Views of Saigon Ho Chi Minh City

People on mopeds drive during rush hour on January 10, 2012 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

At the world’s largest electronics trade show – the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas – among the many cool consumer gadgets, which saw the light of the day for the first time, was a vehicle that could be grouped into a category named ‘sustainable urban mobility / environmentally friendly urban living’. Remember the Academy Award-winning movie “Roman Holiday”, in which Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck explore the Eternal City on a scooter? You can soon be truly ‘Roman’ and scoot all over your city while being also environmentally friendly – on a new innovative electric scooter.

Gogoro, a San Francisco-based startup company, unveiled its zero emissions two-wheeled electric vehicle ‘Smartscooter’ at the recent CES in Las Vegas.

Gogoro Smartscooter – All Parts roman scooter1 Gogoro_Smartscooter_All_PartsSource: Gogoro 

Breaking Energy caught up with Horace Luke, co-founder and CEO of Gogoro, prior to the Gogoro Smartscooter launch when he told us that what makes this product so unique is that the Smartscooter “leverages the power of technology and connectivity”, while at the same time enabling “a more efficient, cleaner and flexible energy future” for megacities. This is clearly something right up Horace Luke’s alley. He previously served as chief innovation officer at HTC where he was instrumental to – in his own words – “bringing the internet to pocket” of consumers. Now, the latest product by his company Gogoro, an electric and personalized Smartscooter for city dwellers that prominently features battery-swapping infrastructure with recharging systems (“Gogoro Energy Network”) is scheduled to hit the market sometime in 2015.

Gogoro Energy Network

roman scooter2 Gogoro_Energy_NetworkSource: Gogoro 

A positive for city dwellers and commuters alike, the maximum riding range per battery swap (at 25 mph) is about 60 miles. Given that it is “a modular battery-swapping infrastructure (…) anchored by [so-called] GoStations, ATM-sized vending machines where depleted batteries can be swapped for fully charged batteries in six seconds”, which Luke envisions to have deployed across a city within one square mile of each other, easy accessibility should be guaranteed. Note, to swap an approximately 9 kilogram (20 pound) drained battery for a “health-checked” recharged battery at places “ people already associate with vehicles, like gas stations, parking lots, malls, and convenience stores” is a speedy and relatively convenient task and, above all, does not require, as Luke put it, “to change behavior” of the consumer.

The latter is poised to help make for a relatively swift integration into any local pre-existing transportation infrastructure system. With regard to the mode of personal transportation, this represents an environmentally friendly option for how the future of sustainable urban mobility could look like beyond automobiles.

Other interesting features of the Smartscooter include the number of sensors (Smartscooter: 30; Gogoro Battery: 25) connected to the company cloud via wireless “near field communication (NFC)” and the “Gogoro-designed battery [which] utilizes Panasonic’s industry-leading cylindrical 18650-size automotive-grade lithium-ion energy cells.” Gogoro explains the benefit of this cloud connectivity as follows:

“Gogoro’s Smartscooter gathers, analyzes, and shares riding behaviors ten times a second to help riders determine what’s best for their Smartscooter’s energy consumption while getting the same performance. This riding data is updated to the cloud, every 10 minutes, from the Gogoro mobile app on the riders smartphone or when a battery is exchanged at a GoStation via NFC. Gogoro gives unique control to each rider to select the specific ride feel and throttle acceleration.”

Gogoro Mobile App (iOS) and Cloud Connectivity

roman scooter3 Gogoro_mobileapp_iOS

Source: Gogoro 

With the integration of new information technology consumers can look forward to an improved urban travel experience; especially by reducing the time wasted standing in traffic or finding parking.

So, what is the opportunity Gogoro tries to capitalize on?

Basically, it is an opportunity to reframe and/or re-evaluate energy infrastructure in the 21st century with a specific focus on the future of ‘sustainable urban personal mobility’ in accordance with the transformation of megacities into “smart cities by providing cleaner and smarter energy to as many people as possible.” “The rapid growth of megacities has created an exciting opportunity to radically rethink and reshape our world. Gogoro is starting with the way people use, consume and experience energy,” the company explains.

In sum, it is about environmentally friendly urban living with a reframed view of how urban space and energy can be used more efficiently in the realm of personal transportation. Most notably, the underlying premise here seems to be very much in line with the “sustainable urban mobility plan” prepared for the European Commission in January 2014 offering guidelines for developing and implementing such a plan. Note, the “sustainable urban mobility plan” is meant to contribute to reaching the EU’s set climate and energy targets.

A New Way of Planning Urban Mobility: Main Differences between Planning Processes (Simplified)

roman scooter4 A_New_Way_of_Planning_Urban_MobilitySource: 

Given the projected exponential surge in energy use over the next decades in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in megacities due to record urbanization – a major driver of economic growth all over Asia – as well as general demographic trends, key urban development challenges such as traffic congestion – with city governments often not able to usher in a new wave of needed transportation infrastructure expansions – and poor air quality will be at the forefront of driving the creation of an intelligent transformative urban transportation system in an environment characterized by high population density.

To follow are some data on the global (gas) scooter market for reference. According to the Italian Piaggio Group, which also owns the historic scooter brand ‘Vespa’ and is Europe’s leading manufacturer of two-wheelers (light mobility vehicle industry), in 2013 48.5 million two-wheeler vehicles (scooters and motorcycles) sold across the globe. India, considered to be the most important two-wheeler market with a positive growth trend, took the cake in 2013 with 14.4 million vehicles sold. Conversely, China recorded a slowdown and ended the year with just under 13 million units sold while the so-called “ASEAN 5” – Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines – was clearly dominated by its main market in Indonesia with total volumes of over 7.7 million units and a growth of 8.5 per cent year-on-year.

In contrast, the numbers for the North American market (519,000 vehicles sold) suggest that this market is still very much in its infancy even though a positive growth trend is discernible. Europe, which is the obvious reference area for Piaggio Group operations, continued to struggle in 2013. Most European markets recorded a decline in sales. In Europe, France was the most important scooter market for Piaggio with 150,000 thousand units sold, followed by Italy with 129,000 thousand units, Spain with 77,000 thousand units and Germany with 69,000 units sold in 2013. All the figures above illustrate that the primary growth region for scooter sales is Asia and will continue to be Asia. Specifically with respect to electric scooters, a 2012 study from Pike Research suggested that “the market for electric scooters is expected to expand from around 12 million vehicles in 2012 to a cumulative total of more than 103 million vehicles on Asia’s roads by 2018.”

Overall, Gogoro’s electric ‘Smartscooter’ appears to be well-positioned in order to take advantage of existing trends and can be expected to be very competitive vs. (automatic) gas scooters – now especially in the main product segment of over 90cc (engine capacity) range. However, the prerequisites for true success are that the battery-swapping infrastructure is in place as envisioned, that the price point for the ‘Smartscooter’ is low enough – especially in Asia-Pacific – to reach the emerging middle class in those emerging markets, and that in the developed countries owning such a ‘Smartscooter’ is more than just a means of transportation for the young but rather a reflection of an environmentally as well as energy-use conscious urban lifestyle in an age dominated by the ‘Internet of Things’.