“I’m sitting in a restaurant, eating good food. I couldn’t be more comfortable,” Adam Ridgway says as he begins to break down the extraordinary story of One Moto – the first – and arguably only – fully realised producers of electric vehicles that are assembled for the UAE market.
Ridgway and his partner’s company produces a range of light electric vehicles from scooters to compact vans and is shifting gears working alongside companies in the delivery sector in the country and has designs on expansion to the wider region.
To establish One Moto, Ridgway is turning his back on a successful career in the media to become an entrepreneur in the automotive industry. The company is young – barely four years old – but its founder tells T&FME that he hasn’t started One Moto to be a start-up he will sell later down the line. After all, he says, his interest in all-things motorised and on-wheels stretches back over two decades.
“I was desperate for independence at 16, so I saved up my Christmas and birthday money and bought myself my first bike,” he recalls. “I did my CBT (compulsory basic training) and bought myself a 50cc. I could reach the outskirts of London (he grew up 80km away in the small town of Bishop’s Stortford). It was amazing.”
Still in his teens, Ridgway was also turning his back on a fine art degree and setting off on a career: “I knew I was creative, but I was also a businessman. At 16, I started my first business running party cruises up and down the River Thames.”
Despite this early commercial success, by his early 20s he was working as a runner on a famous UK TV show called Ready, Steady, Cook: “I spent seven years in TV, but it took me until I was 28 to find what my purpose was. I had moved to Dubai to work for Dubai One and six months later I set-up a media company called Mediacubed – an online portal for the media sector. Think of it as LinkedIN for the media industry.”
Riding the economic turbulence that hit the UAE at the end of the decade it found itself casting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol when scenes were filmed in 2010 – the movie including Tom Cruise’s iconic climb of the Burj Khalifa.
“The applications were processed on an online platform and then a shortlist was sent to Prague where they were shooting. By the time they came to Dubai, the producers, execs, wardrobe designers, etc, knew who had been cast and even what their sizes were. We cast over a thousand roles…. It was the first time in Hollywood history that a feature film was cast online.”
While his business grew and prospered, Ridgway was able to continue his love of motorcycling, collecting a Vespa on the way. While his job was allowing him to maintain his passion, he was becoming increasingly agitated at the risks that delivery bikers were having to take while they were doing their daily grind.
“Some of these bikes have square wheels. You’ve got baggy chains. They make a lot of noise,” he says regretfully, adding that some of the drivers are not receiving enough training. “There’s a move that every rider knows. It’s called the lifesaver where you look over your shoulder: left and right. It takes a quarter of a second but these riders don’t do it. I know everyone talks about the language differences here, but you can teach everything someone needs to know about bike safety with sign language.”
Expanding on his concerns for professionals riders, and the training and equipment that he feels is lacking, he adds: “Being an avid rider, the safety aspect of what I see really affects me. I talk to a lot of the riders and this one guy told me he has one uniform which he has to wash three times a week. His helmet only costs about 200 dirhams. And seeing the state of these bikes bothers me. Every day they are going out and risking their lives.”
His worries on the state of drivers and thoughts on why their employers couldn’t afford to provide them with the training and equipment to keep them safe were a strand of what was beginning to stir thoughts on how to improve the situation he was seeing on the road. He realised that if you could make sustainable delivery vehicles cost-effective they could improve safety. But, first, there needed to be prompting from another source: “This is where One Moto really comes from….” he begins.
“I had a classic car that I wanted to get electrified. I went to three different places – no one could do it. I could see loads of different bikes sitting outside their garages but found there weren’t any electric-powered delivery bikes in the market.”
Ridgway began talking to engineers back in the UK to see how feasible it would be to fill in this gap in the market. As an early design came together, his UAE business partner suggested they look at potential suppliers for parts in China.
“Over a year and a half, we looked at 16 to 18 different factories,” Ridgway explains. “We were finding different parts from different factories and then found a master factory plant that we decided to negotiate a contract agreement to produce them exclusively for One Moto.”
With the bikes being very low powered and struggling to reach 40km/h, (“They may have a basket on the front but they’re not really suitable for the roads here”), Ridgway knew he wanted something different.
“While I was going through this process I was looking at the Vespa – which I hold in the very highest regard – and thinking how can we produce a delivery bike version in terms of quality and performance? So, what we have now is a vehicle that has been designed to be modular and made of the highest quality.”
With a design and a manufacturing footprint forming, calls were made to fleets in the region – including Careem – to understand what the level of interest could be. Crucially, the level of potential demand suggested One Moto would be a viable concern – or as how Ridgway puts it: “Wow, we thought that’s huge! 20% of Careem’s revenue comes from bike taxies in India and Pakistan. I realised there really was something here.”
Ridgway’s own research estimates that there are 12,000 delivery bikes on the road of the UAE (“although it could be closer to 18,000”) and he estimates that the food delivery market alone is worth $215 million – and growing: “I know with Deliveroo and others (doing well) that there is hyperactivity in the sector and we have got to capitalise on this before anyone else does.”
While the numbers of traditional engine bikes has exceeded his expectations, he remains concerned by the worrying amount of pollution to the country’s air quality.
