2021 was the year in which micromobility really took off as a concept, solution and way of life.
Increased shared micromobility and COVID-ravaged public transportation helped make small electric vehicles mainstream enough for people to wrap their heads around to buy their own vehicles. 2021 was therefore the year of the e-bike, with sales growth of 240% in the 12 months leading up to July. This new normal has led cities to adopt infrastructure plans that would have been truly incredible a decade ago (looking at Paris!).
2021 was also the year when people, especially those living in cities, started talking openly about the impact of micromobility on emissions reduction, which is undoubtedly greater than the advent of the electric car.
This year we saw that shared micromobility companies are really taking advantage of this change of mindset towards the humble e-scooter and e-bike, using their dominant market positions to become operationally more efficient and get their hardware up to scratch.
So with all this behind us to lay the groundwork for the future, let’s take a look at the top predictions for the micromobility space in 2022.
E-bikes for everyone
The e-bike trend is expected to continue into 2022, especially as countries like the US are now offering subsidies worth up to $900 off the purchase price of a new e-bike. But the craze doesn’t stop with private consumers. Tony Ho, vice president of Segway’s global business development, says the company is also seeing a big jump in demand for e-bikes from micromobility companies. Segway is known to supply e-scooters and e-bikes to most of the shared micromobility giants, such as Lime and Bird.
“In the beginning, Lime was a bike-sharing company, but it wasn’t going anywhere until they started making scooters, partly because the scooter is cheaper and also easier to deploy,” Ho told TechCrunch. “Now it seems like the e-bike is getting a lot more grip and we’re seeing the mix starting to get more even and there’s a lot more orders on the e-bike side to share. And for the cities it’s a no-brainer because they have bike-sharing programs to begin with.”
Fresh VC money is drying up
Some of the big players, like Bird and Helbiz, have gone public, something Lime has promised to do next year, and the industry has generally been consolidated under a few big names. So instead of more VC money and new entrants pouring in, we will likely see the current market mature.
“After all the Bird and Lime craze, I think investors have moved on to something else, like the delivery people of Coco Sidewalk robots,” Ho said. “It still takes quite a bit of capital to get into this business, and the smaller guys, personally I think it’s going to be harder for them, especially because cities require you to pay for the license, buy insurance. It’s not really a game for the small startup more. Whoever survived the last wave will probably stay here.”
And those who stay are doing everything they can to cut costs, become more efficient and sustainable, and better comply with city regulations.
But…the ride-share companies may come back to play
“The orders and interest we have show that many companies are coming back to play so that next year, as people get out of the pandemic, micromobility becomes a priority on their agenda,” Ho said. “We’re seeing a number of companies coming back, including the big names like the ride-share guys.”
In the summer of 2020, micromobility was in bad shape due to pandemic lockdowns. For example, Uber sold its micromobility company Jump to Lime, followed by more integration between the two companies. Last May, Lyft also ended many of its fledgling e-scooter programs, but if we are to believe Ho, these two companies may be trying to get back into the game before losing all market share.
Expect more AI, smarter vehicles
Cities really hate it when scooter riders drive and park their vehicles on the sidewalk. They hate it so much, their hatred has led many companies to innovate and make some seriously smart scooters. Companies such as Spin, Helbiz and Voi are already testing camera-based systems that can detect when a rider is riding on a sidewalk or about to hit a pedestrian and even have the ability to stop the ride in real time. Others, such as Superpedestrian and Bird, use a highly accurate location-based approach to implement similar advanced driver assistance systems. Once companies figure out how to keep costs down and cities around the world get a whiff of this funny technology, the trend will only become more commonplace.
Mircromobility ADAS systems will extend beyond the shared market. Companies such as Streetlogic and Terranet are already working to produce computer vision-based systems that can help consumer e-bike riders drive safer by detecting potential hazards and providing collision warnings. These types of systems provide peace of mind and added safety for the average person looking to replace car rides with e-bike rides.
Having additional sensors on micromobility vehicles also opens the door to data monetization for businesses, said Horace Dediu, an industry analyst who coined the term “micromobility.”
