A pay-as-you-go electric truck is making deliveries on Rwanda’s dirt roads

In the hilly terrain of Rwanda, endurance cyclists are a common sight, often carrying heavy loads of fruit on their heads and shoulders. Larger vehicles struggle on the region’s dirt roads, so bicycles and motorcycles are the primary means for farmers to transport their produce to market. However, a British Rwandan startup called OX Delivers is changing the game with its electric OX Trucks.

These trucks, designed by former Formula One engineer Gordon Murray in 2016, were commissioned by a non-profit organization called the Global Vehicle Trust. The goal was to create a vehicle that could facilitate essential deliveries in developing countries.

OX Delivers, launched by the Global Vehicle Trust in 2020, operates in Warwickshire, England, but is described as an African-led initiative. Instead of selling the vehicles, it rents out delivery space on the trucks, primarily to smallholder farmers and small-scale traders.

In April 2021, they introduced a fleet of two trucks in Western Rwanda, which has now expanded to 24 trucks. These vehicles can carry up to two tons of goods, making them much more efficient than traditional methods. They transport various items, from fruit to livestock, lumber to school supplies.

The OX Truck is equipped with large tires and high ground clearance, designed to handle challenging dirt roads. The company has carefully chosen parts to minimize breakdowns, and some basic components are easily replaceable if they get damaged by rocks, which is common on these rough roads.

Customers can book space on a truck through a simple app designed for 2G feature phones. Since the app cannot process payments yet, drivers negotiate prices and build relationships face-to-face with their customers. According to Rwanda managing director Francine Uwamahoro, the success and growth of the service rely on the drivers.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces a significant road infrastructure challenge, with fewer paved roads per kilometer compared to other low-income regions. This lack of proper roads results in higher cargo prices and longer transit times, hindering economic development.

Simon Davis, the managing director of OX Delivers, points out the issue, explaining that in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, bananas can cost ten times more than in a village due to transportation costs. While one solution is to build more paved roads, Davis believes a more sustainable approach is to introduce affordable vehicles designed to navigate dirt roads.

He emphasizes that when natural disasters like floods damage bridges, it’s often financially challenging to repair them. But if they have trucks that can operate on existing roads, it generates revenue that can eventually contribute to tax revenue.

OX Delivers charges a rate similar to cargo bicycles, around 50 cents to transport a 100-kilogram sack over 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Importantly, the trucks can travel longer distances and offer discounts for return trips.

The company manages to keep costs down by owning and optimizing every stage of the supply chain. Parts are shipped from Britain to Rwanda in flat-pack form, allowing for more efficient transportation. Assembling the truck is a straightforward process that can be done by three skilled individuals in 12 hours, using image-based guides similar to IKEA instructions.

Additionally, electric trucks are more cost-effective to run, saving 50% compared to diesel engines. They have a range of 170 kilometers, and OX Delivers has set up private charging depots to compensate for the lack of public charging infrastructure in Rwanda.

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‘Impacting people who have been left behind’

Fransua Vytautas Rasvadauskas, a senior consultant at market research firm Euromonitor, acknowledges the potential of off-road delivery in sub-Saharan Africa as a short-to-medium-term solution to address infrastructure challenges.

He anticipates that the region will continue to grow, which could lead to improved road infrastructure in the future. However, for the next 10 to 30 years, off-road vehicles are likely to play a significant role in the region.

In Rwanda, various companies have been working to address food delivery needs, with a focus on last-mile delivery to customers’ homes or supplying food to hotels and restaurants. OX Delivers, on the other hand, specifically targets underserved rural traders who need to transport their goods to market.

The company, with over 100 employees, including 70 in Rwanda, has served more than 1,000 clients. While Global Vehicle Trust is its largest shareholder, OX Delivers has also engaged for-profit “impact” shareholders and secured £8 million ($9.6 million) in seed funding, along with £20 million ($24 million) in grants from the UK government. The company’s future plans include app development and the installation of cold storage for perishable cargo.

