How this company is changing the game for rural logistics in Rwanda

The OX off-road electric vehicle.

The OX off-road electric vehicle.

OX Delivers utilises purpose-built electric trucks to transport goods across rural Rwanda.

Jean-Paul is a Rwanda-based farmer who sells chilli peppers to an exporter in the capital Kigali, nearly 170km from his farm in Tyazo. In the past, he had to load 100kg sacks of peppers onto three bicycles, push them to the nearest town, then load them onto a bus for a seven-hour journey to Kigali. Finally, he transferred the peppers to three motorbikes for delivery to the warehouse. This entire process took two days.

Today, Jean-Paul uses the services of a logistics company called OX Delivers, which started operations in 2021. OX Delivers runs a fleet of specially-designed off-road electric vehicles, allowing customers to transport goods across rural areas. The company collects the peppers from Jean-Paul’s farm and transports them directly to the warehouse. He now delivers over 2,000 kg of peppers twice a week – ten times his previous volume.

A solution for rural logistics

In 2013, Sir Torquil Norman, the British pilot and toy entrepreneur famous for creating the Polly Pocket line of dolls, founded the Global Vehicle Trust to provide cost-effective mobility for people in the developing world. Norman enlisted renowned Formula 1 race car designer Gordon Murray to design the OX – a simple and practical vehicle meant to help people in developing countries with crucial daily tasks such as collecting drinking water and transporting supplies to and from regional markets.

The result was a truck that could be shipped in flatpack form and quickly assembled on location, featuring interchangeable and easy-to-maintain parts, and designed to cope with rough dirt roads. The OX Delivers team has since rejigged the original design somewhat.

Over the years, the business evolved into a service company. Instead of selling the vehicles, OX Delivers sells space on its trucks to those needing to transport goods. “We move everything from cows to coffins,” said founder and CEO Simon Davis in an earlier interview with How we made it in Africa. Customers pay only for the space they need on a kilogramme-per-kilometre basis. The service is accessible via an app or toll-free number.

OX Delivers has served about 4,000 customers, ranging from smallholder farmers and traders to corporate clients like coffee plantations and banks.

In the first three months of 2024, OX Delivers generated US$262,000 in revenue. Last year, the company’s total sales were about $800,000.

Focusing on simplicity

“The great thing about our vehicles is the simplicity. Everything is designed to be predictable and easy for us to maintain,” Davis explained. “We use the same suspension, and the same doors, on both sides, so we can carry fewer spare parts. The drivetrain uses off-the-shelf components from big suppliers that are easy to find.”

All the vehicles use electrical drivetrains, which are far more efficient and cheaper to run than fuel-based engines. There are fewer parts to worry about, no oil to refill, and no belts to replace. “An electric engine is about 90% efficient, compared to around 40% for an internal combustion engine.”

Unlike personal cars, OX vehicles are not dependent on widespread charging infrastructure. They return to a central location daily for charging, eliminating the need for a distributed network of charging stations.

In the UK, the company’s 20-strong design and manufacturing team has started the prototype build of its next-generation OX electric truck. The vehicle features design updates, including an improved driving position, greater operator visibility, and significant chassis improvements based on real-world feedback from drivers in Rwanda.

Not the traditional carmaker model

The company realised early on that the traditional carmaker model of selling vehicles to end consumers wouldn’t work, so it shifted to a pay-per-use service for transporting goods.

Davis, who spent 16 years at Jaguar Land Rover before becoming OX’s first full-time employee in 2019, said that in developed markets, car manufacturers recoup their large research and development costs by selling new cars to a relatively small and wealthy segment of the market. “In the West, we’ve been sold this story about how your car is an extension of your personality. The focus over the last few years has been on incremental improvements to things like comfort and connectivity.”

In African markets, however, the landscape is different. “An exceedingly small number of people buy brand-new cars. The majority of the population just want to move things from A to B at as low a cost as possible.”

By operating the vehicles themselves and selling haulage space instead of the vehicles, OX can focus on the practical aspects of the business. “A sack of potatoes is not a discerning customer,” Davis said. “We don’t need to focus on marketing the vehicles to journalists and customers. We just need to focus on making our vehicles run more efficiently and deliver goods at the lowest possible cost per kilometre.”

Davis noted that whilst there are a number of mobility-as-a-service companies focused on transporting people, there is still relatively little competition in the haulage-as-a-service space. “There are still a lot of people stuck with Western models that are not designed for this environment.”