In May 2019, Kigali, Rwanda-based Ampersand became the first electric transport energy company to put electric motorcycles on African ground.
Now, as of December 2023, the startup’s e-motorcycles have helped avoid 8,000 tons of carbon emissions, and Ampersand has served 1,700 electric motorcycle riders with battery swaps. Battery swapping is what allows electric vehicle owners to quickly swap out their dead batteries without waiting for them to charge. Additionally, according to Ampersand, battery swapping costs less than a tank of petrol and takes a driver further than fossil fuel options.
This is especially important for Africa’s motorcycle taxi drivers, who the company says work 6 days a week, for an average of 14 hours a day, and cover up to 190 kilometers per day, or about 120 miles. Already making very little, much of their earnings go toward more petrol, making e-motos an opportunity not only for the clean energy transition but also for climate justice.
This is why Ampersand created the GEN3 battery-powered motorcycle and Amper-Ops, a connected network of smart batteries, swap stations, and a vehicle drivetrain which the company says is tailored to its customers' needs and African roads.
Now, as announced last month, the startup has raised $19.5 million in equity funding led by Ecosystem Integrity Fund (EIF) with participation from Acumen and Hard Edged Hope Fund. It also secured a $7.5 million debt facility from Cygnum Capital’s Africa Go Green Fund.
“Our made-in-Africa battery fleet already leads the world in cost per kilometer and uptime for light-electric vehicles. Our technology continues to advance, alongside the now rapid march of government e-mobility policies across Africa and removal of fuel subsidies, our addressable market continues to grow. With this funding, we are on track to deliver thousands more electric motorcycles in the coming months,” Josh Whale, CEO and founder of Ampersand said in a statement.
Reports show that “moto-taxis” are a vital tool to the energy transition, as they’re able to navigate the unique sustainability challenges in East Africa, filling gaps in mobility, while adding new jobs to the African economy, especially in growing cities like Kigali, Rwanda; Kampala, Uganda; and Nairobi, Kenya where Ampersand also has a presence.
But as moto-taxis increase and transport millions of people across East Africa — with 46,000 drivers registered in Rwanda alone and over half operating in the capital, Kigali — the cost of fuel surpasses the pay of many drivers.
As Ampersand explains, many drivers spend over $11 daily on fuel and vehicle leasing costs, while pocketing as little as $1.60 each day. However, by going electric and employing Ampersand’s battery swapping scheme, they can increase their take-home pay by 41% the company says.
“Transport within Africa's cities is vital to growth and supports the livelihoods of millions. With the innovations in sustainable transport that Ampersand is pioneering, we see a huge potential for improving livelihoods and increasing incomes of those living in poverty,” Christopher Emmott, the Associate Director of Investing in Energy Access at Acumen said in a statement.
On top of helping drivers, the switch is, unsurprisingly, good for the climate with the fact that e-motos take half the energy to power and produce 75% less lifecycle greenhouse emissions than their petrol counterparts when using grid power and over 98% less when powered renewably.
Right now, Ampersand’s fleet is at 1,350, up from just 60 in 2021 and 800 in 2022. The company expects to surpass 10,000 by the end of 2024. Currently, it serves 1,700 users from 32 battery swap stations in Kigali and Nairobi.
With the funding, the team plans to accelerate product development to meet this goal while improving its next-generation batteries and battery-swap tech, keeping its customer base of taxi drivers at the forefront. But its ambitions don’t end there. By 2030, Ampersand aims to serve 1,000,000 vehicles daily.
“From the beginning, our mission was to deploy a mass-market, locally produced vehicle and energy package that cost users less to buy and operate from day one. We have delivered that by a wide margin, increasing customers’ income by 35% per week,” commented Alp Tilev, President and co-founder of Ampersand.
“Ampersand has created a new experience for consumers,” he added, “and we are proud to be leading the shift to sustainable, affordable, and reliable mobility in Africa.”