Episode 2: What is micromobility, how do we define it, and why is it disruptive?
Link to the show: http://5by5.tv/micromobility
Welcome to Micromobility, a podcast exploring the disruption that comes from new lightweight utility vehicles. Using the history of computing as a framework, we unpack what business models and impacts we’re likely to see in transport in cities. The host of the show is Horace Dediu, founder of Asymco, and his cohost is Oliver Bruce.
This podcast is for software and computing professionals who want to understand how the transportation industries will be affected by their work.
In this episode, we define the term micromobility and what is/isn’t in the categorisation. We run through:
- Why micromobility can be defined as utility focussed urban transport in sub 500kg vehicles, and predominantly electrically powered.
- The background of how Horace came to see micromobility’s potential to disrupt the automobile industry.
- Why e-bikes are some of the best city-based transportation mode option- hint: it’s the fastest way across town and can be parked anywhere.
- How to think about the categorisation of different types of micro mobility devices, and why that matters.
- The scale of Ebikes vs. electric car deployment — spoiler — e-bikes are an order of magnitude larger.
- How the development of micro mobility is paralleling the development of personal computing (and subsequent rise of laptops and then smartphones) and why we’re still in 1976, right around the development of the Apple I, and why that makes it challenging to pick who will win in the 80s and 90s.
- Why car obesity has provided ripe opportunity to develop micromobility options in the marketplace.
- The key difference between invention and innovation and how this applies to micromobility.
Bonus! Why Horace thinks that riding an electric bike is more thrilling than driving a Porsche.
Hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave comments here or hit us up on Twitter at @asymco or @oliverbruce.
[00:00:00] Horace: All right, welcome back everybody. Thanks for sticking with us. This is a second show we have in this new podcast called Modern Mobility. Oliver and I are back together. Today, I’m in Spain and you’re in New Zealand. At some point, we’ve got to take some time for you to tell us all about New Zealand because I know very little myself, and I’m very ashamed to say that I have not been there but I just learned recently about 4 million people there. Is that right? How much was the population?
Oliver: Yeah 4.7 million and it’s a very cool little country. That said, I guess I’m biased of course!
Horace: We want to spend today talking about foundations of what is micro mobility. That sounds very fancy, but it actually came about for me personally as a journey. I never expected to be looking at this. When I was a child I cycled to school. I cycled to the library. I cycled in many places in the US. I did not have a bicycle when I was in Romania because it was actually to expensive and most people couldn’t afford things like that. [00:01:00]
For me, it was a utility vehicle, it was not something I did for leisure or exercise. I was just a kid trying to get places. I had a Huffy bicycle with three speeds and I had a basket in the front so I could carry books. It was really pretty boring looking. So I didn’t really cycle after adolescence. I did a little bit when I came to Finland for commute purposes. I did actually cycle to Nokia weather permitting and at the time the infrastructure wasn’t very good for cycling. I mean there were bikelanes, but they weren’t everywhere and sometimes you had to hop into traffic to make some connections.
Oliver: So Finland hasn’t adopted the same level of infrastructure is Amsterdam and Sweden?
Horace: Yeah, there’s a website where you can see what percentage of the real estate of a city is dedicated to which mode of transport. With cars for example, it’s not just the roads: it’s the parking etc. that is real estate as well. [00:02:00] Then you can take the entire geography of a city and divide it up into square meters of parking, driving surfaces or roads etc. and then do the same for bikes, walking, trains and transit. It’s a measure of dependence on cars because if you see a city without any alternatives now you have a really car-centric problem.
In Finland they’re not dedicated to cycling but I think the city lends itself to that design, or maybe they’re just progressive about it. I calculated this index of car dependency and actually Helsinki scored very well. They weren’t particularly aggressive on cycling infrastructure, but they had a road design that lended itself to having this extra lane available.
There are a few things that are modern about the cycling infrastructure. One is that you separate the bike lanes from the tarmac that’s allocated to the cars. [00:03:00] We have a physical separation for safety purposes. You also have a reddish color for cycling lanes and that’s a very good visual cue because both pedestrians and drivers can see this red line and see that that’s cycling infrastructure. I think the Dutch have been leading there.
You also have better allocation of parking for cycling both around train stations where they tend to aggregate and the regular municipal areas they have ensured that the bikes are not just an afterthought that are sort of attached to the trees and to railings. So in that sense, I think Northern Europe has been more aggressively pushing that infrastructure.
