Car Industry’s Bad Track Record on Electric Vehicles

In Bike Europe’s e-mail newsletter (May 14th) reporting about the SRAM ‘Urban Days’ event in Schweinfurt, the header BMW: ‘Bike Industry Has To Learn Quickly’ caught my attention...

(click here for that story)

I may have misunderstood the details of the message by Mr. Augustin E-Mobility manager at BMW, because BE's report was very short and compact, just an attempt to summarise the spirit of what Mr. Augustin was saying.

However, based on what I read, I do think that Mr. Augustin is missing some key points:

  • Yes it is true that compared to automotive industry, the bicycle industry is very poor and very low tech, and most of our electric 2-wheelers were not based on knowledge and competence from within our industry. Remember Panasonic, Yamaha and Sanyo were the founding fathers of the electric bicycle.
  • However, the automotive industry has a very, very bad track record when it comes to adequately understanding designing and engineering bicycles, not to mention super lightweight, compact, single person electric 2-wheeled vehicles (LEV's).
  • The automotive industry may consider their market understanding, their design and engineering capability superior to that in low-tech bicycle industry. To some point that is indeed true, however they seem to forget the automotive pitfall! The dynamic interaction between bicycle and rider (man/machine) quite often is being misunderstood & underestimated by automotive engineers. The bicycle is a completely different load case than a car, a motorcycle or a scooter. Automotive vehicles have a drivetrain with relatively low torques and a high RPM's. The bicycle drivetrain has opposite requirements: high rider's torque with almost zero RPM. There is only 1 HP (horse power) available, therefore efficiency is crucial for propulsion. And there is the delicate balance between weight & structure of vehicle and rider. The vehicle's weight is only 25% of carried rider's weight.
  • In the case of LEV's these points are even more relevant. How to create the best synergy between vehicle and rider, between man/machine? WITHOUT compromising weight, compactness, manoeuvrability and footprint of the vehicle! WITH understanding future societal mobility trends and consumer (= rider) needs! At this point I am not reassured that the automotive industry better understands the future societal trends and future consumer trends when it comes to personal and micro mobility.
  • Let me put things in perspective:
  • 75% of all people in the modern world live in cities & urban environments.
  • 75% of all their traffic movements is within a short range of 0 ~ 10 km.
  • 75% of all those traffic movements is being made individually.
  • For almost 50% of all traffic movements in the modern world the car is the least suitable mobility vehicle!
  • "First Mile & Last Mile" mobility (integration with public transport systems) is becoming increasingly important.
  • Will this mobility in the near future be consumed with much more compact, yet relatively heavy 4-wheeled electric platforms? The Renault Twizzy still weighs 475 kgs, with a 100 kgs battery pack.
  • Will this mobility in the near future be consumed with even more compact 3-wheeled electric platforms? The beautiful Toyota iROAD weighs 300 kgs, with a 50 kgs battery pack.
  • Will this mobility in the near future be consumed with heavy 2-wheeled electric platforms? E-scooters still weigh 70 to 85 kgs, with battery packs that weigh in at 12 to 15 kgs.
  • I think that genuine LEV 2-wheeled vehicles will serve a substantial part of our future mobility and they have different specs:
  • Super lightweight, < 30 kg.
  • With 2.5 kg. battery pack and a range of 30 to 50 km.
  • Super compact, < 1 m2?
  • Super flexible, portable and offering 'Door-to-Door' mobility?
  • Super manoeuvrable, with a radius of orbit of 1 m.?
  • What more proof do we need?
  • Car sales in Europe in 2012 were 40% less than before the financial crisis!
  • Gas powered 2-wheeler sales in Europe very soon will completely disappear (except for  some niche, high-end power sports motorcycles).
  • European bicycle sales also have started an irreversible downward trend!
  • Yet people / consumers continue to consume more mobility than ever, and this societal consumer trend will further grow!
  • Mid to long term: in my view the loss of car sales, gas powered motor cycle sales and bicycle sales will be compensated by sales of LEV's (Pedelecs, Speed Pedelecs, slow E-bikes, E-bikes, slow E-Scooters and E-Scooters).

I agree with Mr. Augustin: bicycles won't take over! Yes, that is correct. Nevertheless, the void will be filled with electric 2-wheelers. Probably not with the 2-wheelers which the automotive industry has in mind, but with genuine LEV's.

Han Goes
Qsquare consultants
Shift micro mobility