Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities – gpgmail


Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told gpgmail in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

gpgmail previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with gpgmail, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”


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Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain – gpgmail


Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”




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Ford unveils lineup for Europe to outpace gas and diesel vehicle sales by 2022 – gpgmail


Ford unveiled a range of hybrid vehicles Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

Ford introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Mondeo wagon, Puma compact crossover, Kuga (shown below) and Explorer SUVs as well as the new Tourneo “people mover” at the show.

FORD KUGA SIDE CHARGING

But more are coming. Ford said earlier this year it plans to bring eight electrified vehicles to market this year and another nine that will be produced by 2024. One of those, an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, will come to market in 2020. The electric SUV with Mustang styling has a targeted range of 600 km (more than 370 miles) calculated using the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and fast-charging capability.

Ford expects that electrified vehicles will account for more than 50% of its car sales in Europe by 2022, surpassing combined sales of conventional petrol and diesel models.

Ford’s upcoming portfolio is part of its broader plan to make its Europe division leaner and more profitable. The company said in June it will cut 12,000 jobs and consolidate its manufacturing footprint to a proposed 18 facilities by the end of 2020. Most of the job cuts, 2,000 of which are salaried position, will occur through voluntary separation programs.

The automaker also announced Tuesday partnerships with six energy suppliers in Europe, including Centrica in the U.K. and Ireland, to install home charging wall boxes and provide green energy tariffs. A partnership with NewMotion aims to help drivers locate and pay for charging more easily at more than 118,000 charging points in 30 countries.

“With electrification fast becoming the mainstream, we are substantially increasing the number of electrified models and powertrain options for our customers to choose from to suit their needs,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement.

Electrified doesn’t mean every vehicle will be solely powered by electricity. The term means the vehicles can use hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric technology. The showcase Tuesday supports the automaker’s earlier commitment that every new Ford passenger vehicle will include an electrified option.

Ford Europe plans

While some automakers have stuck to an all-electric strategy, Ford plans to produce a range of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to electrification – every customer’s circumstances and travel needs are different,” said Joerg Beyer, executive director of engineering at Ford of Europe. “Our strategy is to pair the right electrified powertrain option to the right vehicle, helping our customers make their electrified vehicle experience easy and enjoyable.”

Ford isn’t doing this alone. The automaker announced in July a partnership with Volkswagen Group that covers collaboration on electric vehicles and development of autonomous technology via a $2.6 billion investment by VW into Argo AI.

Under the EV part of the tie-up, Ford will use VW’s MEB platform, the underlying architecture for its upcoming line of passenger electric vehicles, to develop at least one fully electric car for Europe. VW debuted Monday the ID.3, the first model with MEB platform.


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Uber commits $200 million to Uber Freight expansion in bet on trucking and Chicago – gpgmail


Uber Freight is establishing its headquarters in Chicago as part of Uber’s broader plan to invest more than $200 million annually in the region, including hiring hundreds of workers.

Uber said Monday it will hire 2,000 new employees in the region over the next three years, most of which will be dedicated to Uber Freight .

Uber Freight, which helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, has become an important piece to Uber’s larger business strategy to generate revenue from all forms of transportation, including logistics for packages.

Since launching in May 2017, Uber Freight has grown from from limited regional operations in Texas to the rest of the continental U.S. and then to Europe.

Uber made Uber Freight a separate business unit in August 2018. Since then, the company has redesigned the app, adding new navigation features that make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize and more intuitive, as well as other features, including an updated map view and a search bar across the top of the screen.

It’s also made some key hires, one of which intimated the company’s global ambitions. The company hired Andrew Smith, one of Box’s early employees, to head up global sales at Uber Freight, and Bar Ifrach, formerly of Airbnb, to lead its marketplace team.

With signs of some success, Uber is doubling down on the trucking business.

Uber Freight has more than 400,000 drivers in its carrier network and 1,000-plus shippers as customers, including AB Inbev, Niagara Bottling and Land O’Lakes, according to the company. Uber Freight also has more than 50,000 carriers on the platform.

“I believe this makes Uber Freight  the biggest virtual fleet in the United States,” Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, told gpgmail in a recent interview.

The company has been relatively quiet as it has scaled up, Ron said, noting that this announcement marks a turning point for Uber Freight.