The English, particularly London, have had a lot of the infrastructure become very politicized. The funny thing about the Dutch that it’s not a political discussion. They’re all essentially agreed that cycling is not a political discussion. [00:04:00] It’s a question of, you know, common sense. Yet it’s been politicized in England because somehow there’s an us against them mentality. The weird thing about cycling in London is that it’s actually the elites that are considered the cyclists.
Sometimes I say “Look at the Dutch, they’re cycling so much. You don’t need to think about this being possible because there’s an existence proof in Holland”. Some of the responses that I’ve gotten on Twitter, which admittedly may be sarcastic, has been that, well “Poor people, they must not be very wealthy”. But the Dutch are not poor. In fact, it’s the opposite. Utility cycling in advanced economies is an early adopter phenomenon which means that the people are doing it tend to be wealthier or more educated. As a result, it does create tension with the mainstream, the majority and the laggards who tend to actually be poor.
Oliver: And it’s also tied to land use distribution. [00:05:00] Suburbs further out which are not bike accessible are oftentimes the more affordable housing. So you have, you know, all the rich living in the inner suburbs now because that’s the cool and hip places to live.
Horace: Exactly. It’s the gentrification. Gentrification, which is also creating tensions where wealthy people are moving back into cities into the neighborhoods that used to be middle or lower classes. Also, of course, there’s also that England is a much more classist society. Oh, and the press love it and eat it up. But anyway, uh, we don’t want to go there for now. That’s an interesting side conversation we should have another time. I think we’ve got our allocated one of the episodes to some of the political and social implications of micromobility.
So I started with cycling. [00:06:00] I did a little bit in Finland and then I was struggling to understand transportation disruption in particular automotive disruption. I did this for three years at the Christensen Institute. I started Asymcar to do that. To narrate my own journey through automotive disruption. We just couldn’t hit any A-ha moment. We didn’t have a catharsis of discovery. We mostly ran down every option and found no disruption opportunity. And that’s fine. I mean, sometimes you’ve got to have a hypothesis and it has to be proven wrong and your theory has to match the experiment. Whether its potential for electric drive, potential for autonomy or potential for sharing we didn’t see that really dramatically changing. The jury still out on sharing because there’s a lot that can happen there but there’s a lot that more than has to happen. That isn’t happening to make that truly a disruption of the entire $15 trillion up for grabs now in terms of monetized miles.
That was a frustration for three years but then late 2016, I came across an e-bike, particularly a high-end ebike. [00:07:00] I didn’t discover the Model T, I discovered a Mercedes in 1900. This would have been a very expensive vehicle at the time only for somewhat the privileged.
This bike in particular is a Stromer. It was priced at $10,000. So almost priced at the level of a car. But that wasn’t the thing I saw. I didn’t see a premium product. What I saw is the potential for that premium product become very low end very quickly. It was also an intelligent product because it has onboard software, and it had very crude onboard software in the display, Bluetooth and so on that hinted at what it could become. I thought, well now, that’s interesting. Bikes are getting smart and bikes could become really powerful and fast. This model in particular goes to 45 kilometers an hour, which is about 31 miles an hour.
Oliver: So, it’s a rocketship.
Horace: You know, oh, yeah, if you go 30mph an hour on a bike in a city, it’s unbelievable. I mean 20mph an hour is fast. [00:08:00] At 30mph, I mean you’re keeping up with traffic. You can be behind a car and you’d be drafting but would be keeping up with it in a suburban environment. The speed limits in the European cities are 50kmh. So at 45kmh you’re close to that and of course traffic moves slower than the top speed, especially if there’s congestion. So you’re probably going to be the fastest vehicle on the road. If you can get through traffic that bike will be the fastest way to cross down.
I’ve ridden this type of bike through Switzerland and it’s unbelievable. I can honestly say it’s more thrilling than driving a Porsche because in the Porsche you’re not exerting. You’re not putting energy in yourself, you’re also not exposed to the elements, you’re not in the windstream and you’re not absorbing the bumps. Some of the bumps you can feel at 45kmh are pretty impressive. So there’s a lot of visceral action going on. [00:09:00] The electric drive is so seamless and so well designed to be complementing your activity that it feels like you want to have a cape on you to show off.
Oliver: Totally. I got an electric bike about 18 months ago and I used to ride it up and down to work and it was just that that’s exactly how I described it.
Horace: You don’t feel guilty because you are actually putting energy in and that’s the difference also. So one of the categorization now we can get into is that this is a so-called pedal electric or pedelec. Pedelec is a European term. It’s not a sexy term but it’s the best one we have so far to describe a bike where your input, your cycling, your torque that you’re applying through the petals, is detected and amplified through a motor. There are various ways of doing this. One is to have a torque sensor in the crank itself on the bike and then have the motor either front mounted in the hub or rear bounded in rear wheel. [00:10:00] Alternatively, you can have a mid-mounted which would be right in the pedal section and then the motor is used to amplify your torque and then pulls the chain which goes on the gears in the back. The feeling you get if it’s done well is that it’s an amplification of your input. And so for that reason, it feels like you’re cheating relative to cycling without assistance. But comparably it feels like you’re absolutely doing a hell of a lot of work relative to sitting and pushing a pedal which is what throttle based systems are.
So the pedelec exists between fully human powered vehicles and fully motor driven vehicles. It’s a hybrid or bionic. If the bike was part of you it would be like you’re being assisted by a machine, but you’re doing the work as well.
In terms of Watts, just a footnote here, an average human cyclist can sustain about 60W of power. If you are pro cyclist, you can maybe put out 200W in a sustained manner like during a race environment. [00:11:00] If you’re like a power cyclist these guys who do speed cycling around the track I’ve seen videos of a guy being measured at up to 800W just through the legs. If you are on a rowing machine, you can use your upper back and your arms and your legs and there you can probably output a 1000W, but on average the average person probably can do 50/60W on a sustained basis. If you’re old or very young, maybe in the 30–50W range.
You do have quite a bit of torque in your legs. The beauty of the mechanism of a bicycle is that it actually transfers that torque very efficiently through gears to power the vehicle. So although you don’t have a lot of power that torque is easily turned into speed through the mechanism of the bicycle, which what makes it a work of genius as far as design is concerned.
This is why Steve Jobs said that a bicycle amplifies a human being to such an extent that he wanted to create a ‘bicycle for the mind’ and that was what the personal computer was to him. [00:12:00] He was referring it to a Scientific American article in the 1970s that measured the efficiency of different animal’s movements. The human was bad relative to say, a bird, and they also introduced some human machines like cars and trains but in terms of efficiency and watt-per-mile if you will, the human being wasn’t really very good. But when you put the human on a bicycle it shot up to be the best and it was really a huge leap.
Oliver: I’m really interested in this idea. There’ve been recently published studies looking at the efficiency of the electric bike. If you take a human and you assume that they eat food, digest it, produce energy and then bike, the electric bike is still about twice as efficient.
Horace: Yeah, no, it makes perfect sense. As I was gonna say, when you have a human with 50W to 60W sustained, let’s say for the sake of argument that 500W is about the limit of an electric bike. [00:13:00] That’s a 10x improvement over what the human can do. But that 50W doesn’t go away. Combined, you’re dealing with about 550W.
Now you can ask. Well, what does 500W get you, given the weight of the vehicle and rider? What kind of speeds, what kind of power, do you get up hills? That’s where the Superman effect comes in because you are getting 10x. You’re getting better acceleration. You’re getting better ability to go over hills and climb things. Actually a very early, very successful application has been mountain biking. With mountain biking, it’s really fun going down but it’s really tough going up. But if you apply power on the way up, there’s fun you can have going upward that has essentially the same dynamic is going down. Bosch is marketing to cyclists who want to do mountain biking. [00:14:00]
All this means that electric motors are coming into bikes. Electric power has been in automotive and been in trains for a long time so there’s nothing new about electric motors. They’re older technology than internal combustion. They’re about 200 years old, so what really makes it possible to bring these to small vehicles is not the motor, it’s the batteries. The batteries have gotten so good and so small and light that we can couple them with motors. We’ve got this potential to couple these two things and suddenly transform this fairly old technology which again is great by itself, but with this added the spice of power suddenly become something else.
I’m going to fall back on cell phones and PCs a lot because this happened before exactly the same way. If you look at the phone business that we had corded phones for century. [00:15:00] Even though there were plenty of radio telephones possible many many decades, we didn’t go cordless till far later. The cellular technology was also available for many many decades. It was invented in the 1940s, frequency hopping and all that, but it wasn’t made possible to miniaturize and combine all these things into something really small until we had the microprocessor and microprocessor based communications chips. This is what enabled the cellular phone to compute and do the frequency hopping on very small form factors.
