M Auto electric's vehicles in Africa

Chennai startup’s electric two-wheelers cross Africa and raise $50m in funding

More than 10 million electric cars were in circulation worldwide in 2020. Subsequently, sales of electric bicycles also increased. Realizing this opportunity and the need for electric vehicles (EVs) in 2014-15, an entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu now runs one of the largest electric two-wheeler companies in Africa.

Mansoor Alikhan Al Buhari is the Founder and Chairman of M Auto Group of Companies. A serial entrepreneur, he first conceived of M Auto as an automobile company.

Hailing from a village called Kottampatti in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, the entrepreneurial spirit was instilled at the age of 33 by his father from an early age.

“My father always told me not to work for someone else. You should use others. Therefore, doing something on my own has always been my goal,” says Mansoor.

He started his first business at the age of 17, in Tirupur with Rs 3,000 and a gold coin.

Mansoor Alikhan Al Buhari is the Founder and Chairman of M Auto Group of Companies
Mansoor Alikhan Al Buhari with M Auto’s electric two-wheelers in Africa

The company, “Computer Planet”, dealt in the sale and maintenance of computers.

“Many of my family members have textile businesses in Tirupur. I went to work with them from 2006-07. Tradition dictates that whoever comes to work begins by bending the banyan trees (vests) and keeping them in boxes, washing bathrooms, etc. I didn’t like it. With the help of my uncle, I got a job in a computer operator’s office. And once I learned a bit more about computers, I started my own business,” says Mansoor.

After that, he started an IT company called Computer Corporation of India which operated from 2010 to 2013. And that’s when his friends introduced him to the automotive industry. “At that time, there were no autometers in Chennai. My friends were talking about how big industry was still disorganized. So, I boarded ‘Namma Auto’ where we ran autometers However, I quit after a few months for personal reasons,” adds Mansoor.

Electrifying cars

M Auto Electric in Africa
M Auto Electric in Africa

Soon he started Makkal Auto or ‘M Auto’ to organize the industry and help motorists with their income, focusing especially on female drivers.

As he ran metered cars, he realized that even though gasoline prices kept changing, metered rates were not changed. And the solution to that was electric cars.

“Initially, we were buying cars from Bajaj, TVS, adding meters and renting them out. But rising gasoline prices posed a huge challenge. CNG also had the same issues. The only long-term solution would be electric cars. So, after a lot of research and development, we started to modernize the cars and make them electric. It cost us around Rs 75,000 to make an electric car,” says Mansoor.

Then in 2019, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi K Palaniswami, officially launched M Auto Electric’s retrofit electric cars.

The company has also worked on gender inclusion by training 3,000 women to drive cars.

M Auto drivers
M Auto female drivers in Chennai

They have also introduced 13 auto variants to help businesses. They set up a huge factory in Chennai and started manufacturing.

“During lockdown, I have seen motorists in India using vehicles for other businesses like selling fruits and vegetables. So we have introduced ‘business on wheels’ for almost 40 types of businesses, where the ‘automotive can be customized according to entrepreneur’s needs like ‘m-veggies’, ‘m-garbage’, ‘m-ambulance’ etc. is beneficial to them as they don’t have to pay rent,” adds Mansoor.

While working on the electric three-wheeler market in India, they have also set their sights on other countries.

Yasmeen Jawaharali, co-founder of M Auto Electric, says, “We realized that cars are used in many countries. While traveling to countries in Africa, we have seen the immense use of two-wheelers. The bike taxi market in Africa is huge. We have also seen that Africa has leaders who have visionary thinking and want to go green. We have raised investments from the Africa Transformation and Industrialization Fund (ATIF) and are the largest electric vehicle company here.

They launched in Africa in Togo and Benin in 2020 and delivered 2,500 electric two-wheelers.

Yasmeen Jawaharali, co-founder, M Auto Electric
Yasmeen Jawaharali, co-founder, M Auto Electric, on a two-wheeler in Africa

They also have orders for another 15,000.

“We raised $50 million in funding from investors in Africa to develop e-mobility here,” Yasmeen says, adding, “What we realized when we visited countries here is that the dependence on bicycle taxis is large, so we started selling electric two-wheelers, which were used for these bicycle taxi services, we also built battery exchange stations, we also introduced the payment model to use, which we also want to replicate in India. Riders give a deposit of Rs 2,000 to start riding. If you charge your vehicle, you can drive it, it’s that simple. In two or three years of continuous use, the vehicle becomes yours.

Mansoor adds that M Auto builds factories in Togo and Benin. The plan now, according to Mansoor, is to expand its footprint in Africa and India. He also claims: “Our factory in Chennai is operational and can manufacture 1,000 vehicles per month.”

“We want to focus on the B2B segment in India for two-wheelers. We want to serve fleet operations and offer end-to-end transportation solutions. I want to honor my father by providing jobs for more people in the years to come,” adds Mansoor.

Edited by Yoshita Rao


Global Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021

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