“This is really a graduation moment for us and where we can share that because the business is doing so well we are doubling down on our investment,” he said.

The new Uber office located in The Old Main Post Office in the historic Chicago River area will serve as Uber Freight headquarters and its first engineering hub outside of San Francisco.

“Trucking represents an enormous opportunity for Uber, and this milestone is a testament to our long-term commitment to our Freight business,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “Chicago is the heart of America’s transportation and logistics industry, and there is no better place to open our dedicated Freight HQ. Uber has long recognized the incredible history, innovation, and talent that Chicago has to offer, and we’re excited about the thousands of new jobs our Freight business will help bring as we become one of the city’s largest technology employers.”

As part of its new investments in the region, Uber is collaborating with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (CCWP) to help with workplace diversity. Uber will start onboarding new employees in 2020 and will work with CCWP to develop a process for identifying potential candidates through their system.


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Uber has surveyed some drivers on small loans, suggesting financial products are coming – gpgmail


Back in June Uber went on a hiring spree in New York, hiring at least 100 fintech-oriented tech workers to ostensibly look at creating products to increase loyalty and engagement among users and drivers, including things like banking. Cue a flurry of speculation. It now looks like Uber is taking baby-steps towards building such a raft of products out, potentially by offering loans directly to drivers, according to a report from Recode/Vox.

The story is based on the emergence of an in-app survey which was sent to some drivers talking about a “new financial product” aimed at drivers “in a time of need.” The survey then went on to question drivers’ use of financing loans of $1,000 or less in the last three years. It asked “what amount are you most likely to request?” It then gave them options top pick from “Less than $100,” “Between $100 and $250,” “Between $250 and $500” and “More than $500.”

At this time there’s no indication of timing on a small loans product offering to drivers, and Uber has not publicly commented on the emergence of the survey’s existence.

However, Uber already has form in this space. It has offered cash advance programs to drivers in California and Michigan, although the company was criticised for what some called “pay-day loans”. It’s also offered leases on new cars to drivers in the past and currently offers a co-branded credit card with Visa and an Uber Cash digital wallet for riders.

Uber would not be alone in rolling out small cash loans to its workers, given given that large companies such as Walmart and others already offer lucrative payroll advances and loans to employees.

But the fact that it now has a very large FinTech team suggests this won’t the end of us hearing about Uber’s tentative moves into this space.


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SoftBank-backed Getaround is raising $200M at a $1.5B+ valuation – gpgmail


Getaround, a used car marketplace and winner of gpgmail Disrupt New York Battlefield 2011, will enter the unicorn club with a roughly $200 million equity financing.

The deal values Getaround, founded in 2009, at $1.7 billion, according to an estimate provided by PitchBook. Getaround declined to comment, citing internal policy on “funding speculation.”

“Getaround and our investors work closely together on our growth strategy, and we’ll definitely plan to share more when we’re ready,” a spokesperson said in response to gpgmail’s inquiry Thursday morning.

The news follows the company’s $300 million acquisition of Drivy, a Paris-headquartered car-sharing startup that operates in 170 European cities.

Getaround closed a Series D funding of $300 million last year, a round led by SoftBank with participation from Toyota Motor Corporation. Existing investors in the business, which allows its some 200,000 members to rent and unlock vehicles from their mobile phones at $5 per hour, include Menlo Ventures and SOSV.

Assuming an upcoming $200 million infusion, Getaround has raised more than $600 million in equity funding to date.

Whether SoftBank has participated in Getaround’s latest financing is unknown. The business is an active investor in the carsharing market, with investments in Chinese ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing, Uber and autonomous driving company Cruise. We’ve reached out to SoftBank for comment.

In conversation with gpgmail last year, Getaround co-founder Sam Zaid emphasized SoftBank’s capabilities as a mobility investor: “What we really liked about [SoftBank] was they take a really long view on things,” he said. “So they were very good about thinking about the future of mobility, and we have a common kind of vision of every car becoming a shared car.”

Getaround was expected to expand into international markets with its previous fundraise. Indeed, the company has moved into France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Belgium and the U.K. where it operates under the brand “Drivy by Getaround,” and in Norway under the “Nabobil” brand.

