At first glance, the rugged hills of Rwanda present an unlikely use case for EVs—bicycles and motorcycles are the most common vehicles, and farmers often use them to bring their produce to market. A British-Rwandan startup called OX Delivers is looking to change that, using electric trucks specially designed to negotiate dirt roads while carrying up to two tons of goods—around 20 times the capacity of a two-wheeler.
As CNN reports, the truck was designed by former Formula One engineer Gordon Murray in 2016, commissioned by a non-profit called the Global Vehicle Trust. The organization rents out delivery space on the trucks, mostly to small farmers and traders. It started with two trucks in 2021, and now operates a fleet of 12 trucks.
The OX Truck is built for challenging terrain, with large tires and high ground clearance. The parts are carefully selected to reduce breakdown time, and some basic components are interchangeable, and can be easily replaced in the (likely) event of being damaged by rocks.
Sub-Saharan Africa has few paved roads, and this means the expense of getting products to market can be prohibitive for small farmers. “Bananas cost 10 times in [Rwanda’s capital] Kigali what they cost in a village,” OX Delivers Managing Director Simon Davis told CNN. “You can get good fruit and ship it to Kigali, but the transport will just eat all the cost.”
Davis believes deploying rugged EVs designed for dirt roads is a more sustainable solution than building more paved roads. “What happens when there’s a flood and it washes away a bridge? You can’t pay for a new one because you have no money,” he says. “But if you build a truck that works on the existing roads, we create a bunch of revenue, and ultimately, some of that becomes tax revenue.”
The company keeps costs down by streamlining its supply chain. Parts are flown from Britain to Rwanda in flat-pack form, allowing materials for six vehicles to fit into a shipping container that would normally carry just two trucks. OX’s electric truck is designed to be assembled by 3 “skilled but not necessarily expert” people in 12 hours, using an image-based, IKEA-style manual.
OX’s electric truck has a range of 170 km. The company has installed private charging depots to get around the lack of public charging infrastructure in Rwanda. Davis says running on electricity costs 50% less than burning diesel.
OX has had offers to expand into other East African countries such as Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. Its business model “works in any rural African place where transport is a challenge,” Rwanda Managing Director Francine Uwamahoro told CNN. “People depend on agriculture, and products need to be moved around. It’s about impacting the people who have been left behind. OX is giving them power to grow economically.”