São Paulo-based startup Leoparda Electric wants to be the Gogoro of Latin America. In other words, it is looking to build a network of battery swapping stations to help spread the adoption of electric two-wheelers in the region.
Although Latin America is the second-largest two-wheeler market after Southeast Asia, electrification in the region has been slow. This is partly due to policy, or lack thereof.Although several Latin American countries have set some rough targets for zero-emission sales or the phase-out of internal combustion engines, insufficient financial incentives, weak regulatory policies, insufficient public awareness and inadequate charging infrastructure have kept the region from adopting any form of electric vehicles, According to a report International Clean Transportation Council.
Jack Sarvary, co-founder and CEO of Leoparda Electric, told TechCrunch that he thinks couriers could be the key to the adoption of electric two-wheelers in the region. Before founding Leoparda with ex-Tesla Billy Blaustein, Sarvary spent six years at Rappi, the Latin American version of DoorDash, responsible for operations, product, and fast delivery. In Latin America, motorcycle use is associated with commercialization, with commuters choosing to use public transportation or private cars, Savary said.
“They drive about 100 kilometers a day, which means they spend a lot on gas, which means they can save a lot of money by switching to electric cars,” Savary told TechCrunch. “Electricity is 10 to 1 cheaper than gas. The problem is there is no infrastructure to support it. So if we build the infrastructure, we will enable them to get these huge potential savings.”
When it comes to electrification adoption, there’s always been a chicken-and-egg question. Do we install the infrastructure first or put people in the cars first? Gogoro realized this years ago And say “both,” opting to build its own electric scooters with replaceable batteries, sell them to commuters, and use them in scooter-sharing programs, and build battery swap stations all at once.
While Leoparda’s core business is battery replacement, the startup aims to do something similar by putting together a subscription package that includes an electric motorcycle or ride-on scooter, unlimited battery replacements, maintenance and insurance . Leoparda is importing the two-wheeler from four different Chinese OEMs, which means it will initially use four different batteries instead of Gogoro’s. (Berlin rival Swobbee is doing something similar in Europe, using smaller miniature mobile vehicles.)
The whole process should cost a courier in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Leoparda will be rolling out first, around $200 a month. That’s about 50 percent of what couriers typically spend on vehicle financing, gas, insurance and other expenses, Savary said.
To make switching to electric not only cost-effective but convenient, Leoparda will first open its battery replacement locations in the geographically concentrated areas where most couriers operate. Over time, the service will expand on a zone-by-zone basis. But first, Leoparda had to figure out how to let users replace the batteries themselves.
When Leoparda launches in December, the startup will be renting out small spaces to accommodate some basic battery-charging operations — think some racks with extension cords and an employee swapping used batteries for new ones. But as the company scales, it needs to consolidate operations. That’s where Leoparda’s latest raise came in.
The company just closed an $8.5 million seed round co-led by Monashees and Construct Capital, which it will use to kickstart hardware development for charging cabinets.
“The cost of having a guy with a bunch of racks behind him charging the batteries in a place where you pay rent, even in Latin America, like, yes, we can do five or ten locations, but if we want to scale up like that, It quickly becomes infeasible,” Savary said.
Over time and as the company grows, Leoparda hopes to develop its own replaceable battery that is optimized for extended life and better serve Leoparda’s business model by reducing costs.
“There are all kinds of people in Latin America who want to work on these kinds of projects, they want to do green jobs, and their potential is untapped,” Savari said. “Being the first has an exciting opportunity to attract all the talent across the region.”