Can the e-bicycle or the e-scooter be the answer to tackle congestion? Car makers think they have the answer

By S Muralidhar

The pandemic and its fallout is going to have a profound impact on all our personal mobility needs and consequently on the automobile industry. The impact will unravel over the next few months, even as countries around the world and our own states around the country attempt to return to normalcy after the series of lockdowns.

There are differing views on what might turn out to be the future mega trends within the automotive space, with opinions ranging from a surge in demand for new cars and bikes due to the continued fear of taking public transport, to a sharp rise in sales of low-cost options like used cars due to job losses and salary cuts. Contrarian views are also being expressed about the prospects of electric vehicles- with ones that say the heightened awareness about the environment could quicken the transition to EVs, while others are speculating that the crash in oil prices will end up delaying EV adoption.

Meanwhile, the fear of community transmission of this virus and the need for social distancing is going to stay with us for years to come. And if the new normal needs new tools for people to stay safe while seeking to commute to work or go shopping, they will eventually be developed by automobile companies.

One of the conceptual product trends of last year that seems like the kind of thing that might find resonance in a post-pandemic world is the last mile mobility e-bike. An electric bike that can be folded or otherwise easily stored inside the car and can be used for scooting to locations that are a short distance away from your parked car. Or at other times can simply be ridden to a workplace that is not too far.

The concept will find a lot of new takers amongst those who still seek the comfort and safety offered by personal mobility even after they need to step out of their cars. It could also help ease parking woes and congestion in city centres. For now, it is a mix of car companies that are launching branded electric bicycles to ride the rising wave of environment-consciousness amongst buyers (like Jeep) and others who are hoping to pair an e-bike or e-scooter with their future EVs. Here are a few examples of that are already available at showrooms and some that will make it in future vehicles. Will you be riding one too?

Audi e-tron scooter

Audi had officially unveiled the e-tron in India, its fully electric compact SUV, last year. While the final word on its Indian launch is still awaited, here’s something else the German luxury car maker has been working on.

The Audi e-tron Scooter, is meant for first mile and last mile connectivity. It combines the advantages of an electric scooter and the skateboard. It can be transported by car, bus or train, and the 12kg e-scooter can be folded up and conveniently stored in the back of the car, or if preferred pulled like a trolley.

The 4-wheeled Scooter’s handling is said to be like surfing waves. Audi says that the rider has one hand free, and so is able to look around and give hand signals. Production and sales are planned for late 2020. The steering handle gives stability, holds the battery and the electronics, and carries a display showing the battery status. Riders can accelerate and brake by means of a twist grip.

The range of 20kms is achieved through recuperation when the e-scooter brakes. The hydraulic foot brake provides additional safety. Audi had said that at the end of 2020, private customers will be able to buy the e-tron Scooter for about Euros 2,000. Audi also plans to offer it as an extra to customers who buy Audi e-tron models. The e-scooter could be charged in the car trunk through a dedicated socket.

BMW E-Scooter The other German luxury car maker BMW had announced plans to develop a simple multi-modal mobility solution in the form of a e-scoot that could be easily folded and tucked away into its cars for use later The new BMW E-Scooter gets a range of twelve kilometres and a top speed of 20 kmph. Two separate braking systems and embedded front and rear lights provide the requisite safety on the road.

This easily foldable scooter, weighs just nine kilograms and yet, boasts the space-saving design of a city scooter. The 150-watt motor and lithium-ion battery slip away almost out of sight into the footplate and rear wheel. It takes just two hours for a full charge of the E-Scooter’s battery. Created as part of the first collaboration between the BMW Group and Micro Mobility, there is also another lower priced adjustable BMW City Scooter option that allows the rider to take it with them everywhere thanks to its triple-secured folding and locking mechanism. It was launched last year and is said to retail for about Euro 800.

Hyundai and Kia

In a move that could benefit both sister brands Hyundai and Kia, the Hyundai Motor Group had last year announced that future vehicles, sporting either badge, may be offered with an in-built e-scooter. The new prototype electric scooter unveiled in mid-2019 is based on its initial concept presented at CES 2017. The model has rear-wheel drive, a lithium battery and stylish front and rear lights.

The latest concept features in future Hyundai Motor Group plans to enable first- and last-mile mobility by integrating the scooter with future vehicles.

When mounted on a vehicle, the scooter is charged automatically using electricity produced while driving, ensuring that the user can complete their journey seamlessly. The Group’s engineers have added suspension to the front wheel to provide a smoother ride, even on rough surfaces.

The latest version of Hyundai Motor Group’s e-scooter features a 10.5 Ah lithium battery. This enables the scooter to achieve a top speed of 20kmph and is sufficient to power the scooter for around 20kms on a single charge. Weighing around 7.7kgs, the scooter is highly portable, with its unique tri-folding design, it also features a digital display that shows battery status and speed; while, for nighttime riding, the scooter is equipped with two stylishly curved front LED headlights, and two rear tail lamps. The Group engineers plan to install a regenerative braking system to increase the scooter’s range by 7 per cent.

Jeep E-Bike

If adventure and sports is your focus, then this one is for you. The American brand that makes legendary off-road sports utility vehicles has been one of the latest entrants into the e-bike category. In keeping with the brand’s DNA, the Jeep E-Bike is a full suspension electric mountain bike that combines the versatility of a 4.8-inch fat tyre platform enabling it to tackle difficult off-road conditions including soft sand, snow and also hardpack trails and rocks. It’s 750W electric motor delivers 160Nm of torque via pedal assist or by using a thumb throttle. To handle rough off-road conditions, the ultra-stiff inverted front suspension fork comes with 150mm of travel and the rear wheel suspension travel is 120mm.

It also gets a 10-speed gear set and 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes which are paired with 203mm petal disc rotors. The Jeep E-Bike is a Class 2 electric bicycle under US classification rules and so it has a maximum speed limit of about 32kmph.

The Jeep E-Bike has been developed with specialist company QuietKat and it has a range of about 64kms on a full charge. The only figure that might deflate your enthusiasm may be the hefty sticker price of nearly $ 6,000. No information yet if Jeep India will officially bring this here.