The business initially launched its car-sharing service in 2011, relying on gig workers, who can list their car on the Getaround marketplace for $500 to $1,000 a month in payments, depending on how often their car is rented.

Since Getaround entered the market, however, a number of competitors have entered the space with similar business models. Turo and Maven, for example, have both emerged to facilitate car rental with backing from top venture capital funds.


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VW Group to pay $96.5M to settle inflated fuel economy lawsuit – gpgmail


VW Group of America said Friday it has reached an agreement with thousands of U.S. customers over alleged inflated fuel economy information on about 98,000 gas-powered vehicles from its four brands, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen.

The agreement involves alleged misinformation about fuel economy on 98,000 vehicles, or about 3.5% of the model year 2013-2017 VW Group vehicles sold or leased in the United States. The fuel economy will be restated to reflect a discrepancy of one mile per gallon, when rounded according to the U.S.-specific “Monroney” label requirements, according to the EPA.

Most of the vehicles affected by the overstatement of fuel economy were from Audi, Bentley and Porsche, including the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Audi A8L, RS7 and S8 vehicles. Other affected models include variants of the Porsche Cayenne such as the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo.

Volkswagen does not admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.

Eligible customers will receive payments ranging from $5.40 to $24.30 for each month the vehicle is owned or leased. The total value of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is $96.5 million, according to VW.

Volkswagen Group of America will also adjust its Greenhouse Gas credits to account for any excess credits associated with the fuel economy discrepancy.

Potential claimants will have to submit a claim to receive compensation. However, owners do not need to take any action at this time. Individual class members will receive information about their rights and options (including the option to “opt out” of the settlement agreement) if the court grants preliminary approval of the proposed agreement, according to VW.


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Didi Chuxing to launch self-driving rides in Shanghai and expand them beyond China by 2021 – gpgmail


Didi Chuxing will begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with self-driving cars in Shanghai in just a few months, according to company CTO Zhang Bo (via Reuters). The plan is to roll out autonomous pick-ups in Shanghai first, starting in one district of the city, and then expand the program from there – finally culminating in the deployment of self-driving vehicles outside of China by 2021.

Like Uber’s autonomous test vehicles, Didi’s cars will be staffed with a human driver on board during the initial launch period, which awaits a few remaining licenses before it can actually begin serving human passengers. Self-driving rides will be free for customers, and Zhang said that more than 30 different vehicles will be offered for self-driving trips as part of the pilot.

After its initial pilot launch in Shanghai, Didi will look to expand its offerings to Beijing and Shenzhen as well, with hopes to be live in all three cities by 2020.

Didi is the largest ride-hailing company in China, and beat out an attempt by Uber to establish a presence in the market, resulting in Uber selling its Chinese business to Didi and exiting the market in 2016 (in exchange for a minority stake). We spoke to Didi’s CTO (who asked to be identified by as ‘Bob’ at the time, hence the lower-third in the video below) later that same year about why the company believes it has an advantage when it comes to data-driven technology development relative to Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

Aside from a general sense in the industry that autonomy is a likely, if not inevitable end goal for ride-hailing and other mobility services with a technological focus, Didi is also likely motivated by a need for drivers to meet demand – and drivers who can provide a safe and secure experience for passengers. The company revealed in July that it had proved over 300,000 drivers that didn’t meet up to its safety standards after overhauling those standards last year.

Earlier this month, Didi also announced that it was spinning out its autonomous driving unit as a separate company, with Zhang as CEO. It’ll look to develop tech for its own fleet, and work in partnership with automakers, including Toyota, in pursuit of commercializing and deploying autonomous driving.


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Bestmile raises $16.5 million to manage human and AI-driven fleets – gpgmail


Bestmile, a transportation software startup, has raised $16.5 million in a Series B round led by Blue Lagoon Capital and TransLink Capital.

Existing investors Road Ventures, Partech, Groupe ADP, Airbus Ventures, Serena and others also participated in the round. The company, which launched in 2014, has raised $31 million to date.

Bestmile has developed fleet management software that orchestrates the delicate balance between demand for, and supply of transportation. Managing fleets isn’t new. However, the emergence of new and varied ways for people and packages to move within cities has created new opportunities for software companies.

