks now have the option of going electric by swapping their low-charge batteries with fully charged ones following the piloting of the auto technology.

This is as a Nairobi-based auto company Fika Mobility targets the popular two-and three-wheelers with eco-friendly units that offer convenience and reduce costs.

“A rider will be able to simply ride into a battery swap station or designated kiosk and quickly replace his drained battery with a fully charged one. It’s a great time saver and more convenient compared to having the driver recharge the battery himself,” said the company chief executive and co-founder Rishi Kohli.

The Kenyan-born entrepreneur, alongside his brother and business partner Sanuj Kohli, also operate a water-free car wash business in Dubai and Kenya, along with LED lighting and energy systems under Leme Group. Fika plans to recruit 60 staff, including electrical engineers, coders and back-end employees for the job.

The Fikam electric motorcycles cost between $1,000–$1,200 (Sh100,000-Sh120,000) per unit.

They are manufactured in China with plans mooted to put up a local assembly plant later on.

There has been an upsurge of boda bodas in major towns, promising faster navigation through traffic, which has proved to be economical for ferrying passengers in remote areas inaccessible by vehicles.

The battery swap pool means that none of the batteries is owned by any single rider. Instead, the Fika model, works as a battery rental marketplace, allow for swaping when the charge runs low.

Like the cooking gas cylinder exchange pool, riders will pay a one-off deposit fee for their first battery.

Thereafter, the, riders only pay for recharge cost, just like the gas refills.

Kohli says the battery, which serves as the engine for electric vehicles, is among the most expensive single component in an e-vehicle.

The battery rental model is expected to drive the cost of electric bikes and rickshaws below market rates. “Additionally, it costs lower to recharge compared to refuelling at petrol stations. Riders stand to save about 20 per cent daily with the Fika e-bikes compared to petrol wheelers,” said Kohli.

Riders will be offered a list of subscription plans to choose their monthly payment package for the swaps. The batteries are GPS-linked to enable real-time monitoring.

This ensures optimal performance at all times as well as for safety.

The tracking feature also deters rogue riders from misuse.

For instance, if a rider opts to put the smart battery to other uses other than for his motorcycle like lighting his house, the firm reserves the rights to remotely disable it.

“Among other things, our smart batteries will be able to relay information and data back to our control room on battery temperature, charge levels and performance,” said Kohli.

The company is in talks with several oil marketers to install battery swap stations at their petrol stations.

This could open a new revenue stream streams for oil dealers amid the transition to electric automobiles.

“We want to build a seamless battery swap ecosystem across the entire value chain. In remote areas, strategic agents will serve as swap stations, which should open up even more job opportunities,” said Kohli.

The firm sa huge opportunity in pact with ride-hailing firms, courier and food delivery businesses.

In Uganda, Bodawerk runs a similar business, having piloted battery swap stations in Kampala for its electric motorcycles. Bodawerk customers lease batteries for $3 (Sh300) per day. Aside from tapping top talent, Fika looks to forge ties with local universities’ researchers to transfer electric vehicles technology.

The Kenyan public transport market is increasingly attracting interest from electric technology investors.

Nairobi-based Opibus has for example announced plans to convert petrol and diesel matatus to electric vehicles. The International Finance Corporation estimates that Nairobi’s electric cars market will hit $5 billion (Sh500 billion) over the next 10 years to 2030