Of course, once the batteries got better that really caused the sector to take off in the 1990s. The battery technology initially was a nickel metal hydride and IMh, and now lithium ion. Lithium Ion was first developed by Sony to be using camcorders in the late 90s and that technology meant that battery was lighter. Lithium is much lighter than nickel metal. On top of that, they had less harmful issues with battery memory problems so you could live with charging and discharging very happily for a long time. [00:16:00]
So the 2000s really are the era of lithium-ion batteries transforming multiple sectors: consumer electronics, cellular phones, personal computers with the laptop, and now vehicles. So when you look at vehicles you say oh, yeah, well that means cars. Well cars are a tough customer to electrify. Bikes are a lot easier and as a result, we’re actually seeing bikes now overtaking cars in terms of volume. Way more actually.
I’ll give the example of Germany. 720,000 bikes were sold into Germany in 2017 and that’s going to reach a million very soon because it’s growing at 20 to 30 percent. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a million bikes in 2019 or 2020. Now German car makers have been somewhat lagging in terms of building electric cars, but they’re ramping up and Volkswagen says that they will make a million electric cars by 2025. [00:17:00] Think about that. Tesla has been around for 15 years and it’s supposedly the leader and they’re making they just made 100,000 cars last year and they’re hoping to break 200,000 cars this year and they’re struggling to make that number.
Germany alone sells a million E-bikes and it’s probably closer to 10 million globally. There’s 3.5 million e-bikes on the road in Germany that have been purchased and are still in use. Compare that number to the number of electric cars in Germany, which is close to 60,000 electric cars. So 60,000 vs 3.5 million. We’re looking at several zeros more added to the number. And in China it’s similar, although Chinese e-bikes are more like mopeds. The US is lagging but it’s possible to see catching up there as well.
But then you might say well hold on a second, you know, the US has got scooters that are catching on right now, these standup ones that used to be kick scooters but now they’re electric powered and that’s a category. [00:18:00] And what about other things that have electric motors that are on the streets? We had hoverboards as a sort of a fad for a while. And what about what about electric skateboards like Boosted Boards? What about adding electric motors to bigger things that are larger like three-wheeled like cargo bikes or the velomobile which are reclining bikes with fairings that are aerodynamic?
That’s what got me to think wait a minute, it’s not just about bike. You can go up and down the spectrum from a skateboard, where you’re dealing something in the 5 to 10 kilogram range, all the way up to hundreds of kilograms, which is would be something more like a four-wheeled vehicle that would still not be a car. And all of these are getting electrified. All of these are becoming really exciting new products, which are transformed by motors and electric power.
That is really a startling thing. Do we even have terms for all these things? I’m struggling. [00:19:00] You know in one country I say scooter and they think it’s a moped whereas in another they think it’s the stand up skateboard with two wheels. And then of course, what is an electric skateboard? We don’t have a name for that properly right now and and normally I have to draw a picture. Or what do I call a quadricycle which has an electric motor but yet it’s not a car and the European designation might be that is indeed a quadricycle but in the US that might be considered a golf cart?
Then there are golf carts themselves. In the US, they don’t like that terminology because they’re not used for golf so they’re starting to call them ‘neighborhood electric vehicles’. The Chinese have a similar question of what to call these electric vehicles that are not quite cars. They used to be called rural vehicles because farmers typically owned them, but now they’re calling them low, speed electric vehicles or LSEV’s. You have LSEV’s, quadricycles, electric scooters and mopeds. Then you have everything in between. And of course the bike is in the very middle of all that. This is why I decided that the term shouldn’t be trying to spend 20 minutes describing it. [00:20:00]
Let’s just call all these things micromobility. Micromobility turns out to be this term from Germany, but I’d like to popularize this word because it encapsulates the same phenomenon that microcomputing was back in the 1970s and 80s. Microcomputing as opposed to minicomputing as opposed to general computing, which was the mainframe at the time right?
So that’s the micromobility term. The definition I’d like to put forward for what that means is that it’s any vehicle below a certain weight. Transportation is very well proxied by weight because if you look at the biggest vehicles, ships, they’re defined by their displacement. Ship’s, trains and airplanes all go very long distances and those are very big vehicles. [00:21:00] The smallest vehicles which are very lightweight tend to go over short distances. So when you look at weighting equally you can see how it correlates with distance. It correlates with cost. It correlates with personal use versus group use.
