Chinese-built electric buses winning over Rwandan market

By Guardian Correspondent , The Guardian
Published at 10:22 AM Mar 27 2024
Kenya Transport.
Photo: Guardian Correspondents
Kenya Transport.

CHINESE manufacturers of electric buses have set BasiGo, a Kenya-based company, on course toward its business sustainability but also the start of a significant role in advancing Rwanda's transition to greener transportation.

It is roughly three months since BasiGo launched pilot electric buses in public transport in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, in collaboration with city authorities, following their successful introduction in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

The company imports fully-built electric buses from China and works with three public transport company operators in Rwanda.

The pilot phase has been successful, winning over customers who had no prior knowledge of the company brand, according to Doreen Orishaba, the company's managing director.

"The pilot has really been successful. We had targeted to run it for three months and within these few months, the bus operators have already seen the advantages of going green. We already have reservations for 132 units," Orishaba said in a recent interview. "Different bus operators have reached out to us and would like to place orders of up to 132 units. I'm sure the number is going to keep growing. We are really grateful for the enthusiasm with which the market has received these electric buses."

This success has been made possible through factors such as collaboration with innovative Chinese companies.

It is easier to scale when the buses fully built are imported, and the sustainability agenda is clear, according to Orishaba.

"We choose China because they are the leading manufacturers in battery technology, which is the heart of our business. We look at the performance of the battery, which is the heart of our buses," she said. "What China has been able to get right is the pricing, which makes business sense. That is one of the areas where we could credit the Chinese manufacturers."

A fully charged bus can travel 300 km without the need to be recharged while charging points are installed at specific spots in the capital.

The company's goal is to deliver 100 buses in the next 12 months on the streets of Kigali, and 200 buses in the next two years each with the capacity to carry 70 passengers.

"Our mission is to create the future of electric public transport. We started in Nairobi, and now we are here in Kigali. We are very excited about Rwanda," Orishaba said.

The Rwandan government has been promoting the use of electric locomotives. Electric and hybrid vehicles are exempted from taxes, one big incentive that makes them a lot more attractive. The government has also given a better tariff for charging electric vehicles.

The government assigned electric charging stations a larger industrial tariff which is the best tariff in the entire electricity tariff regime in the country.

Even with an enabling environment for electric vehicles, however, there had not been an electric bus in Rwanda until BasiGo came into the space. BasiGo electric buses are much cheaper to operate, according to Orishaba.

The company's mission is to make the electric bus as affordable to the operator as possible.

At the heart of the company's sales strategy is the lease model, where it asks for a small security deposit per bus and the rest is paid under the pay-as-you-drive financing model. It is a mileage-based fee, charged based on every kilometre driven.

The cost of electricity is embedded into the bus's cost, as well as regular service and maintenance, which make the bus even cheaper. The operator can also track the bus; all the information on the bus is brought to the operator.

Innocent Umuhoza, one of the company's drivers, said besides being good for the environment, the electric buses are also great for the wallet because the operator spends less on charging compared to what would be spent at a petrol or gasoline station.

Umuhoza said the fuel he would need to fill a diesel-powered bus costing above $100, yet electricity worth about 30 dollars is enough to drive from Kigali town center to Remera Taxi Park, about 10 km from the city center. "We used to face challenges of lack of diesel. The diesel-powered engines easily break down. The consumption of electric buses is low," he said.

The buses are equipped with cameras, so passengers feel a bit safe because the footage can always be traced should anything happen on the bus. The drivers are also able to know what is behind them and what is ahead.

Passengers testify that the bus is quiet, and at the end of the day, they look forward to sitting in that quiet environment, seeking to unwind.

Frank Nkotanyi, a passenger, said unlike old gasoline-powered buses which produce dangerous fumes, electric buses conserve the environment 100 percent. He added that the buses are well-built in the interior, and installed with mobile phone charging pots as well as internet, which make passengers happy.

"We are replacing the reliance on imported diesel with the use of locally generated electricity; in that case, the government is making savings. But the main reason why we started as BasiGO is the environmental concerns. For every bus BasiGO puts on a Rwandan road, we are helping mitigate up to 30 tonnes of CO2 emissions," said Orishaba. "So, at the end of the day, we are ending up with a quieter bus, cleaner environment, cheaper operations, and more savings for the operator and government."

 Orishaba cited setting up charging infrastructure for the buses among the major challenges, which requires proximity to the high-voltage power line, but should not be an overloaded line.

"Charging infrastructure is complex and capital intensive. The power to feed the chargers is what makes it a bit complex and expensive," she said.