Virtually no one rides e-bikes because of climate change, according to micromobility pioneer Oliver Bruce.
Instead, people typically travel by e-bike because it’s often quicker and there’s the opportunity for a bit of exercise, he told last month’s inaugural Micromobility Conference & Expo in Sydney.
At the same time, advocacy for micromobility as an attractive transportation alternative needs to focus more on the vanity of potential users and their desire to be seen in a prestige vehicle.
In his presentation to the conference, ‘Move over iPhone. Why micromobility is the next big disruptor’, Oliver said, “no one gives a crap about climate change”.
“The wider question of why on earth cars get funded and not e-bikes comes down to the fact no one has been able to tell the story particularly well.”
“That’s not the motivation for why they would actually want to ride,” he added, backed by a study by bicycle planning and design consultant Copenhagenize which found only one percent of e-bike riders chose to cycle for environmental reasons.
The Copenhagenize research also concluded that 56% of e-bike users ride because it’s quick, 19% for the exercise and just six percent because it saves them money.
Oliver said while climate change is not a compelling factor for consumers, it should still be a persuasive argument to sway policy makers.
But while the environmental benefits of switching to micromobility are many times greater than a transition to electric cars, the micromobility industry is failing to fully exploit that fact to gain government support.
“The wider question of why on earth cars get funded and not e-bikes comes down to the fact no one has been able to tell the story particularly well. Nobody has been able to cleverly articulate that to a policy maker,” he said.
“But I do think that’s coming. I’m doing some work with the Rocky Mountain Institute in the US about how we effectively quantify the impact.
“We’re fighting a very, very big fight and we’re not anywhere near as well-resourced as an OEM or the car industry, so it’s the classic underdog battle.”
He said the industry could take great heart from its sales numbers despite that underdog status.
“The game-changing potential of smartphone was largely dismissed in their early days, with few people expecting their sales would climb into the billions.”
“We have managed to achieve insane sales targets with next to no subsidies, compared to electric vehicles. I think that’s an important thing and when you come back to classic disruption theory, it’s the underdog that always wins.”
Oliver said the disruptor comparison to the iPhone was relevant for several reasons.
His cofounder of the US-based Micromobility Podcast and Micromobility Conference, Horace Dediu, has observed that in high-tech, the smaller a device the bigger its likely sales.
Oliver said like the skyrocketing sales of smartphones, far outstripping global sales for personal computers, small e-mobility vehicles would ultimately outsell electric cars.
Similarly, like micromobility, the game-changing potential of smartphone was largely dismissed in their early days, with few people expecting their sales would climb into the billions.
The comparison also extended to levels of performance. While the computing power of the latest iPhone now rivals a standard laptop, the motors and other technology in micromobility vehicles were starting to challenge the speeds and general performance of top-end cars.
He cited this year’s launch of the eSkootr Racing League, which e-scooters developed by Williams Formula 1 technicians and capable of accelerating from zero to 100kmh in two and a half seconds.
He said he’s not convinced the emergence of such high performance micromobility vehicles is “a brilliant thing from a safety point of view”.
“We can have that conversation later but my point is the technology will get us there,” he explained.
“It will change that conversation around ‘people will never ride these things because they’re slow or they’re crap’.”
The NZ native said the “explosive growth” of e-bikes – which are outselling electric cars six to one in his home country – should be a key point to hammer home to policy makers.
“There’s a very compelling story to tell policy makers. Why are we spending billions of dollars on roads and new roads?” he said.
“Why aren’t we building infrastructure for the thing that is the fastest growing and the newest area of transport – that everybody is showing what they want to do with their wallets?”
“It’s like ‘I’ve worked for 50 years to be able to show off and I don’t’ want to turn up on some dinky e-bike to my very fancy friend’s house’.”
But he said those figures are not accurately showing up because they are not being tracked effectively, leaving a very big data gap.
That is being remedied by technology such as AI cameras developed in the UK by VivaCity, which were showing that for every shared scooter tracked on the roads, there were four to 10 times as many privately owned scooters.
Oliver said perceptions of prestige were a generally neglected obstacle to micromobility being more widely adopted.
“It’s like ‘I’ve worked for 50 years to be able to show off and I don’t’ want to turn up on some dinky e-bike to my very fancy friend’s house’,” he said.
“I think that is shifting. In Germany for example, the new electric Porsche Taycan, they deliberately launched it with an e-bike rack on the back.
“If you ever see a Porsche promotional video, any time they drive into a garage, there’s always an e-bike on the side hung up in the garage. It’s like the cool thing these days, if you’re well off, you’ll have a $15,000 – $20,000 e-bike as well.”
He said enclosed micro pod vehicles are likely to be the solution for prestige in Asia.
“With Asian markets, having something with a cabin and something that allows them to show off is an important part of that conversation,” he said.
Oliver pointed to vehicles such as the Nimbus One, which uses gyroscopes to stay upright and retails for around A$15,000. Next generation models by Nimbus were likely to sell for anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000.
“We can’t discount the importance of prestige in the conversation around micromobility,” he said.
Oliver was among more than 50 e-mobility and active transport authorities to present at the Micromobility Conference & Expo, which has been hailed by participants as a major boost to micromobility in Australia.
Around 140 industry leaders, tech developers, government officials and advocacy experts participated in the two-day conference. Many key figures celebrated the event as a key milestone in bringing the sector together and fostering further vital collaboration among industry members.