A Conversation With ARC Ride’s Bede Hesmondhalgh On Launching The Corbett Electric Bike, 42 Battery Swapping Stations, & Kenya’s 1.2 Million Boda Boda Market.
ARC Ride is a business that I have been tracking for the last couple of years after I was introduced to Bede Hesmondhalgh (Bede) by a mutual friend. ARC Ride is an electric mobility or electric vehicle (EV) startup that has an ambitious strategy to become one of the leading players in Kenya. At this time, ARC Ride is only serving Nairobi and its environs with a clear focus on becoming a leading player in the nascent electric mobility Battery-As-A-Service (BaaS) space for its electric bikes or electric ‘boda bodas’ as they are known in Kenya.
A week ago I met Bede at ARC Ride’s facility in Nairobi to have a conversation and record a podcast on the two significant milestones they have achieved this year. The first is ARC Ride’s impressive footprint of 42 fully operational and automated battery-swapping stations in Nairobi and outlying areas. This is surprising in that ARC Ride has invested massively to ensure that if you so choose to acquire or finance any of their electric bikes you can rest assured that finding a battery swapping station should not be a major hassle.
Even more impressive is that ARC Ride’s battery-swapping stations are fully automated. What this means is that all you need to do is use their mobile app to locate the nearest one where there is a fully charged batter which you can then access with the same and it will automatically open the box where you load the depleted battery and thereafter it will automatically open the box where a fully charged battery is available. This is seriously impressive given that you do not need to interact with a person when doing the whole process of swapping batteries. This is also made possible by the fact that the battery-swapping stations are loaded with IoT (Internet of Things) so that they can be monitored and managed remotely.
The second big development is that after iterating for the last couple of years to come up with a unique and market-appropriate electric bike form that would be appealing and robust as well (aka built for Africa), ARC Ride launched the Corbett, their first available electric bike. The Corbett has an interesting look with bright colors, and stubby or chunky wheels, and also looks like a crossover between a regular motorcycle and a scooter. The Corbett looks quite unique and like nothing else on the road in Kenya if you ask me.
The thing about is even if you do buy a Corbett you will never own the battery. This means that you can only ever pay to use a battery but never own it. At the same time, the only way to charge the battery is to go to anyone of their battery-swapping stations so you can’t actually head home or to work and then charge it using your own source of power. This is clearly going to irk many would-be customers but do bear in mind that the core customer base that ARC Ride is going after for the Corbett is the boda boda riders who would buy it to ferry customers all over Nairobi.
Anyone can purchase the Corbett for Kes. 180,000. However, if you need to finance it as would many boda boda riders then you can do so for Kes. 450 per day over a number of years. In addition, since you never actually own the battery you will never have to worry about the battery losing performance over a period of time. The other thing that is interesting about ARC Ride’s battery swapping rates is that you can pay Kes. 350 a day for unlimited battery swaps or you can pay Kes. 185 for a single swap – the choice is yours. A fully charged battery will get you around 60 km of commute distance with the Corbett.
Another development that ARC Ride is putting in place is that they have signed a good number of well-known and reputable financing companies to help customers acquire the Corbett at competitive rates. In addition, if payments are missed ARC Ride has the ability to remotely disable a Corbett until payments are resumed. ARC Ride is also able to create geofencing for a Corbett so that it can only operate within designated geographical areas. You can see how this can be interesting for fleet managers who need to monitor their assets and movement. ARC Ride is also able to track all their Corbett’s remotely so this can be really helpful for managing performance.
Another thing that Bede shared with me is that they have engaged several companies that will be able to provide emergency support services in the event that any of their electric bikes break down. Just like using the AA or any other rescue service, Corbett owners can rest assured that they can get assistance if anything breaks down. ARC Ride has also partnered with various organizations to train mechanics and engineers who will be able to service and repair their electric bikes across Nairobi and in Kenya eventually. This will be a whole class of new garages in the marketplace specializing in servicing electric bikes but will also create jobs for the youth.
I had the opportunity to ride the Corbett at the ARC Ride facility in Nairobi and one of the things that hit me is how quiet it is on the road. In addition, as I have experienced in other electric vehicles, the Corbett has impressive acceleration but a modest top speed of 60 km/h but can also carry 200 KG of load. This will clearly make it ideal for commuters as well as for logistics with companies that need that can kind of capacity, not to mention use cases like on-demand food delivery services. Bede also told me that the Corbett is able to save boda boda riders around 30% on the operating costs of a conventional motorcycle for the same distances, not to mention that it is less prone to breakdowns due to fewer moving parts.
Naturally, one of the biggest things that come with an electric bike like the Corbett is that they are much friendlier to the environment since they do not have any carbon emissions like traditional motorcycles that obviously release exhaust fumes and consume petrol. This means at a time when the impact of climate change is being felt globally, owning and using a Corbett would contribute significantly to reducing one’s carbon footprint.
Ultimately, one thing is clear though and that is electric mobility in Kenya is just getting started and ARC Ride is well poised to be one of the clear leaders with a focus on public transportation for their electric bikes like the Corbett. This is the space where the logical opportunity exists since boda-boda riders have the greatest incentive to reduce or manage their operating costs with fuel prices sharply rising over the last few years. Given that there are over 1.2 million boda bodas in Kenya the potential upside is massive. What needs to happen next week is to get enough people using the Corbett which will inspire others to consider the same.
You can listen to the podcast of my conversation with Bede here: