Electric mobility on two wheels

They are environmentally friendly, inexpensive, maneuverable, and need little space: electric scooters are taking big cities by storm. They are just as easy to rent as cars and bicycles, and experts see them as an important enabler of urban mobility.

An alternative to car-sharing is weaving its way through traffic in Berlin. This addition to the range of transportation types available in large cities is gray and mint green, has two wheels, and moves as silently as a big cat on the prowl. It is an electric scooter from COUP, a Berlin e-scooter sharing company.

The future belongs to these maneuverable vehicles in metropolitan cities like Berlin. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) came to the conclusion that by 2025 at the latest, electric scooters will become an important segment in electric mobility; together with other small electric vehicle types, it will constitute the predominant means of transportation for urban mobility. “Electric scooters are definitely establishing themselves in the individual transportation sector”, says Alexander Mankowsky, a renowned future studies expert at Daimler AG who is one of the people convinced of their potential. “They can help alleviate the terrible traffic situation in large cities.” The trend comes from Asia; more than 200 million electric scooters are in use in China alone.

The two-wheelers are maneuverable, need little space (which saves time when looking for a parking space), and have one more advantage when compared to electric cars: because scooters are used primarily for short trips, the issue of range is unimportant. The battery is removed between trips and recharged by plugging it into an outlet at home or into a charging station similar to car-sharing.

Renaissance of the “Schwalbe”, only now it’s electric

With COUP the customer does not have to worry about anything. The sharing provider takes care of battery loading as well as maintenance of the e-scooters. The e-scooters can be parked anywhere within the operating area – a so called free-floating model.

Berlin is one such city, and has become a testing ground for electric scooters. There are two providers in the downtown area. In addition to COUP, which will have 1000 scooters by the end of summer, the startup Emmy has spread across the area with a fleet of 350 orange-colored vehicles. The Emmy scooter is an electric version of the “Schwalbe”, the cult scooter of East Germany. COUP uses vehicles made by the Taiwanese manufacturer Gogoro. COUP’s requirements for the e-scooters are “simplicity of use, a low center of gravity, a short wheelbase for maneuverability, and a modern yet unaggressive design,” says Kilian Kreiser, Chief Product Designer at COUP.

Statistics for new registrations of electric scooters are not available. Yet calculations by the IHS Global Insight economic research institute show that the entire market is booming. The institute forecasts revenues for the branch in the range of 55 billion USD by 2024. In 2015, 25 billion USD were earned with electric scooters.

As the biggest automotive supplier in the world, Bosch follows a different strategy with daughter company COUP, which was founded in August 2016, than Daimler and BMW who operate car-sharing services. It considers this investment an opportunity to gain experience and strengthen its position in the market for all types of electric vehicles. “The market for e-scooters has great potential for growth”, says Bosch spokesman Florian Flaig. The goal is to dominate the market for “electric powertrains, from scooters all the way up to trucks”.

In the summer of 2017, COUP has launched a new 600 vehicle fleet in Paris, the most densely populated area in all of Europe. Despite competing with one another, the e-scooter sharing companies are driven by a common vision, namely to provide solutions to issues of social sustainability in an urban environment, such as noise prevention and limited space. “The market players help each other out”, says COUP manager Kreiser.

One reason for the growing popularity of rental scooters is the lower price compared with car sharing. COUP charges three euros for the first half hour, slightly more than a trip using public transportation costs. Each additional ten minutes costs one euro. Emmy charges 19 cents per minute. Most users are between 25 and 40 years old; 60 to 70% are male. The average scooter trip is between five and six kilometers, and lasts 15 to 20 minutes. A motorcycle driver’s license is not necessary, but the scooters have insurance tags. Their maximum speed is generally limited to 45 kilometers per hour.

Although scooter sharing is a seasonal business in Germany, both COUP and Emmy are satisfied with the number of rentals in Berlin which gives them good reason to expand their fleets. Especially, since there are further areas of operation and target markets the business can still tap into. “Sharing must be seen as an additional service next to public transportation”, says Enrico Howe, mobility researcher at the Innovation Center for Mobility and Societal Change. “The famous ‘last mile’ could be the domain of sharing.”