Bestmile is aiming to become the preferred platform for public transit operators, automakers and taxi companies that offer ride-hailing, microtransit, autonomous shuttle services and even robotaxis. While Bestmile emphasizes the ability of the platform to manage more futuristic means of travel, namely autonomous shuttles, fleet management software is designed to be agnostic. This means it will work for human-driven fleets like traditional taxi cabs as well as autonomous shuttles and, someday, robotaxis.

The startup’s investors also see opportunities for the platform that extend beyond microtransit, ride-hailing and autonomous shuttles. For instance, Airbus Ventures sees Bestmile as a key enabler for urban air mobility, according to Thomas d’Halluin, a managing partner at the Airbus’ venture arm.

The platform works by collecting real-time data such as weather, traffic, demand and vehicle telemetry. It then uses the data to squeeze the most out of the fleet. That means balancing demand from customers with the cost of operations.

The startup, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland and has an office in San Francisco, already has a number of customers, including autonomous shuttle operators. The company’s software is managing 15 deployments globally. Bestmile announced earlier this week that it has partnered with Beep, an autonomous shuttle company in Orlando, Fla.

Blue Lagoon partners Rodney Rogers and Kevin Reid have joined Bestmile’s board. Rogers is now board chairman. The pair, which have first-hand experience as co-founders, should be able to provide the kind of insight needed to scale a company. Rogers and Reid co-founded enterprise cloud services company Virtustream, which was acquired by EMC Corporation in 2015 for $1.2 billion. The business is now part of Dell Technologies.


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Rwanda to phase out gas motorcycle-taxis for e-motos – gpgmail


The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy-guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos.

The country’s president Paul Kagame previewed the plan last week. “We will find a way to replace the ones you have now. We urge taxi-moto operators to help us when the phase-out process comes,” he said speaking at a youth forum.

The Director General for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed..and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali. The country has come a long way since the 1990s, becoming a test-bed for drone-delivery and prioritizing initiatives to become an African tech hub.

Rwanda motorcycle taxisNyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

“Once the policy is out, we’ll no longer permit any motorcycle that is not electric to be added to a fleet,”  Nyirishema said, adding that the country’s regulators will need to create an appropriate transition period and program for taxi operators to move to e-motos.

The news comes as Africa’s motorcycle taxi markets — worth an estimated $4 billion — have seen a flurry of tech investment and expansion. Uber and Bolt got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Norwegian (and Chinese backed) browser service Opera’s recent $50 million backed West Africa product expansion included linking its new payment app to ORide, a motorcycle ride-hail venture it launched in Nigeria.

Nigerian motorcycle taxi and delivery startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round with participation from Yamaha. The company is using the funding to pilot e-motorcycles in Africa powered by renewable energy.

Another local moto-taxi ventureUganda’s SafeBoda—received outside capital in a Series B round co-led by the venture arms of Germany’s Allianz and Indonesia’s Go-Jek. 

The Director General for  Rwanda’s Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema prepared to confirm partners for the country’s e-moto conversion.

One startup that says it will be involved is Ampersand, a Kigali based venture that has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda.

The company has worked with a feasibility study for implementing electric vehicles across Rwanda since last year, according to CEO Josh Whale. “We’ve also got a grant from the government…and it’s been tied in really well with the feasibility study,” he told gpgmail.

Copy of Bike Rebero Ampersand eveningAmpersand has shaped its own e-motorcycle model, building the batteries and fitting them into new motorcycle chassis imported from Asia. To keep the taxi-moto riders consistently moving—vs. delayed while recharging—the startup has developed a battery swapping system and station.

One motorcycle ride-hail startup that’s been testing an Ampersand e-moto is Cango. Founded in 2015, the company has app-based, on-demand taxi-moto fleets in Rwanda and Congo.

“We intend to be among the first to switch our fleet, as the [Ampersand] bikes are ready,” Cango co-founder Barrett Nash told gpgmail in a message from Kinshasa.

Ampersand CEO Josh Wale sees electricity changing the micro-economics of motorcycle taxi markets. He estimates taxi riders in Rwanda spend $2000 a year on fuel and oil-charges for their gas machines.

“Looking at it from a driver point of view, from day one they are paying less for the bike and the battery by going electric,” he said.

 

 

 


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