Described as a “bold and ambitious” start-up, West African company M Auto aims to offer “mobility as a service” with its innovative e-bikes. Since its launch in 2022, M Auto has taken the nations of Togo and Benin by storm with its electric motorbikes and mission for affordable and sustainable transport solutions.
How Did it Begin?
According to its website, M Auto began its mission in 2019, but first launched with music concerts in Benin and Togo in May 2022. That same month, an article reported that 500 e-bikes were already operational and an additional 3,000 were ready for purchase, according to RealWire. With support from the Africa Transformation and Industrialization Fund (ATIF), M Auto was able to sell more than 2,000 bikes and register more than 2,500 pre-orders by September 2022.
The inspiration for, and success of, M Auto is largely in line with regional needs and systems. Co-founder Yasmeen Jawaharali told RealWire that “Benin and Togo have the biggest demand for commercial two-wheelers and progressive government policy for domestic manufacturing in the energy transition” and the March 2022 decision from the Togolese government to relieve import duties on electric vehicles has provided further incentive and opportunity for these developments. M Auto’s chief executive Shegun Bakari observed the high demand in Benin, with approximately “100,000 new bike registrations” annually.
Benefits of M Auto Vehicles
Environment: With zero carbon emissions, M Auto’s electric motorbikes provide a green alternative to regular fuel-powered motorbikes. Zems, traditional Beninese motorcycle taxis, contribute almost 4 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, according to Quartz. The nation’s transport industry is responsible for 65% of its emissions, The Guardian reports. Although the African continent is not a leading polluter globally, it is still subject to the effects of the climate crisis. The Clean Air Fund has predicted that “the economic cost of air pollution in African cities will increase 600% over the next 18 years,” as reported by The Guardian.
Health: Tied in with the environmental and economic challenges of pollution are its impacts on health. One of Benin’s “more than 250,000 moto-taxi drivers,” Domingo Soule, told The Guardian about his concerns for his health due to long days of inhaling exhaust fumes. Noting a cough and irritation in his eyes, he mentioned that he was “scared for [his] health” but “[didn’t] have a choice.” More than 1 million Africans died prematurely in 2019 from diseases such as stroke, lung cancer and heart disease, which air pollution could have caused or exacerbated. A switch to electric vehicles could play a vital role in alleviating such issues.
Affordability: Despite environmental and health benefits, Bakari acknowledges that “if it’s more expensive for [people], they won’t do it.” With a poverty rate of just under 40% in Benin as of 2019, and more than 50% in Togo, there is a need for innovations to be affordable. Due to high fuel prices, the cost of charging an e-bike battery for 70 km of travel could be cheaper than the cost of petrol, Quartz reports. Moreover, M Auto’s commitment to covering maintenance costs and providing competitive interest rates, makes it an attractive option for taxi owners otherwise dependent on easy finance.
Job Creation: M Auto equally provides advantages for citizens in terms of new job and training opportunities. Although the company is currently relying on exports and assembling locally, Bakari notes a desire to “manufacture everything locally” if possible, opening up room for new areas of training and education and providing employment. Indeed, the company is already building factories to fulfill one of its aims of manufacturing “exclusively […] for the African market […] allowing to create more jobs and ensuring that the process is by Africans for Africans,” according to RealWire. And according to Africa Energy Portal (AEP), M Auto’s additional plans to convert combustion engine motorbike to electric ones are also set to generate 2,000 eco-conscious jobs for young people in Togo.
Affordable and Sustainable Solution
M Auto promises not just material benefits of affordable and sustainable transportation, but also a shift toward a future of innovation. The company promises that its vehicles will allow Africans to “be their own bosses.” Even more, its success will “boost home-grown innovation and sustainable development in the long term.” Bakari highlights M Auto’s contribution to the continent’s “industrial transformation and ecological transition while creating jobs and lifting people out of poverty.”
Looking to the Future
So far, M Auto has seen remarkable success: as of August 2022, the company was Africa’s largest provider of electric motorbikes. It has already expanded to operate in Rwanda and Uganda as well as Togo and Benin. Although still most commonly found under the name M Auto, the company rebranded in 2022 to become Spiro and has ambitions to become the leading electric vehicle company on the continent.