Oliver: And infrastructure as well.
Horace: Yeah impact on the infrastructures exactly. So the lighter it is, generally the easier it is to deploy. That turned out to be a good proxy for computers as well. Everything that was pocket size versus bag size or laptop size and then all the way to something that was in your room.
I used to talk about this on the Critical Path. I would say for example that you can think of mainframe computing as building computing, meaning that it was a computer that took a whole building. It was something that took up a whole floor in a building and was therefore very architecturally dependent on space.
But then mini computing became departmental computing and that meant that it only addressed a floor of that building, let’s say the engineering department. And then desktop computing was an office computer, just useful in that one person’s office. [00:22:00] So you see we went building, floor, office, and then of course once it became portable it became attached to a person. You’d ask where on the person it went — ie. In their backpack, and you’d say, well, that’s a laptop. Then you’d go, into your pocket and that becomes of sub microcomputer. We stopped using the term micro computer and called it a PC and now we use this term. Unfortunately, we went from implicit size to brand of PC, which is not as evocative I think. Then we have pocket computing, ie. phone, which again is a computer but we’re calling it something else, and then finally you have watch and you have a wearable computer.
So you see you see the progress. We go go from very big to very small, to the point where it might even be embedded in the future like an ear piece that when you insert in your ear. [00:23:00] That would become truly conforming to your body.
Oliver: So to clarify, micro mobility in this case is something that’s electric and less than 500 kg?
Horace: That’s right. So it doesn’t have to be electric. I’d rather not even put that condition on there. While I think electric makes more sense than adding internal combustion to a micro vehicle, it also makes it much heavier, with cooling systems, fueling systems, lots of lubrications and so on. Internal combustion is a great system, but it just requires too much baggage. I’ve gone through this in making my own electric car and when you take away the oily bits, you simplify it a lot. You add complexity in terms of circuits, wiring and batteries but these are dry. These are not leaking oil. These are not hot and smoking. The amazing thing about traditional internal combustion cars is they actually [00:24:00] encompass the entire spectrum of the arts and sciences.
I think of it because if you think about the engineering issues around chemical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, material science, thermodynamics, chemistry, design and you know everything from materials to paint and everything else, the car is embodying almost all human knowledge. Anything that we come up with is absorbed by the car because suddenly we can make it better.
The thing is, when you go to electric, you have to throw away a lot of that knowledge or it ends up embedded in subsystems that are basic. Like, there’s certainly chemistry within an electric car, but it’s at the level of battery chemistry and there’s not the liquid stuff that can spill and burn you like an acid in an old-fashioned battery does.You also have less issues with vibration, with heat, with stresses and so that’s why in some ways it’s advanced but in some ways it’s simpler. [00:25:00]
For that reason alone, I have to assume that on the low end of mobility, with vehicles which are really small, we actually want to go to a solid state technology similar to the way phones went from electromechanical to fewer electrical to pure semiconductors. That progression meant that in some ways it got simpler in the physical sense, but much more difficult in the software and miniaturization end of things. Again, the analogy stands in my opinion between what’s happening in transportation and what happened already in computing.
Going to small meant going to much higher scale, and with that you see much more utilization, much better economics. Fundamentally that’s what caused the disruption — the expanded consumption. It absorbed off-the-shelf technologies that were available, like semiconductors, batteries, cellular networks, and combined them in ways that made them much more accessible. [00:26:00]
When you think about cars, that’s exactly what we need. We need more compute. We need more communications. We need more efficiency. We need more solid state. We need all of these things to be reduced that are now really complex 19th and 20th century evolutions. It’s just so compelling to me that that’s possible now.
The only question then in the spectrum of weight. Let’s use that as a proxy from 5kgs to 500kgs. Think about all the literally hundreds of vehicle types available. In the car world, yes, there’s many models, but they are fundamentally sharing the same logic. Whether you’re dealing with a Fiat 500, which is one of the smaller cars today or you’re looking at an SUV, they’re all basically the same. Most people who see or work on these know how to deal with all of these things. [00:27:00] But in micromobility there quite strange dynamics when you’re dealing with skateboards vs quadricycles but they can all absorb this influx of software and batteries and they absorb it very quickly relative to the car.
