Entrepreneur bets on locally assembled electric vehicles

Solar Taxi workers assembling electric motorcycles in Ghana.

Founded in Ghana by Jorge Appiah in 2018, Solar Taxi is an electric mobility company that assembles, sells and rents electric motorcycles. It also distributes imported electric cars and plans to start local assembly by the end of the year. The company recently raised investments from sub-Saharan venture capital firm Persistent to expand further. Jeanette Clark talks to Appiah about how he started the business and the opportunities for growth.

Rising fuel prices

Earlier this month, the Ghanaian government statistician told reporters inflation had jumped to just under 30% as rising fuel prices have led to price increases across all sectors. Because transportation is such a big driver of inflation, finding alternative and cheaper ways to move goods and people from point A to point B remains a priority.

For Jorge Appiah, finding a sustainable solution to transportation challenges in the country led to the creation of Solar Taxi in 2018. food prices, you name it,” he says.

Originally a Kumasi Hive innovation incubator project – of which Appiah is also the founder and CEO – the company has built a prototype solar-powered vehicle with parts and spares available. “We used materials we could find around us and even borrowed some parts because we didn’t have a lot of funding.”

News of the project reached the Mastercard Foundation, which then provided funding, helping Solar Taxi get started.

Steady growth

A major growth marker was that first successful prototype and Mastercard Foundation membership, according to Appiah. He put Solar Taxi on his way.

In the second year, additional funding from the Mastercard Foundation helped bring its two-wheelers and three-wheelers to market. These bikes are fully assembled in Ghana, using parts imported from China and India.

In 2021, Solar Taxi was ready to introduce electric cars in the country. Currently, the company is importing these vehicles from different manufacturers and selling them to customers – in a market research and validation phase before starting with semi-disassembled local assembly in association with a Chinese partner later This year. Appiah says the plan is to set up a bigger assembly plant and eventually move to a completely knocked down kit approach where the cars will be built entirely locally.

Jorge Appiah, founder of Solar Taxi

Solar Taxi casts a wide net when it comes to the target market for its vehicles. Notable customers in Ghana include e-commerce and delivery companies like Jumia and Bolt. Both use Solar Taxi’s electric motorcycles to deliver customer orders. Its rental model is favored by individuals who do not have access to credit to buy a bicycle or an electrically assisted car; the customer can rent the vehicle by the month, or even by the year. Some companies have added Solar Taxi vehicles to their fleet, purchased with financing obtained from banks.

A milestone for 2022 was the launch of its ride-sharing app, exclusively in electric vehicles. Use of the app is increasing, with approximately 100 hailed rides per day currently. “We provide drivers with electric vehicles to be part of the fleet, but we also have drivers who own their Solar Taxi electric cars and take reservations on the app,” Appiah explains.

In July, the company announced that it had received an undisclosed amount of investment firmwhich will be used to concretize its future projects.

Charging possibilities

Solar Taxi’s two- and three-wheelers offer customers two charging options: they can have built-in solar charging on the vehicle or a separate solar concentrator installed at their home or office that generates electricity from solar panels. The electric delivery bike, for example, has a removable roof with solar panels installed on top. “These panels charge the vehicle when parked. However, most people still prefer off-vehicle integration for aesthetic reasons,” says Appiah.

Large capacity vehicles have a range of between 450 km and 600 km before needing to be recharged. “On average, daily usage in the cities where we operate is no more than 20km for most people, which means our customers typically only need to charge once a week.”

Solar Taxi is therefore not pushing public charging infrastructure at the moment, but rather focusing on domestic facilities for fast charging. “We have one or two customers who have made a public use installation and we will think about it for the future, but at the moment it is not a priority”, he adds.

Green growth opportunities

While the average Solar Taxi customer may not yet be ready to completely disconnect from the grid, solar power generation offers other opportunities for expansion for the company. He is actively studying general purpose power generation. “We are working on several designs for micro-grid solar charging stations; it is part of our long-term plans.

The company sees an opportunity to electrify all transport on university campuses in Ghana as part of its Solar Campus program. “The main goal is to work with universities to go green on campus. We want to instill a culture of environmental awareness in students and make them ambassadors of e-mobility,” shares Appiah.

A division of Solar Taxi, Battery Lab, is developing lithium-ion batteries to meet the growing power demand of electric vehicle users in the country and beyond. “We have orders from other companies on the mainland for the packs and hope to increase production,” he says.

At the moment, Solar Taxi operates in four major cities in the country: Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale. “Almost every day we receive orders from other West African countries for our electric vehicles. Once we have increased production, we plan to move to some of these cities and, if necessary, to establish a more permanent base outside Ghana’s borders.

Contact details of Solar Taxi CEO, Jorge Appiah

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Wiley C. Thompson