Minimobility: What Is It And What Role Will It Play In The Urban Mobility Landscape?

Minimobility: What Is It And What Role Will It Play In The Urban Mobility Landscape?

As cities worldwide continue to expand and urbanize, the need for sustainable and efficient mobility is becoming critical to addressing the multitude of challenges in the transportation sector. Current mobility trends have redefined how Americans travel, having revolved primarily around EVs along with micromobility solutions such as electric bicycles, mopeds, and e-kickscooters. These newly emerging modes of transport have grown increasingly popular among residents, having positioned themselves as an affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly alternative to conventional cars. However, another segment of urban mobility seems to be gaining traction recently, centering around the use of minimobility vehicles. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what minimobility is, what issues it can help solve in transit, and how we can integrate it into our urban environments so that it complements existing mobility systems. We will further explore the advantages of minimobility vehicles and their benefits for societies along with some current examples, issues, and potential for investment.

Current Mobility Trends and Developments

We’re witnessing a radical shift in urban transportation as the demand for efficient, sustainable, and convenient mobility solutions rises to an all-time high. Current efforts are mainly directed toward achieving a decline in private car use, followed by an acceleration in the decarbonization of the sector which includes an increased uptake of EVs and the use of cleaner, alternative fuels. Governments worldwide are already reinforcing regulations that aim to reduce the number of vehicles on the road which will subsequently tackle the issue of congestion, improving air quality in cities and decreasing emissions. Consumers are also voicing their preferences for more convenience regarding their journeys, having presented an increased expectation for seamless and eco-friendly travel, emphasizing improved connectivity, multimodal options, and shared mobility.

The introduction of micromobility services in recent years is a testament to this changing landscape, offering a unique perspective into the future of urban transit. So far, the micromobility market is defined primarily by electric bicycles, mopeds, and e-scooters, most of which have been positively embraced by citizens as an eco-friendly alternative to cars in short-distance travel. Newly emerging segments such as minimobility are also making their way into the mobility scene, having shown some potential to fill in gaps in existing mobility systems, providing residents with another environmentally friendly mode of travel that’s convenient and flexible. City planners, officials, and various automakers are considering possible ways of implementing minimobility in cities, as their benefits for societies and innovative business opportunities make them an attractive prospect for future transportation.

The Rise of Minimobility and what we know about it so far 

Minimobility is a newly emerging segment in transportation that can be defined by three and four-wheeled electric vehicles (EVs). They can be categorized as being somewhat hybrids between a car and a bicycle, with an average weight between 100 and 500 kilograms and a maximum speed varying from 25 to 90 kilometers per hour, depending on the type of vehicle and regional regulations. Among the main advantages of minimobility vehicles is their affordable price which is significantly smaller than that of a standard, full-size electrical vehicle (EV). Their compact size and ease of maneuvering in densely populated environments make them an attractive option for residents who might consider using them for short to medium-distance journeys.

Among other benefits are their low energy requirements, easy charging through electrical outlets, cost-savings, and generally fewer resources and energy required for the production of such a vehicle. Compared to known micromobility options such as e-kickscooters, bicycles, and mopeds, minimobility vehicles offer better comfort and convenience including the ability to sit down while driving along with protection from the weather. Furthermore, they provide extended storage space, a variety of modules that can be rearranged to suit the user’s needs, and a possibility for an increased capacity of up to two passengers.

Overall this mode of transportation is considered less expensive, more space-efficient, and easier to park in crowded urban areas. Their eco-friendly nature and energy efficiency when it comes to operation make them a more sustainable option than conventional cars. It is also generally accepted that their widespread use could lead to improved safety on roads as they travel at much slower speeds and are more visible to pedestrians and bikers.

Insights from McKinsey’s Annual Report on Minimobility

Recently, the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility issued its annual report where it surveyed 26,000 people in eight different countries regarding their opinions on minimobility vehicles, including their willingness to buy or rent a vehicle in this segment. It was concluded that over 30 percent of the participants worldwide are open to using a minimobility vehicle at some point and would like to have it as an option in the future. The largest percentage of supporters for this segment are located in China and Brazil, standing at more than 50 percent, followed by countries such as Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, amounting to 25 to 30 percent. This indicates that the larger groups of users for this type of mobility are located primarily in urban and suburban areas. Location plays a big part in the public’s interest and willingness to use minimobility options with China being a prime example of a country already accustomed to using smaller vehicles.

Regarding income, 58 percent of respondents are reported to earn a low to medium salary, standing at less than $50,000, annually. The low cost of vehicles in this segment is among the main reasons people are willing to purchase one as they are around four times cheaper than conventional vehicles and standard EVs. Based on the results provided by the survey, minimobility vehicles might position themselves as an extension of the existing light-mobility vehicle market. Furthermore, the growing popularity of this type of electric vehicle will raise important issues and topics for different stakeholders such as city leaders, micromobility service providers, and vehicle manufacturers. Demand can drive innovation and various developments which have the potential to accelerate the electrification of the sector, increase sustainability, and address pressing mobility issues in urban areas such as congestion and bad air quality. For instance, city leaders could deploy minimobility vehicles as white-label car-sharing solutions or they could be implemented as an extension of current vehicle portfolios for micromobility service providers.