As a result of the variety of form factors, the variety of applications, we’re going to have a lot of experiments going on. This is what the venture capitalists call product market fit. They might look and say OK, ‘you talk about micromobility as being this new sector that is under the car and up to 500 Kilograms. I get that’s going to be big, but where am I going to place my bets?’. That’s the really interesting question because you could bet on scooters, you could bet on bikes, you could bet on electric mopeds, you could bet on electric quads. And then say okay. What about cargo? What about delivery? What about what about taxis? Where’s the traction gonna happen?
I think this is going to be essentially the open question. We’re going to address during this whole show. [00:28:00] I don’t think it’s knowable yet. Just like if you were to ask well, it’s 1976. The Apple I is just being built. You’ve got a bunch of hobbyists putting together circuit boards into microprocessors, circuit boards and then into computers, ‘thumbing their nose at the big IBM’, but is that going to tell you from that point in time,1976, that we going to see the birth of Microsoft? Is IBM going to really win the game because they’re going to make the PC and that’s going to dominate, or is the game going to change and Microsoft, Apple and potentially other players which haven’t even been born yet, the internet and the browser technology and so on, going to win?
All these things were born because the platform of microcomputing was available. So we’re talking hardware, but the real game is going to be on platforms, on data, on understanding human behavior as opposed to really building a new form factor. [00:29:00] Form factor is going to enable all that and that itself is enabled by off-the-shelf technology today. So this is why it’s so exciting.
We’re seeing history play itself out. From my point of view, it looks like history repeating not once, not twice but three times over: history of PC, then the history of phones and now the history of micromobility following the same pattern. The narrative and the drama of the incumbent is still there — the David vs Goliath asymmetry. So yeah, that’s why this is exciting.
As I said the definition I’d like to put out there and I’m you know, strawman proposal here so feel free to shoot it down, is that the weight is a good proxy, that 500kgs is a good cut off.
The reason that is a good cut off is that I don’t know if I mentioned it in the first show, is that cars have just been getting heavier and heavier. There’s a bunch of photos on the internet. [00:30:00] I found these people who photographed the the same car. They showed a before and after from 30 years ago. Let’s say a Ford Fiesta or a Volkswagen Beetle or a Mini or even the Porsche 911. It’s like there’s an obesity epidemic! They all just got bigger and heavier and it’s across the board. You can trace the Toyota Corolla or any of the iconic brands, never mind the fact that we have SUVs and crossovers all over the streets, even though everyone knows nobody goes off road with an SUV, but now people just want to have these gigantic vehicles to drive around. You can also see the same thing for every category. [00:31:00] And of course the whole segment is moving towards SUVs, which are monstrously heavy. When you look at a Tesla say well, what about electric? They are actually even heavier because they’re adding batteries. On a weight basis, they’re using 5,000 pounds to drive around the person only weighing 200 pounds.
That delta, the efficiency of the vehicle in terms of its payload, it’s atrocious versus a bike, which is actually lighter than its payload. Most micromobility devices up to 200 pounds can do a lot. There’s no bike that really weighs that much unless you know, it’s a 3 wheeled cargo bike that has ton of batteries on board, but it’s meant to actually carry cargo, not just the person.
In micromobility, things are human-sized and you can index off of the weight of the payload. In the automotive world, the payload stays the same. The vehicle just keeps growing and growing. [00:32:00] Most of the time the argument for doing that growth is that we need to have optionality — we need to have long distance travel if it’s electric, and we need safety and all these other things. Well why you need safety? Well, it’s a circular argument because we’re gonna hit some other big object or we’re going to go much higher speeds but you never end up doing that because you’re stuck in traffic.
There’s a lot of nonsense from a rational point of view as to why you should make a car bigger and heavier. It’s a human condition, which I don’t begrudge. People do like having big vehicles and I have no problem with them wanting that. The problem is that there’s actually ways of getting people around that are much better and if you gave them that option I’m sure they’re gonna switch. The convenience and economics are going to trump all that and right now you’re just using this massive shelter to protect you against the what is essentially an unpleasant experience, which is driving. So anyway, let’s not get too far down that road.
