09 Roam Air
Roam Air | PMI's 2022 Most Influential Projects | #MIP2022
Roam Air, electric vehicle start-up based in Kenya, is building electric motorcycles and buses to electrify the African continent. By focusing on mass transit vehicle production, the company makes an impact on the environment and social life in the region.
For charting a new, cleaner course for motorbikes in Kenya—and beyond
Motorbikes aren’t just a mode of transport in Kenya—they’re a way of life. The ubiquitous two-wheelers provide a fast, cheap and accessible means of mobility for millions of riders. And rising personal income is driving demand even more, with ridership in the country jumping nearly 16 percent last year. The United Nations estimates that 5 million motorbikes will be on the road by 2030—surging from just 1.5 million in 2018.
That boom drives economic benefit: The motorbike sector already accounts for 3.4 percent of the country’s GDP. But the environmental toll—namely, carbon dioxide emissions and noise pollution—is staggering. Petrol-powered motorbikes can easily surpass the pollution produced by passenger cars, by a factor as high as 10.
Zooming in to change that: Roam Air, an all-electric motorbike designed, developed and built in Kenya specifically for local use cases. The machine includes increased carrying capacity to handle passengers and cargo, swappable battery packs for less downtime charging, rugged wheels to navigate more varied terrain—and comes with a US$1,500 price tag to beat many imported petrol-fueled alternatives. The electric motorbikes are the first to be built in Kenya, with more than one-third of the components sourced locally.
Unveiled in July by Roam, the motorbike traces its origins back to 2017, when three students at Sweden’s Linköping University launched a research project to identify where electric mobility could have the biggest impact. Kenya’s fast-growing economy and penchant for importing used vehicles caught their attention, and the students founded Roam and soon set up headquarters in Nairobi. The startup cut its teeth converting safari tour buses to electric, before moving on to electrifying urban buses and mining vehicles, and finally motorbikes.
Though Roam Air is currently only available for preorders (with shipments expected to start by year’s end), locals may have already glimpsed the new bike. While iterating the design, the project team deployed 170 prototypes. And following a pilot project with Uber, Roam announced a new joint initiative to distribute more than 3,000 electric motorbikes to drivers for the ride-sharing company this year.
Roam co-founder Mikael Gånge sees the Uber initiative as a critical way “to prove the feasibility for large-scale deployment,” he says. “Next year we’re scaling up our production to meet the market demand, both in Kenya and in the region.”
The company’s ultimate goal? “We’re looking to electrify Africa,” says chief strategy officer Albin Wilson.
Roam Air’s market reception could help set the course for the emerging e-motorbike market—and will be closely watched by rivals in the race. In November 2021, e-commerce giant Jumia launched a pilot program to roll out a fleet of eBee Africa electric bikes to its delivery drivers in Nairobi. And in August, French-Kenyan battery company Stima launched a joint project with Indian electric manufacturer One Electric to deploy 3,000 rechargeable motorbikes in the capital city.