“We’re going to see more detection happening and that basically means dash cams, so there’s a lot of imaging happening,” Dediu told TechCrunch. “I know this comes in cars, but everything that happens in cars happens on micro and often happens faster because you can roll out 100 million vehicles without too much investment.”
Placing cameras on the front and back of micromobility vehicles will allow companies to image entire cities the way dashcams do today, Dediu said. If those systems can detect sidewalks and pedestrian lanes at all, they will certainly be able to detect road surface conditions that can inform cities about road maintenance issues through a shared database. Or micromobility companies could sell that information to map companies like Google and allow them to get a little better picture of the world.
If you think about what else micromobility vehicles can do today, such as torque sensors that measure user input, Dediu predicts that companies could offer all kinds of “platoon-like services” that could also be linked to wearables.
Micromobility and the Metaverse
“Billions have been invested by Meta or Facebook, by Microsoft and Apple, to figure out how to communicate with someone wearing something on their head,” says Dediu. “At the same time, if you look at micromobility, people are just I said we had to find a way to get people to wear helmets. So I put those two ideas together and said, if you’re going to wear a helmet, why would you wear a helmet? don’t make it a smart helmet? wear a smart helmet, why not make it so exciting and interesting that you want to do it?”
A helmet with a smart visor that magnifies reality as you cruise through a city can not only make riders more aware of their surroundings and potentially safer, but it can also unlock experiences and get people out and about, Dediu says.
“Micromobility and the metaverse are made for each other,” he said. “It’s about looking up. Increasing a car experience is nothing but becoming more isolated by looking down. So would you rather look up or down?”
Warning: This union may not happen in 2022, but Dediu is pretty sure it will somehow happen in the coming years.
New — heavier — form factors
The only problem with driving a scooter, e-bike or moped to work every day is: what happens when it rains? To solve this problem and accommodate different use cases, we could see new, heavier, closed-roof form factors emerging in both the consumer and shared markets, according to Oliver Bruce, a strategic advisor, angel investor and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast with Horace Dediu.
Companies such as Arcimoto, which recently acquired Tilting Motor Works, and Nimbus are working on a number of tilting three-wheel electric vehicles that should be ready or nearly on the market by 2022, Bruce says.
“If we are serious about meeting our climate goals that we talked about at COP26, new electric vehicles will have to appear and scale up quickly,” Bruce told TechCrunch. “If we’re trying to ramp up electric vehicles as they are now, we’re really struggling. We don’t have the capacity to do it.”
Micromobility integrated in the transit mix
“I think 2022 will see the application of rides in public transit credit,” Bruce said. “So, for example, you get off the subway and you can hop on an e-bike and it becomes a cross-subsidized journey.”
Bruce says this will be partly a side effect of all the infrastructure work we’re seeing with cities around the world, but especially in Europe, of building more bike lanes. But it will also be a function of micro-mobility companies to significantly reduce the cost per kilometer for vehicle maintenance.
“The economy is starting to pile up for operators to be able to sell in bulk miles to transportation agencies, and then those transportation agencies will say, cool, you can unlock the scooter on your subway map or through your app. Certain cities around the world will be incorporating this into their public transport.”
Better integrations with Maps
“2022, maybe the year after that, will be the year of software,” says Dediu.
Today, public transit planning and mapping apps such as Google Maps and Moovit have begun to integrate micro-mobility options, giving users multiple ways to get to a destination. That kind of integration should be strong enough for Maps to act as a search engine, letting you see the best transport hits in seconds.
“Today we say, I want to go from A to B, and you get three or four options, and no one is bidding on my ride,” said Dediu. “I want to see 15 bidders. I want to see an auction happen every time I request a ride, like Google search does. This is so obvious I’m shocked that it’s almost 2022 and it doesn’t exist yet.
“But a lot of it is because the glue isn’t there. The interaction of the APIs isn’t there, so once that happens on the shared side, we should have a nice explosion of opportunities for shared operators to offer on Google Maps, that should be making tons of money from micromobility. So monetizing micromobility will be through discovery.”