Rise of the Micro Machines

Why Ford, GM, and Tesla* need to worry.

America’s Favorite Vehicle

We’re a Ford Family. I learned to drive on the farm when I was about 12 or 13. My oldest brother’s F-150 had a four-speed manual, and if I got enough speed on the straight, I could get it into second gear before dropping back down to first to round the corner of the chicken coop. We had double-digit acres to mess around on, and driving the tractor, the lawn-mower and yes, even a full-sized pickup was our entertainment. I imagine a lot of American kids got their first drive down on the farm like I did in the 80’s and 90’s. But not these days.

My kids won’t ever drive. At least that’s what they think. My wife doesn’t believe autonomous vehicles (AVs) will come soon enough, but my 8-year old is convinced that her Google Car will be how we’ll all get around in the future. They are already used to being driven everywhere. Why would that change? We know our next car will be electric. Will the one after that be autonomous? I guess you could say we’re a Google Family now. Apologies to any Project Titan folks reading this. My wife loves her iPhone Xs if that matters… Google/Waymo looks best positioned to win the AV race, and I’m quite fond of the new Jaguar I-Pace. Or maybe the Porsche Taycan Turbo? Or the Audi E-Tron variant!


What does this have to do with Scooters you ask? Well there’s three things that can help us predict the future of transportation. Taken individually they point towards a world with smaller, light, electric vehicles. Taken together, they make that world seem inevitable. And incumbents like GM and Ford should be scared to death.

Density is Destiny

Today over 55% of humans live in cities. This ratio is going up to 2/3rds by 2050. The days of city mouse and country mouse are going to be over. All of us will be running the rat race in small, medium, large and mega-sized cities.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) estimates that by 2030, the world could have 43 so-called megacities (up from 31 today, according to reports) — those with more than 10 million inhabitants — most of them in developing countries.

More people in the same area, using the same limited roads and streets will just mean one thing. More traffic! Unless the majority of us switch to Micromobility the cities of the future will be 24/7 gridlock. We’ve already seen how traffic jams go on for days in China, or a minor accident can clog up a 7-lane superhighway in LA. More cars — even autonomous ones — are not going to work in the future. As I like to say, even a Tesla gets stuck in traffic.

Smaller is Better

Everyone knows I’m an unabashed bike lover. I have two dozen personal bikes and have been a “serious cyclist” since college. Maybe not in my riding prowess, but certainly in my equipment selection and overall bike-nerdiness.

The bicycle is simply the greatest mechanical invention, and Steve Jobs loved the efficiency it added to human locomotion. The only thing more efficient is an electric bike like our Karmic Koben.

Micro-Machines are just the best application of technology to move a person, the ideal vehicle for the core “job-to-be-done”. This is best summed up by these few lines from the Micromobility Manifesto:

Micromobility is a big word for a small idea.
The idea is small in the sense that it represents machines that are small.
Machines that are sized to the job at hand: moving people. And not sized to the process that makes them move.

Some other key benefits of bikes and scooters are:

  1. lightest SOV format (by size, weight or mass)
  2. lowest carbon footprint (kWH/miles vs. cars)
  3. LEV lanes have greatest throughput
  4. LEV’s are the fastest option in dense cities
Don’t dismiss these new Micro Machines as mere toys for Tech Bros.

Mobility is Social

Humans are social animals. That’s indisputable. But as more of us move into cities to be closer to one another, to schools, to jobs, to new opportunities, our current transportation systems and infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. At some point it will all break. But people won’t stop moving. We can’t stop.

As the Manifesto states:

Transportation is a basic human right.
We are profoundly curious and need to move to satisfy our hunger and thirst. To mix with others and to expand our horizons.
For this reason we have always sought to range farther and faster. We harnessed wild animals and we built machines to amplify our stride.

Cities should be built for people. Pedestrians are taking back the streets. Progressive cities across the globe like London, Paris, Barcelona and Oslo are banning cars at certain times in certain areas. It is only a matter of time before New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco start doing the same (in their downtown core, or all of Manhattan). This opens up our roads to new forms of Micromobility. Cities that don’t adapt will be left behind. People will move.


Of course I could be wrong on all of the above. But I’d bet almost anything that 2040 looks a lot different than how 2014 did. In fact, I’m betting almost everything that it will. Come see for yourself at Micromobility California!

Cheers,

Hong

(*yes, even Tesla can be disrupted — bring out those ebikes soon Elon!)