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How this Emirati start-up aims to run the green mile with indigenous electric vehicles

The EVs are built to serve the region's last-mile delivery sector, Barq claims. But could it be a game-changer in setting the trend?

How this Emirati start-up aims to run the green mile with indigenous electric vehicles
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Barq’s appetite for electric vehicles (EVs) is, at its heart, the story of the explosion of home delivery – a story in which we have all been willing participants by clicking, swiping and ordering. 

The pace of ecommerce in the Middle East is astounding  – the share of home deliveries rose 12-fold – and Barq, the Emirati start-up, was launched amid a spell when each of our orders triggered a polluting delivery truck to hit the streets and deliver our package. “Companies still use very old delivery methods that are costly, inefficient, unsafe, and frankly unsuitable for our needs,” says Abdallah Abu Sheikh, CEO of Barq. 

And that was the light bulb moment to solve a real pain point for ecommerce – greening the fast lane of last-mile delivery in the Gulf. “Our region has historically been an importer of business ideas, solutions, and technology. The problem in the delivery landscape today is that the business models have evolved at a much faster rate than the vehicles that enable them,” says the tech entrepreneur who started the start-up with Ahmed Al Mazroui. “We wanted to address these challenges with a sustainable and more efficient solution.” 

Currently, forward-thinking EV tech delivery start-ups are capitalizing on this demand, attacking the marketplace with innovative designs to reduce weight, increase range, and maximize ROI. Barq focused on a design, they say, that was built for the region. The reasoning is solid: EVs used in different areas typically have different requirements.

Its all-electric scooters, called Rena Max, have cooled handlebars, a reflective windshield to protect the driver from the extreme heat the region is known for, and a smart dashboard to track location. 

“The vehicles were designed after months of research into the challenges and pain points that delivery providers and consumers face throughout the delivery journey. We incorporated features that address these pain points in vehicles built specifically for delivery and suitable to MENA conditions.”

“For example, the Rena Max is equipped with sensors that will allow us to record and gather data about the rider and the trip. This helps when we analyze this data – we can make adjustments to improve the vehicles and the delivery providers’ business models for better optimization of their operations,” adds Sheikh.

MADE IN UAE

Launched in March, it’s a fully indigenous product – “made in UAE with equipped specs for MENA region’s conditions.” From ideation to prototyping, Barq has worked on this project for the last year-and-a-half.

The great trick of ecommerce has been to get us to shop more while thinking less about it, particularly how our purchases reach our homes and how long it would take. So while we choose and buy our purchases, companies are only too aware of carbon emissions and completing the delivery faster. 

“Rising order fulfillment costs have put a lot of pressure on companies to optimize their operations, and EVs can help achieve that. In addition, countries and companies in our region are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their decisions. The switch from combustion engines to electric vehicles represents a move towards cleaner energy and a more sustainable future for our region,” says Sheikh.

REDUCTION IN CARBON FOOTPRINT

EV adoption in last-mile delivery is growing in popularity. In fact, in many parts of the world, including the UK and the US, booming EV sales were a bright spot in a tough automotive market amid disruption during the pandemic.

Now, as the Middle East governments demand an ever-smaller carbon footprint, the transportation industry in the region is experiencing an unprecedented push toward electrification. Although it would be a mistake to imagine that we are benignly coming to a tipping point with EVs, a shift is happening, no doubt.

Does he see last-mile delivery boosting EV sales in the Middle East? “Last-mile delivery providers operate fleets of thousands of vehicles. Therefore, they make up a large percentage of the number of combustion engines on the road. Once these companies adopt EVs within their fleet, this will boost confidence in the EV conversions for the wider population and pave the way for a better infrastructure that supports the mass adoption of EVs.”

While the UAE is the forerunner of EV introduction in the region, it is by no means the only mover. From Riyadh to Baghdad, governments have been developing EV-related infrastructure to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve energy resources. Even though it is still cheaper in the region to drive an internal-combustion engine vehicle than EVs, governments’ efforts are encouraging.

The rise of the EVs adoption, according to Sheikh, can contribute to a significant reduction in the average emissions. “Our product is cleaner, smarter, and more sustainable. The switch to smart EV vehicles will help reduce pollution in the long run.”

In the region, small format EVs will gain momentum, given their lower fuel and maintenance costs, and they are less dependent on charging infrastructure.

Over the next few years, Sheikh says, the EV industry will continue to see major innovations in battery technology.  “As the technology improves, vehicle performance will also improve, and factors such as range anxiety will no longer be an obstacle for EV adoption.”

The start-up is in discussions with some of the leading delivery providers in the region, from F&B and ecommerce to couriers, he says. “As we scale our manufacturing capability, we expect to continue exploring these partnerships and growing our offerings across the MENA region.”

At the moment, it is focused on more innovative last-mile delivery solutions. “But given how fast our region is evolving, we could tap into other industries that are beyond last-mile delivery.”

Barq can be a game-changer, as it’s a first-of-its-kind tech-driven EV built to serve the region’s last-mile delivery sector. With plans to expand, Barq could quickly position itself as one of the region’s largest EV makers for last-mile delivery. “We are committed to the MENA market for now. In the next five years, there certainly could be an opportunity for us to look beyond MENA into other geographies that are facing the same challenges and could benefit from our product offerings,” says Sheikh.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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