Opibus: The mobility startup converting Kenya to electric vehicles

CNN  — 

A university research project that turns into a startup, which within a few short years partners with Uber and attracts millions of dollars of investment from around the world, including Silicon Valley.

It’s the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams, and yet that’s what’s happened to Opibus, a Swedish-Kenyan electric mobility company.

Based in Nairobi, Opibus gives new life to old vehicles by converting them to run on electric motors. Beginning with 4x4s, the company’s reach has since expanded into public transport with bus conversions. Meanwhile, its electric motorbikes, designed and manufactured in Kenya, have attracted the attention of the world’s most famous ride-hailing app.

Opibus has roots as research by Linköping University students Filip Gardler, Mikael Gånge and Filip Lövström, whose project involved identifying places where electric mobility could have the largest possible impact. They pinpointed Kenya and established Opibus in 2017, starting their business by converting safari touring vehicles.

“We’ve always known the commercial potential (of electric conversion),” CEO Lövström says, adding it was easy to convince safari tour operators of the benefits of silent 4x4s that are driven on circular routes and return to the same recharging point.

Since then, Opibus has converted 4x4s for use in mining and other utility roles. The process is not cheap: prices start at just under $40,000 to convert a Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover, a 10-to-14-day process involving parts sourced from all over the world, says Lövström. But, he argues, the benefits outweigh the expense, and that much of the cost – along with the carbon footprint of the conversion – are recouped in the running of the electric vehicle (EV).

Opibus say it has motorcycle pilots underway in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Why Kenya is primed for electric vehicles

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy and a country where over 90% of domestically-produced electricity comes from renewable sources, presents a strong platform for clean electric mobility.