The success of this model can extend beyond Western Rwanda and be applied in various rural areas across Africa where transportation remains a challenge, particularly in regions where agriculture is a critical part of the economy.

OX Delivers has received expansion offers to other East African countries, such as Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya. Ultimately, this business model aims to empower and uplift those who have been marginalized by providing economic growth opportunities.

Conclusion

In conclusion, OX Delivers, a British Rwandan startup, is making a significant impact in rural Africa by providing off-road electric trucks to address transportation challenges. The company’s innovative approach is bridging the infrastructure gap in sub-Saharan Africa, where road networks are limited, and it is offering a practical solution for the short-to-medium term.

By offering affordable and reliable transportation on dirt roads, OX Delivers is not only facilitating the movement of goods but also contributing to economic development in underserved rural areas.

With a focus on rural traders and small-scale businesses, OX Delivers is creating opportunities for economic growth and empowerment. The company’s expansion plans and potential to replicate its model in other African regions demonstrate its commitment to impacting those who have been left behind.

As Africa continues to grow and evolve, OX Delivers serves as a vital link in the chain of progress, providing essential delivery solutions to areas where traditional transportation methods fall short.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What makes OX Delivers’ electric trucks suitable for rural African terrain?

OX Delivers’ electric trucks are equipped with large tires and high ground clearance, making them ideal for handling the challenging dirt roads commonly found in rural Africa. The vehicles are designed to navigate rough terrain efficiently, ensuring reliable transportation of goods.

2. How does OX Delivers address the issue of limited road infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa?

OX Delivers provides an innovative solution by offering affordable off-road electric trucks. While improving road infrastructure is a long-term goal, the company’s approach bridges the gap in the short to medium term, providing a practical alternative for rural areas with limited paved roads.

3. How do customers in rural Africa book space on OX Delivers’ trucks?

Customers can book space on OX Delivers’ trucks through a simple app designed for 2G feature phones. Payment processing is not yet integrated into the app, so drivers negotiate prices and build relationships with customers face-to-face.

4. What is the environmental impact of OX Delivers’ electric trucks?

The electric trucks used by OX Delivers are more environmentally friendly and cost-effective to run compared to diesel engines. They have a range of 170 kilometers and contribute to reducing emissions and air pollution, which is vital for the sustainability of the environment.

5. What role does OX Delivers play in empowering rural traders and small-scale businesses?

OX Delivers primarily targets underserved rural traders who need to transport their goods to the market. By offering reliable and affordable transportation solutions, the company empowers these businesses and contributes to economic growth in these areas.

6. What are OX Delivers’ expansion plans for the future?

OX Delivers has received expansion offers to other East African countries, such as Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya. The company is actively exploring opportunities to replicate its successful model in other African regions, further impacting underserved rural areas.

7. How does OX Delivers handle the assembly of their trucks in Rwanda?

OX Delivers ships truck parts from Britain to Rwanda in flat-pack form, allowing for efficient transportation. Skilled individuals can assemble the trucks using image-based guides, similar to IKEA instructions, making the process straightforward and cost-effective.

8. Who are the key stakeholders and supporters of OX Delivers?

OX Delivers has received significant support from various stakeholders. Its largest shareholder is the Global Vehicle Trust. It has also engaged for-profit “impact” shareholders and secured funding and grants, including £8 million ($9.6 million) in seed funding and £20 million ($24 million) in grants from the UK government.

9. What impact do OX Delivers have on reducing the cost of goods in rural areas?

OX Delivers charges rates similar to cargo bicycles, making transportation costs more affordable for rural traders and small-scale businesses. This reduction in transportation costs has the potential to lower the prices of goods, benefiting consumers in underserved rural areas.

10. How can OX Delivers’ success benefit the overall development of rural Africa?

By addressing transportation challenges, OX Delivers plays a vital role in promoting economic development in rural Africa. Its model can be replicated in various regions across the continent, contributing to the empowerment and economic growth of those who have been marginalized by limited access to transportation.

These FAQs provide additional information about OX Delivers and its impact, offering readers a more comprehensive understanding of the company’s innovative approach to transportation in rural Africa.