Ridgway points out that motorcycles release more smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen. He cites research that has found that a motorcycle may use 28% less fuel to a comparable car and emit 30% fewer carbon dioxide emissions, but it also produces 416% more hydrocarbons, 3,220% more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065% more carbon monoxide on a journey.
His own calculations that the 12,000 known motorcycles use 58,195,584 gallons of fuel and generate 16,560 tonnes of carbon monoxide per year.
“I ran the numbers,” he tells T&FME. “16,560 tonnes of CO2 per year doesn’t mean anything to you or I, but if I said that CO2 would fill a 16-storey building… Or it would take 273,000 trees grown for 10 years to absorb that CO2 each year…”
One Moto was the UAE’s first and only company to get the all-important approvals from both ESMA and RTA to manufacturer electric vehicles. Ridgway passionately believes that his company can be a force for good in the market and be a catalyst for change.
Having started by making advanced electric motorbikes and scooters in 2018, it is breaking into the last-mile delivery segment with the Deliva, an all-electric delivery van with a temperature-controlled compartment.
“Having developed the three other vehicles for commuter and urban transport we were looking at the delivery sector. We realised we weren’t at a stage to develop large delivery trucks. That involves incredible amounts of R&D and technology development. But I looked at the Toyota Hiace and Nissan Urvan – and they’re design might be dated but they are still very popular: “I looked at the price, cost of maintenance, fuel per year, mileage and the amount of servicing they do – and said, right, let’s get on this and make an electric van for this purpose.”
He tells T&FME that the Deliva can fulfil a number of roles and even comes with a climate controlled cargo compartment: “You don’t need to have different vehicle models and pickups (with the Deliva). You can have one vehicle that can be used in three forms depending on the end-user.”
Four batteries are used on the van to compensate for the air conditioned compartment and ensure that it can reach a range that is practical for fleets: “AC in a petrol car will use a third of your petrol. It will take hundreds of kilometres off. The four batteries means it can go 200km.”
He adds that the batteries used by all of One Moto vehicles take eight hours to re-charge. As they are easy to be swapped out when needed, he recommends that owners keep charged batteries ready to be slotted easily into the vehicles if required. The company is also branching out into an electric vehicle battery charging scheme – marking a move into the electric vehicle infrastructure side of the market.
This range of products would be enough to gain some column inches in T&FME, but Ridgway also recently published a white paper based on his research on the environmental impact on mototcycles. He wants it to spark debate about the viability of electric vehicles in the UAE and the wider region.
The 26-page document even sets out an agenda for the company and plots it on a course to foster environmental awareness and “the dissemination of knowledge on sustainable development models”. He argues persuasively that it is possible to achieve an ecologically sustainable and innovative green economy even in an oil and gas rich economy.
Reading it ahead of the interview, it is clear that Ridgway is fully plugged into the concept of Avoid-Shift-Improve framework of sustainable mobility which, simply put, sets a pathway to seeing people driving low or zero emission vehicles on our roads. But he believes a paradigm shift is needed to see widespread adoption in the region.
Critical to that will be winning the argument on the economics of owning one. EV technology is relatively new and the initial cost can be prohibitive. Some fleets remain sceptical despite charging becoming easier to access and the government actively encouraging people to switch. Ridgway says there is even an economical imperative with the total cost of ownership half that of traditional engine alternatives.
“It is hard to get people out of the mindset of electric cars. Those cars will have a battery lifespan of eight years and cost more expensive than the residual value of the car. Fortunately, we have built our vehicles differently…
“You will always have parts that need to be replaced but we have pre-purchased certain parts which means we can guarantee their price over the next ten years – whatever happens with the technology. To give you an idea, the cost of our battery is 2,500 aed which compares to 24,000 aed EV battery.
“The difference is significant. In terms of total cost of ownership, we have focused on how quickly can that vehicle pay for itself. If the Deliva van is 105,000 aed within a year it should pay for itself. If it doesn’t we have made a commitment to say that we will refund you that investment.”
He adds that the company wants to buy back fully purchased vehicles after a five-year period at a fixed cost. The bought back vehicles will then be re-exported to the African market where it has a partnership already in place. It is the type of strategy more commonly associated with more established players and Ridgway says he is continuing to learn more about the EV and wider auto-industry.
He is an in-demand speaker on the subject and engaging with outside stakesholders such as the GSO in Saudi Arabia to engage government agencies. He tells T&FME that he has politely turned down an invitation to help draft legislation for EVs in KSA but is happy to work with people involved in sustainable mobility across the globe. The hope, he says, is that a coalition of the willing can encourage change from the top in many markets and countries.
Perhaps the next stage will be to help a younger generation of owners that is much more concerned about the future? After all it is theirs to shape and One Moto is partnering with the university RIT Dubai to develop new ideas on green mobility.
Still full of his own ideas for taking EVs forwards, Ridgway says that he has never been more driven as he is now. The entrepreneur and activist finishes the interview saying the UAE is the right country to see his vision of greener mobility realised: “I believe we have a chance, we just have to take it.”