In 2020, more than 10 million electric cars were on the roads globally. 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, today 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 initially conceived of M Auto as an automotive company.
Coming from a town called Kottampatti in Madurai, Tamilnadu, The entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in the 33-year-old by his father from a young age.
“My father always told me that you shouldn’t work for someone else. You should employ others. So doing something on my own was always my goal,” says Mansoor.
He started his first business when he was 17 years old, in Tirupur with 3000 rupees and a gold coin.
The company, ‘Computer Planet’, was engaged 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. The tradition was that whoever comes to work must start by folding the banyan trees (vests) and store them in boxes, wash toilets, etc. He wasn’t happy about it. With the help of my uncle, I got a job in a computer operator’s office. And once I learned a bit about computers, I started my own business,” says Mansoor.
After that, he founded an IT company called Computer Corporation of India, which was in operation from 2010 to 2013. And that’s when his friends introduced him to the automotive industry. “At that time, there were no metered cars in Chennai. My friends talked about how big industry was still in disarray. So I came on board ‘Nama Auto’ where we ran meters cars. However, I stopped after a few months for personal reasons,” adds Mansoor.
Soon, she founded Makkal Auto or ‘M Auto’ to organize the industry and help car drivers with their income, with a special focus on female drivers.
While driving the automatic meters, he realized that while gas prices kept changing, the meter rates did not change. And the solution to this was electric cars.
“Initially, we bought cars from Bajaj, TVS, added meters and leased them. But rising gasoline prices posed a major challenge. The CNG also had the same problems. The only long-term solution would be electric cars. So after a lot of research and development, we started adapting the cars and making them electric. It cost us about 75,000 rupees make an electric carMansoor says.
Then in 2019, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami officially launched M Auto Electric’s modernized electric cars.
The company also worked on gender inclusion by training 3,000 women as car drivers.
They also introduced 13 variants of the car to help businesses. They set up a large facility in Chennai and started manufacturing.
“During the lockdown, I saw car drivers in India using vehicles for other businesses, such as selling fruit and vegetables. So we introduced ‘business on wheels’ for almost 40 types of business, where the car can be customized according to the needs of the entrepreneur such as ‘m-veggies’, ‘m-garbage’, ‘m-ambulance’, etc. it is advantageous for them since they do not have to spend on rent”, adds Mansoor.
While working on the electric three-wheeler market in India, they 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. As we traveled to countries in Africa, we saw the immense use of two-wheelers. The market for bicycle taxis in Africa is huge. We also saw that Africa has leaders who have visionary thinking and want to go green. We raise investments from the Africa Transformation and Industrialization Fund (ATIF) and we are the largest electric vehicle company here.”
They launched in Africa in Togo and Benin in 2020 and have delivered 2,500 electric two-wheelers.
They also have orders for another 15,000.
“We have raised $50 million in funding from investors in Africa to develop electric mobility here,” Yasmeen says, adding, “What we realized when we visited countries here is that there is a lot of reliance on bike taxis. So we started selling electric two-wheelers, which were used for these pedicab services. We also build battery exchange stations. We have also introduced the pay-per-use model, which we also want to replicate in India. Riders give a deposit of 2,000 rupees to start riding. If you recharge your vehicle, you can mount it, simple as that. In two or three years of continuous use, the vehicle becomes yours”.
Mansoor adds that M Auto is building factories in Togo and Benin. The plan now, according to Mansoor, is to expand its presence in both Africa and India. He also states: “Our Chennai factory is operational and can produce 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 transport solutions. I want to honor my father by providing work for more people in the years to come,” adds Mansoor.
Edited by Yoshita Rao