The personal transport revolution: E-Bikes.
The city is teeming with traffic. Thousands heading to work, taking their kids to school, delivering packages or glass window panes, in a mad flurry of vehicular hustle and bustle. These thousands are using their own personally-owned transport, with all the freedom and flexibility that promises, coupled however with the financial burden of vehicle ownership. But these people, of all walks of life, career, and age, from grandmothers to middle school students, can shoulder the weight of vehicle ownership without even a shrug. Because these thousands aren’t lining up at gas stations, paying for oil changes, or pumping out emissions, no, they are riding electric. Bikes, trikes, Vespa’s or even tiny cars that make a Mini Cooper seem imposing, these vehicles come in all stripes and colours.
Major cities are going car-free. The cost of personal transport is increasing. The segment of people looking for an alternative to inflexible public transport and expensive car-hailing options is growing. So is there a supply of electric vehicles available to be imported into these markets? Do these bikes meet the legal requirements and restrictions of the rest of the world? Ultimately, while millions are commuting emissions-free in China and Asia at large, charging their bikes from extension cords run to the ground from upper-story apartment windows, fitting family, pets, and shopping onto their own affordable, personal transport, is there a profit to be made in making this option available to the wider world?
This is an entire transportation segment, one unique in many ways from traditional cars and public transportation, and in some ways bearing most similarity to cycling, in terms of infrastructure and real-world use. There has been some work done in compiling essential information about the viability of the import and sale of this category of vehicle, but that volume of work is quite likely dwarfed by the potential market. Coverage in the press of China’s electric vehicles seems to be mainly from the perspective that it is a quaint development, or even bizarre, and little talk is being done on the viability of this explosive growth in affordable, personal electric vehicles on reaching global markets.
HTC, a leader in personal electronics, now fallen on hard times, has spawned a potential standard bearer for this transport revolution. Four years ago in 2011, founded by former HTC designers, an electric scooter start-up set out to transplant a part of the huge personal electric vehicle market from China to Taiwan. In that time, with $150 million USD in funding, they developed a bike that would easily blend into the crowded streets of Beijing but is turning heads across the tech and automotive press. Their first, and so far only, vehicle, the Gogoro is an electric scooter that combines the advantages of the ubiquitous Chinese e-bike, with smartphone-like design flourishes such as LED lights and instrument cluster, as well as a companion app for viewing such things as the battery status. Pricing information was just released, placing the Gogoro at a price point higher than a new 125cc motor scooter. Now available for pre-order at NTD $128,000 (about $4,140 USD), the Gogoro could be seen as the iPhone to the burgeoning e-bike market, with Chinese bikes filling almost every conceivable price niche below that price.
Comparable Chinese e-bikes, albeit without Gogoro’s proprietary battery swapping technology and in-development system of battery swap stations, can be had at retail for a sixth of the price (660 USD). If the Gogoro proves popular it will validate the existence of a huge potential market, just like the success of the original, high-priced and greatly flawed iPhone opened the gates to dozens of successful Android manufacturers, importers, and other channel partners. Even if the Gogoro project, who just this week suffered a tragic setback from the death of one of the company’s staff while riding the scooter, is not able to bring the value of electric personal transport to the masses, or even the elite, it is doing a great job at attracting media attention, and informing the consumer public of the product category’s value. The market is already huge in China, and when the dams of public knowledge and interest break, there will be a huge opportunity in the spread of these vehicles around the world. We’ll be here, sharing what you need to know in order to catch that wave.