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India visit that revved up electric bikes dream

By Esther Dianah | Jan 12th 2022 | 4 min read
By Esther Dianah | January 12th 2022

Christopher Maara, the CEO KIRI EV (electric vehicles), an electric mobility startup [Courtesy]

As the world moves away from fossil fuels and towards the electric auto revolution, local start-ups have not been left behind. They are revving up to take part in the green revolution.

While some firms import ready-made electric vehicles, others have been assembling auto components to make electric bikes.

Christopher Maara, chief executive of KIRI EV, an electric mobility start-up, is one of the entrepreneurs offering solutions in this sector aimed at cutting carbon emissions.

Maara’s journey started in 2019. He liked bicycles but it was not until he started his business that he rode on a motorcycle. Later, he had to learn all the engineering work before he could develop the capacity to employ experts in his start-up.

Where the world is going

“Electric mobility as an alternative for fuel is the direction the world should take. We assemble and make electric motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. Scooters are for leisure. Motorbikes are popular among boda boda guys and bikes are also fully electric - for sports and leisure,” he said.

The bikes his firm assembles are fully electric and run on a 72 voltage and 30 Amp battery. Depending on the model, it powers a 3-kilowatt motor. All models have 2,500 watts except the scooter which has 1,000 watts.

The Global Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2022 identified the increased use of electric vehicles as a means of improving mobility with minimal destruction to the environment.

For Maara, the concept of electric mobility holds a big promise for replication in Kenya and across the world. Maara started his business assembling components for electric bikes amidst concerns of climate change.

“It is not easy starting up a business in Kenya. You have to show that the product works, there is demand for it and show that there’s a market that can bring in revenue,” he said.

“When people invest in you, they invest in a business that is already working and marketable and not an idea.”

For Maara, feedback from investors proved that to start a business in Kenya, one has to work ten times as hard as anyone in, for example, first world countries.

He said this being a new model makes it challenging because investors need to have confidence that the business has a pipeline of clients ready to take in your product.

He’s however looking to scale up his business across the country.

Electric bikes at KIRI EV [Courtesy]

What investors want

“Nairobi is a big market but the benefit of this product is countrywide because motorcycles are used in every corner. Our immediate plan is to scale up our production so that we can meet the demand beyond Nairobi,” he said.

“We have been working with lots of clients and we now understand the pros and cons of our business. When we were rolling out, we were confident 95 per cent because of feedback from clients.”

He noted that a lot of boda boda riders love the autos.

“They see the immediate savings that they make in terms of fuel.

“Charging the battery to its full capacity for us can take only two units of electricity which is about Sh50 and can take you 70 kilometres,” said Maara. This compares to a litre of fuel that goes for about Sh125 and covers about 30km only.

The firm started operations in 2019 with visits to India seeking suppliers and manufacturers who could help in assembling the product.

Maara used his savings as start-up capital and raised funds from family and friends.

“We built the initial company on our savings so that we could validate the product and the idea with as little capital as possible,” he said.

Electric autos are still new in most African countries but are gaining traction owing to the world’s move to clean fuel.

“To reduce carbon emission, I think clean mobility and electric transportation are the way to go. When I started, there were about three firms in the market, right now there are about 15 start-ups,” he said.

Competition, he said, is good for business as it also translates to the growth of the industry.

“Competition helps one improve and create awareness. It also alerts the government that it is an industry that can employ and there is private investment,” he said.

“This sector has a lot of young people who have invested and it is also the youths who buy these products”.

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