The point is that a 500kgs is interesting because no car today hits that mark. It used to be possible. [00:33:00] The Fiat 500 which was iconic 60s/70s Italian mini car, may be the first city car ever. It was smaller than the Mini, smaller than the 2CV. That car was 499 kilograms. It actually wasn’t named 500 for the weight. It was named after the displacement of the engine which was nearly 500cc, but that was that package of a car. If you imagined that car today, it’s mission impossible to make a 500kg car today.
Even the Gordon Murray’s T25, which is a tiny little car with three seats comes in around 600–700kgs. So a lot of that has to do with protection but it’s still extremely hard to make a road-legal car today under 500kgs, which is why I thought it was a nice cut off because I would define micromobility as anything but the car, really anything below the car use these terms. [00:34:00]
So what is that? What is the minimum car? A minimum car in my opinion is anything less than 500 kilos. If somebody puts out a 500 kilogram regular car then excellent. Please do. I’ll give it an honorary micromobility membership. So that’s the opportunity: utility transportation under 500kgs.
This is the micromobility definition. It’s not recreational, not sport. One, it exists to get the job done of transport and two, at a very light weight. The number of vehicle types mean that the vastness of opportunity is so big. Just witness the number of such form factors that are being proposed.
I’ll say one more thing 500 kilogram cut off. I’d love to hear anyone challenge that and discuss what alternatives we might use as a proxy. That’s my thinking:
What is micromobility? Anything south of 500 kilos or 1100 pounds. We can round it down to a thousand pounds [00:35:00] if you want.
Oliver: Uh, I wouldn’t give the Americans that. The rest of the world use metric.
Horace: That’s why I like 500kgs — it’s my preferred choice. That’s how I’d like to think about this. One final thing about an official designation. Like I said, there are still different terms in different countries because this space is still so young. Like with early cars, people didn’t know what to call them. Automobile stuck, but there were many names proposed: horseless carriage, motorized this or that was an option but you know, we ended up with the term ‘auto’ and we ended up with ‘cars’.
In Europe, there’s actually a lot of designations for vehicles that are not cars. This type designation for a car is ‘M4’ but there’s also the ‘L designation’, which is anything that is not a car that is still motorized. There are very very many L types. This is actually far bigger space than the cars itself. You can look through that list and see the variety. There’s about 80 different types. [00:36:00] Everything from off-road motorcycles to ATVs and so you might seem constrained by 500kgs, but I think it’s a liberating. You suddenly see a huge opportunity there and now we’ll have to dig in future shows on what does it mean for scooters, for mopeds, for motorcycles? None of these are particularly new. We’ve had these types for a long time. We’ve had motorcycles we have tricycles.
Oliver: You know we’ve had we’ve had mopeds forever. For me, the electric bikes are a materially different development so I’d love for you to unpack that.
Horace: Yes, and in some ways if you think about calculators and you think about the abacus, adding machines and then various computing form factors before the smartphone and yet there’s something [00:37:00] different about the final product [that differentiates it from previous iterations]. Being in the revolution at the time, it’s unforeseeable even though so much seems to be obvious today. So much at the time was like well, we’ve got all these things what’s so different? This is the magic of understanding a disruption.
When things which are right under your nose, things which are hiding in plain sight, are put together in ways, technologically but also in terms of new business models, it enables the transformation to occur and a new language and behaviour to emerge. We end up with different words, different behaviours and different cultures as a result of the change.
This is at the heart of innovation versus invention. Invention is just sort of putting it together and saying ‘haha, look at this, it’s cool isn’t it’? Yet it’s not used by anyone. Innovation is when invention gets applied and is adopted. So invention plus adoption is innovation. [00:38:00]
To get the people to use the stuff that’s where the magic happens. That’s where value is created. That’s where wealth is created. That’s where economies grow. Economies do grow because of this and end up actually causing prosperity. So that’s the history of applied technology.
So that’s what we need to work out — is this the vector? Are these crude instruments we have in terms of electric motors applied to small vehicles that are being used in a utility context, with their added software and network effects feeding into potential for ecosystems, will all of these things cause the transformation we need? I passionately believe and I think you do too, that this is much more transformative potential than the purely regulatory ones which are necessary but not sufficient.
We’re trying to make cars electric, which is a great effort. It’s worth doing. [00:39:00] I’m a big fan. I have two of those! I just don’t think it’s fast enough. Nor is sharing which is great, but again necessary but not sufficient.
So that’s why we’re doing this. Absolutely. All right. Well, Thanks again for listening to us. We shall be back with episode 3 of Micromobility very soon. Thank you.