The electric scooter with the lofty aim of changing urban mobility and the way humanity stores and manages electricity, has reached Europe. This morning, Gogoro launched a fleet of 200 scooters in Berlin, and any grownup with a driver’s license can hop on one to roam the German capital—without burning a drop of oil.
The much-hyped, well-funded Gogoro revealed its $4,000 Smartscooter at CES in January 2015. The sleek vehicle delivers nice numbers: zero to 30 in 4.2 seconds, top speed of 60 mph, 50-50 weight distribution. When the two 20-pound batteries run low, the rider swaps them out for fresh ones at a Gogoro “Go Station.”
Gogoro’s first 18 months in the public eye have seen impressive progress. The company’s sold 10,000 scooters since launching in Taiwan last summer, and it’s built a network of 225 charging stations. Those stations, ATM-sized kiosks holding eight batteries apiece, could offer the potential to store renewable energy, key to the shift away from fossil fuels.
If you want to start running things on solar and wind power instead of coal and oil, you need that kind of storage. Today’s electrical grid doesn’t stockpile electricity. Utilities immediately deliver what they produce, and make just enough to meet demand at any given moment. That works when you can shovel coal into a furnace as needed, but sunshine and wind aren’t so pliable. That’s why Elon Musk wants to sell you a battery to go with your solar panels and Gogoro thinks a global network of batteries could do a lot more than power some scooters.
That’s all in the future for the time being. For now, Gogoro’s focused on getting rubber onto asphalt. And for its European debut, it’s taking a new tack. Instead of selling scooters to individual Berliners and setting up a city-wide network of charging stations, Gogoro has sold them to Coup, a Bosch subsidiary that also launches today. The new scooter sharing service charges three euros for a 30-minute ride, or 20 euros for a full day. Gogoro limits the Smartscooter’s speed to 28 mph, classifying it as a vehicle available to anyone over the age of 21 with a driver’s license.
If all that sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of Scoot, which offers a fleet of 400 electric scooters to those uninterested in walking up San Francisco’s gnarly hills or waiting for the cable car. The startup’s business model matches Coup’s very closely, down to the pricing and smartphone app for finding and renting a vehicle.
Gogoro’s expensive, stylish, high-tech Smartscooter seems like an odd fit for this kind of duty. Bike share bikes, for example, are usually light on swanky features and built for durability. They’re built for a rough life on the streets, with no one owner to keep them safe. Scoot’s two-wheelers, made by Mahindra’s GenZe, are almost ostentatiously practical and free of frills. Scoot chose a matte red paint that stands out in traffic and wears well over time, says CEO Michael Keating. “We’re not a retail product, we’ve always thought that the most important thing is to focus on the transportation itself.”
Coup, however, likes the style of Gogoro’s ride, with its personalized lighting schemes and LCD screen. The best way to get people onto electric vehicles is to offer them cool electric vehicles, says Urs Rahne, Coup’s general manger.
Otherwise, Gogoro’s setup is good for a publicly-accessible fleet. The company can track its scooters, and knows when they crash or run low on power. And riders don’t need a physical key—a smartphone can locate, unlock, and rev up the ride.
All that matters to Coup’s key goal: making its service as painless as possible. Customers don’t need to return the scooter to a specific spot—just park it on the sidewalk and walk away. They won’t even swap their own batteries: Coup employees will drive around Berlin in a (gas-powered) van, popping fresh units into any scooter that needs them. While they’re on the scene, they’ll clean the included helmet and verify the scooter’s in good shape.
The sharing program is launching in four central neighborhoods in Berlin, and will likely expand throughout the city and elsewhere once things are running smoothly.