Many people often forget that e-bike popularity and technology originated from the e-kickscooter market. The e-kickscooter market started about 1998 with the emergence of Badsey, Zap, Currie Tech, HFC and JD/ Viza Razor (to name a few.)
-Loud, brushed, DC industrial outboard motors with geared reduction belt/ chain drives
-Primitive industrial controllers for brushed motors with bad mosfets, over-sized cheap components, and bad connectors
-Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) motorcycle starter batteries (heavy 12 volt packs run in series to achieve 24 volts)
-LED voltage based indicators if any battery meter at all
-Mobility scooter tires and rims
-Mostly heavy hi-ten steel frames with an average product weight of 35~60 lbs.
-Folding hinges with bad flex
-Range averages of about 5~9 miles
Shown below was the first breakout e-kickscooter design by famed LEV Industrial Designer “Norbert Haller.” If you look closely you can see a similar design language to Norbert’s most notable design: Ultra Motor’s “A2B Metro” e-bike. The HFC Pacelight 707 scooter (imported under many names and sold through-out the world starting in Germany around the turn of the century.)
“The Sharper Image” marketed this trend on the high-end until it’s retail store demise in early 2008. Oddly enough this is when Ultra Motor, USA took over Sharper Image’s corporate office in San Francisco, Ca. Late 2008 lithium powered e-bike sales took off and the e-kickscooter became a disposable big-box store product. Basically, the majority of manufacturers (except for Go-ped, Xootr and Go-Board) were designing toy e-kickscooters to be as cheap as possible. A product designed to last the life cycle of the cheap SLA battery pack (less than 300 charge cycles if maintained well/ or about a year of casual use.) A price war battle at the expense of quality really hurt the category’s reputation.
The Razor e100 sold at Wal-Mart and Target for $90 on Black Friday (in the industry we call this type of product “landfiller” as it is a completely disposable product.)
The Go-ped Hoverboard was the premier product of the time but the Hoverboard’s “Made in USA” price tag struggled to compete for market share with the e-scooter toys being sold at big-box stores for thousands of dollars less (albeit still a great product.)
-LCD displays with multiple settings and programming
-LED integrated lighting, USB charging ports
-Compact brushless controller w/ better connectors
-Lithium battery packs from well-known cell makers (36v~48v standard)
-Integrated brushless hub motors: gone are the days of noisy and troublesome pulleys, belts, and chain drives
-Extruded aluminum frames with an average product weight of 25~35 lbs.
-Folding hinges with little to no flex
-Range averages of about 15~22 miles
These upgrades do come at a premium in price what was once a $100-350 SLA scooter is now a premium lithium scooter at nearly 3 times the retail price pegged at $999-1500+.
So what does this mean for the e-kickscooter category’s future? Well in the past the weight, noise, maintenance and range were the biggest inhibiting factors to the category for commuters. The inhibiting weight and range of the SLA kickscooters made sense only as a “last mile solution” of a commute (between the train and the office.) However, since the advent of the e-kickscooter craze the buyer demographics have changed. A decade and half ago most people were commuting to work from the suburbs.
These days, we have a younger tech generation in the work force. They tend to live in more urban environments, have more disposable income and work from home more often. Most of this new tech workforce does not own car, takes the private tech bus to the corporate campus and lives in smaller spaces.
We now see a need for an optimized design e-kickscooter where the design priorities are: longer range, rich in tech features, lower weights, cargo capability, product longevity, and a high sense of style. If the industry can adapt to these design priorities we may see the once “last mile solution” morph into the “first mile solution.”
Much like laptop sales have been reduced by the convenience and portability of the a tablet. It is possible that the current rising e-bike sales trend may also see a reduction from the convenience and portability of the next generation lightweight lithium e-kickscooters.