Two of the top shared electric scooter companies in the US, Bird and Spin, are releasing new vehicles today. Spin is revealing a new, more rugged electric scooter, which it is building in-house for the first time. Meanwhile, Bird is showing off a new electric bicycle with a baby blue paint scheme. Both companies are under increasing pressure to catch up to Lime, which is the number one micromobility provider in the world with over 200 million riders last year globally.
There has always been an arms race among shared scooter and bike companies to produce the best, longest-lasting, and most technically advanced electric vehicles. But with increasing pressure to become profitable and some micromobility companies choosing to go public via reverse mergers with special acquisition companies, the race to enhance and grow vehicle fleets is taking on new dimensions.
Bird, which was the first company to introduce shared electric scooters in a US city, has always flirted with the idea of e-bikes. The company first rolled out its Scoot-branded electric mopeds in Los Angeles in 2019 but was forced to pause the Cruiser program because of the pandemic.
Last May, the company announced that it was going public by merging with a SPAC called Switchback II. In its pitch to investors, the company included an image of a shrouded bicycle next to several graphs charting the meteoric rise in e-bike sales in the US. “Coming soon,” the graphic promised.
Well, soon appears to be now. The company says the bike, with a rear-hub motor and a top speed of 15.5mph (25kmh), will be available in “select cities throughout North America, Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland and France this year.” Bird says the bike will have a range of 56 miles (90km), dual handbrakes, onboard diagnostic capabilities to help identify possible problems, and an “aerospace-grade” aluminum alloy frame that should stand up to the demands of shared use. A geofence mechanism will automatically slow or stop the bike in areas where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed.
The bikes will be available to rent using Bird’s smartphone app. The company says it also plans to partner with preexisting shared bike and scooter operators, like e-moped provider Zig Zag in Italy.
“Cities and riders are best served by efficient, collaborative transportation networks, not walled gardens,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden said in a statement. “Bird’s vision of smart, responsible bike sharing is being able to provide the best shared bikes and operations when cities need them, and having the foresight to offer the best support and multimodal integrations when they don’t.”
Bird’s decision to add e-bikes to its product lineup coincides with Lime’s recent moves to expand its own fleet, such as with the addition of electric mopeds. While both companies are mostly known for their electric kick scooters, there is a growing sense among micromobility providers that the more varied your vehicle lineup is, the better your chances are at becoming a financially soluble business.
Those are the types of concerns that are clearly on the minds of Spin’s new executives. Earlier this month, the Ford-owned scooter company announced that its co-founder and CEO, Derrick Ko, would be moving into a strategic advisor role, along with two other co-founders, Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In their place, Ben Bear, Spin’s chief business officer, would be the new CEO. These changes came after reports surfaced that Ford was looking to divest itself from Spin, either by selling it or as a spinoff.
Against this backdrop, Spin announced a new flagship electric scooter today: the S-100T first edition. The company is touting the scooter as its most rugged model yet, having conducted over 400 different safety and durability tests, including extreme heat, extreme cold, and corrosive humidity. The scooter has a number of safety features, including three independent brakes and the industry’s first stomp brake.
In a departure from most North American-based scooter companies, Spin said its new scooter would come with a swappable battery “to create a more efficient and sustainable charging procedure.” Other countries, like China, are embracing battery-swapping technology as a way to expand access to their electric vehicles. But US-based companies like Bird claim that swappable batteries can lead to higher manufacturing emissions and require more vehicle miles traveled to retrieve, replace, and recharge scooters.
Whether the new scooter will be enough to right-size Spin’s finances will depend largely on its life span. The more trips and miles a single scooter can cover, the better it is for scooter companies that have to recoup the cost of each vehicle before they can start making money.
In the early days of scooter sharing, the off-the-shelf Chinese-made models would last less than a month, as many weren’t built to withstand sustained fleet use. Now, scooter companies are churning out models that can last on the street for up to 24 months, which is helping improve the unit economics of scooter sharing. Spin wouldn’t share the new scooter’s estimated life span, but it did note that it was built to withstand the harsh demands of city riding.
“To achieve our vision of a 15 minute city, we needed to build a vehicle that was tough enough to handle everything a city could throw at it and then still be reliable to earn our riders’ trust,” Bear said in a statement. “S-100T is that vehicle.”