Ghana: Entrepreneur spots opportunity for electric bikes

A rider on a Wahu electric bike

A rider on a Wahu electric bike

By Sefakor Fekpe, bird story agency

Wahu is a Ghanaian e-mobility startup which designs, manufactures, and sells electric bicycles (eBikes). Its ride-to-own model capitalises on Ghana’s growing gig economy, enabling delivery riders to start earning immediately.

It’s midmorning in Accra and a group of bike riders are inspecting their motorcycles before hitting the capital city’s busy roads for the day’s deliveries as lunchtime orders start to come in.

Lawrence Akakpo removes the battery that powers his bike from its plug and fixes it to its slot on the two-wheeler, picks up his food delivery bag and moves quickly to a pick-up point where there’s an order waiting to be delivered to a client. He owns a Wahu bike – an electric-powered bike that is part of a growing trend of electric utility vehicles emerging across Africa.

Unsure of where to turn to after graduating from school, Akakpo came across Wahu as an opportunity to earn a living. “Sitting at home as a graduate was frustrating. Approaching companies as a job seeker or other opportunities comes at a cost. I decided to give Wahu a try and so far, I can’t say I have regretted it,” Akakpo says.

Akakpo, like the other 150 Wahu riders, owes his livelihood to the vision of Valerie Labi, co-founder and CEO of Wahu Mobility.

What began as a project in northern Ghana – converting regular motorbikes to electric bikes – has grown into Wahu Mobility. The startup describes itself as an electric vehicle (EV) company that manufactures eco-friendly motorcycles, providing a reliable source of income for young people.

“I ride almost the whole day; even at night, I enjoy riding. I make between GHC 100 (US$6.8) to GHC 200 ($13.6) depending on the market. Sometimes you can go and come back with GHC 40 ($2.8) when the orders are less. I usually work with Yango but I have all the accounts such as Bolt Send and aside from that I do my private business too with the Wahu bike,” Akakpo explains.

The young rider feels he has more control of his life since powering the motorcycle requires only turning on a switch to charge the battery instead of being at the mercy of unpredictable fuel prices. Maintenance and support from the mobility company also offer riders like him much comfort.

“I charge my batteries once a day which takes about five to six hours which also allows us to get some rest. Some riders have moved from using combustible motorbikes to Wahu since it is an affordable alternative that comes with jobs,” Akakpo says.

Adutwum Hagar Adutwumwaa, an engineer at Wahu Mobility, originally trained in marine engineering. Her curiosity led her to Wahu, where she oversees quality checks and bike assembly. “It has been an amazing journey … I have learnt new things. Now I make batteries from recycled lithium-ion cells,” Adutwumwaa notes.

A ride-to-own initiative is a key component of the startup’s model. Various payment plans cater to the financial needs of prospective drivers. Options include GHC 300 ($20.5) weekly for 24 months, GHC 400 ($27.2) weekly for 18 months, and GHC 600 ($40.8) weekly for 12 months. The chosen payment plan determines the initial deposit.

The average cost per battery charge is GHC 4 ($0.27), which powers the bike for approximately 70 kilometres. Convincing traditional motorbike riders to switch to electric bikes has been relatively easy for the young startup, thanks to significant fuel savings. For instance, petrol bike deliveries cost around $200 (GHC 2,940) to $250 (GHC 3,675) per month, whereas e-bikes cost only about $30 (GHC 441) per month.

Wahu bike riders go through special training on how to use the e-bikes before hitting the road. “Every rider has a score system using an app to check how well they ride. The system is designed to turn off the bike when unsafe riding is detected,” Labi says.

The company is extremely particular about the impact of the business on the climate. The factory where the bikes are assembled and maintained is solar powered and completely off-grid. The bikes are tracked to measure their environmental impact. “We’re the first EV company to qualify for a compliance market deal. This means that we create genuine carbon credits as a way of also registering our impact. We track every bike and calculate for every kilometre on how much carbon is being saved,” Labi explains.

A national electric vehicle policy is expected to be rolled out in Ghana in three phases between 2027 and 2035 with the aim of achieving an EV penetration rate of about 35%. The policy waives import duties on EVs designated for public transport. Certified assembly companies will benefit from tax exemptions on semi-knocked down and completely knocked down EVs for eight years starting in 2024, alongside a two-year extension of value added tax exemptions on locally assembled vehicles.

Ghana currently has around 17,000 registered electric vehicles, including two, three, and four-wheelers, according to Energy Minister Mathew Opoku Prempeh.

/bird story agency