Founded in Ghana by Jorge Appiah in 2018, Solar Taxi is an e-mobility company that assembles, sells and leases electric motorbikes. It also distributes imported electric cars and plans to start local assembly by the end of the year. The company recently raised investment from sub-Saharan venture company Persistent to scale further. Jeanette Clark speaks to Appiah about how he started the business and growth opportunities.
Rising fuel prices
Earlier this month, Ghana’s Government Statistician told reporters annual inflation had jumped to just shy of 30% as rising fuel costs resulted in price increases across all sectors. Because transportation is such a significant inflation driver, sourcing 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 for the transport challenges in the country led to the founding of Solar Taxi in 2018. “The slightest change in the fuel price here leads to an increase in the cost of almost everything: healthcare, food prices, you name it,” he says.
Originally a project of innovation incubator Kumasi Hive – of which Appiah is also the founder and CEO – the company built a prototype solar-powered vehicle with available parts and spares. “We used materials we could find around us and even borrowed some parts because we did not have much funding.”
Word about the project reached the Mastercard Foundation, which then supplied some funding, helping Solar Taxi get off the ground.
A major growth marker was that first successful prototype and getting Mastercard Foundation on board, according to Appiah. It set Solar Taxi on its way.
In the second year, additional scale-up funding from Mastercard Foundation helped to launch its two-wheelers and three-wheelers into the market. These bikes are fully assembled in Ghana, using parts imported from China and India.
By 2021, Solar Taxi was ready to bring electric cars into the country. Currently the company imports these vehicles from different manufacturers and sells it to clients – part of a market research and validation phase before it starts with local semi-knocked down assembly in association with a Chinese partner later this year. Appiah says the plan is to set up a larger assembly plant and eventually move towards a completely knocked-down kit approach where the cars will be built locally in full.
Solar Taxi casts the net wide 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 favoured by individuals who don’t have access to credit to purchase an electric bike or car outright; the customer can rent the vehicle per month, or even per year. Some corporates have added Solar Taxi vehicles to their fleet, purchased with financing obtained from banks.
One big milestone for 2022 was the launch of its ride-hailing app, exclusively in electric vehicles. The use of the app is increasing, with about 100 rides hailed per day currently. “We provide drivers with electric vehicles to form part of the fleet, but we also have drivers who own their Solar Taxi electric cars and take bookings on the app,” Appiah explains.
In July, the company announced it received an undisclosed amount from investment firm Persistent, which will be used to deliver on its future plans.
Solar Taxi’s two- and three-wheelers offer clients two solar charging options: they can have solar charging integrated on the vehicle or a separate solar hub installed at their homes or offices that generates electricity from solar panels. The electric delivery bike, for example, has a removable roof with solar panels installed on top. “These panels recharge the vehicle when it is parked. However, most people still prefer the off-vehicle integration for aesthetic reasons,” says Appiah.
The high-capacity vehicles have a range of between 450km and 600km before needing a charge. “On average, the daily usage in the cities where we operate is no more than 20km for most people, which means our customers usually need to charge only once a week.”
Solar Taxi is therefore not pushing public charging infrastructure at the moment, but rather focusing on home installations for fast charging. “We have one or two clients who did an installation for public usage and we will consider it for the future, but at the moment, it is not a priority,” he adds.
Green growth opportunities
While the average Solar Taxi customer might still not be ready to go completely off-grid, solar power generation presents other avenues for the company to expand. It is actively looking into power generation for general use. “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 transportation on university campuses in Ghana under its Solar Campus programme. “The main goal is to work with universities to go green on campus. We want to instil a culture of environmental consciousness in students and make them ambassadors of e-mobility,” shares Appiah.
A division of Solar Taxi, Battery Lab, is developing lithium-ion battery packs to meet the growing power demand of electric vehicle users in the country and beyond. “We have orders from other companies, on the continent, for the packs and are hoping to increase production,” he says.
For 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 scaled up production, we plan to move to some of these cities and, when appropriate, set up a more permanent base outside Ghana’s borders.”