An OX electric flat-pack truck delivers goods on dirt roads in Rwanda.

In this region, where larger vehicles struggle to navigate dirt roads, farmers often use bicycles and motorbikes to get their produce to market. But British-Rwandan delivery startup OX Delivers is hoping to change that with its electric negotiation trucks OX Trucks. on dirt roads when transporting up to two tons of cargo, which is about 20 times higher than the carrying capacity of a cyclist.

The truck was designed by Formula 1 engineer Gordon Murray in 2016 for the Global Vehicle Trust, a non-profit organization that needed a vehicle that could help deliver essential goods to developing countries.

Global Vehicle Trust launched OX Delivers in 2020 and although it is headquartered in Warwickshire, England, the company describes it as an African-led operation. Instead of selling cars, he rents out truck delivery space, mostly to small farmers and small traders.

In April 2021, the company launched a fleet of two trucks in Western Rwanda, which has now grown to 12, hauling everything from fruit to livestock, lumber and school equipment. “Before, our customers used any vehicle that turned up,” explains Francine Uwamahoro, managing director of Rwanda. “Bicycles were taken from their farm … and were gone for a long time – about two days.”

OX Truck boasts large tires and high ground clearance. The company says parts are carefully selected to reduce breakage time, and some key components are interchangeable and can be easily removed in case of rock damage (common on unpaved roads).

Customers book a truck seat through a simple “app” designed for 2G mobile phones. Because the app can’t process payments yet, drivers negotiate prices and build face-to-face relationships with their customers. “Our growth depends on our drivers,” says Uwamahoro.

According to OX Delivers, truck drivers play a critical role in building customer relationships.

Connecting rural Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has less than a quarter of average paved roads per kilometer in all low-income regions. Lack of roads could mean higher freight prices and longer travel times, which could hamper the economy.

“In Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), bananas are 10 times more expensive than in the countryside,” says Simon Davis, managing director of OX Delivers. “You can get good fruit and send it to Kigali, but transport will just absorb all the costs.”

One solution is to simply build more paved roads, but Davis thinks a more sustainable solution is to have more affordable cars that can drive on dirt roads.

“What happens when a flood blows down a bridge? You can’t pay for a new one because you don’t have the money,” he says. “But if you build a truck that works on existing roads, we get a lot of revenue, and eventually some of it becomes tax revenue.”

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OX Delivers says they cost the same as cargo bikes — about 50 cents to haul a 100-kilogram bag 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) — but can go further and offer a discount on return trips.

The company says it reduces its costs by owning and optimizing every step of the supply chain. Parts of it, for example, are shipped from the UK to Rwanda flat-packed, allowing materials for six vehicles to fit in a shipping container that would normally only hold two full trucks. OX says the truck can be assembled by three “skilled (but not necessarily experienced)” people in 12 hours using an IKEA-like illustrated manual.

Davis says running on electricity costs 50% less per day than diesel engines. The trucks have a range of 170 kilometers and the company has installed private charging stations where it can take up to six hours to fully charge to make up for the lack of public charging infrastructure in Rwanda.

OX Delivers says their truck is an effective solution for areas where there are no paved roads.

“Influencing the People Left Behind”

François Vytautas Rasvadauskas, senior consultant for mobility and cities at research firm Euromonitor, agrees that the off-road delivery market can serve as a temporary infrastructure, but sees its potential in the short to medium term. “Sub-Saharan Africa has a lot of potential for growth in the future, and we hope this will lead to better road infrastructure,” he says. “But I think that in the next 10, 20, maybe 30 years, SUVs in the region will have a good chance.”

Other companies in Rwanda have tried to fill the gap in food delivery. Vanoma focused on delivering the last mile from online merchants to customers’ homes, and Take mainly transportation of food from suppliers to hotels and restaurants. But OX Delivers is aimed squarely at undeserved rural traders looking to get their goods to market.

The company says it has 65 employees, including 40 drivers, and has served 1,000 customers. Global Vehicle Trust is its largest shareholder, but it has also raised commercial shareholders and has £8m ($9.6m) in seed funding as well as £20m ($24m) in UK government grants. . The company now plans to further develop its application and deploy cold storage equipment for perishable goods.

Theoretically, the model could be transferred outside Western Rwanda. “It works in any rural area in Africa where transportation is difficult,” says Uwamahoro. “People depend on agriculture and food needs to be moved.”

Davis says the company has had offers to expand into other East African countries such as Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. But the business model is seen not only as an example of growth, but also as a means of promoting it.

“It’s about the impact on the people who are left behind,” says Uwamahoro. “OX gives them the opportunity to grow economically.”