Could Minimobility fill the gap between Micromobility and Electric Cars?

The topic of whether or not minimobility could fill in the gap between micromobility and electric cars is a highly discussed one among state officials, regulators, and professionals in the field. Some statements revolve around the possibility of municipalities adding them to their existing mobility-sharing platforms as an additional mode for users, assisting in first and last-mile connections, although it’s widely expected that private ownership will dominate the market for this segment. An appropriate analogy for the use of similar vehicles or services could be retirement communities in Florida and California where people use golf carts to get from point A to point B. Minimobility could fill in gaps in existing mobility systems due to their compact size, affordability, and flexible nature. They could share bike lanes and other designated off-road areas where a conventional vehicle would not be normally permitted.

Since the vehicles are small and light, municipalities could build new infrastructure for them consisting of lanes and tracks, at a relatively low cost, while larger and heavier vehicles can remain on existing roadways. This means that it is unlikely that minimobility vehicles will increase congestion and finding a parking space would also be much easier on crowded city streets as they are more compact and easier to maneuver. This can help alleviate some major headaches for urban dwellers and since they are shaping up to be a much more affordable option than standard electrical EVs, far more people would likely consider purchasing them. Currently, the average price of a brand new, full-size car ranges at around $50,000, whereas EVs stand at a slightly higher range of $54,000 for basic models and $65,000 for more comprehensive ones. Purchasing a personal minimobility vehicle offers a more affordable approach to electric vehicles, with prices starting at around $10,000, and reaching up to $40,000 for all extras and functionalities.

In the future, minimobility could serve communities by connecting them with different transit stops, aiding in deliveries as well as transporting citizens to important facilities around town. This might prove crucial for densely populated urban regions where people need to get to places quickly and as effortlessly as possible. The unique architectural design of these vehicles will also allow people to use them during any type of weather, something that will be useful for families, the elderly, and mothers with children. The additional cargo space provides even more benefits over most micromobility options today. Some manufacturers have created models that come with separate modules and can be rearranged and adapted to cater to the individual needs of passengers (children’s seats, more cargo space, special needs, etc.).

Future Predictions and Market Size 

It’s expected that in the future manufacturers will build minimobility vehicles to travel at speeds of about 55 mph. When it comes to urban travel, they are predicted to be best suited for speeds of 25 to 30 mph on city streets and could use preventive speed measures such as GPS notifications to alert them if they are going faster than 12 or 15 mph when driven off-road. This will be of significant importance if minimobility vehicles share public spaces with other modes of transit such as micromobility and in the case of bike lanes where speed regulations will be crucial to avoid potential accidents.

Governments have yet to establish guidelines and regulations regarding this form of transportation and the type of licenses that will be required to operate them. The range between charges also remains undetermined at this point, depending on the manufacturer and type of vehicle. Estimates suggest that it will range somewhere between 40 and 100 miles and it’s anticipated that owners will be able to charge their minimobility vehicles through standard electric outlets. Foreign manufacturers have presented significantly more interest than American ones so we can assume that the first wave of minimobility vehicles to come to the U.S. will be imported. It has been suggested that Renault, Toyota, and Nissan will be among the main automakers to begin investing in and developing prototypes for such vehicles.

If interest in minimobility continues to increase, and if regulators push this as a mobility option, the segment could potentially reach a total market size of $100 billion annually across China, Europe, and North America by 2030. (For reference, the two leading manufacturers of two-wheeled EVs have generated a cumulative $300 million in global revenues from the micromobility segment since 2015.) It is widely considered that minimobility has a role to play in the future of urban mobility and could emerge as a valuable alternative to conventional cars and EVs, further incorporating the benefits of affordability, convenience, decreased congestion, reduced space requirements, and lower emissions.

Potential Issues and Implications

One of the main issues surrounding the use of minimobility vehicles is the notion that they simply don’t work very well at being the user’s main car. This is potentially due to their limited traveling speed and size, which is generally unsuitable for large families or when it comes to traveling long distances. It would seem that minimobility vehicles are more suited for short-distance urban travel and their compact size and ease of parking are among the main reasons why people buy them in the first place. Minimobility vehicles can’t compare to the range or speed capacity of standard EVs since the batteries in these vehicles are by definition smaller, so they come with less power. For instance, many of these vehicles can not exceed 30 mph which would be considered a major hindrance if a user needs to make longer trips every day and uses highways frequently.

On the other hand, urban dwellers whose speed is generally limited by traffic and the need to stop at traffic lights or stop signs might find the vehicle’s supposed limitations are not an issue for them. Minimobility could essentially accompany a portion of the daily trips for people who commute to the office or the store. Even more surprisingly, minimobility vehicles could work for suburban residents too as data from the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reports that over 60% of all Americans’ trips by car are within a six miles range or less, certainly appropriate for the use of minimobility vehicles.

Minimobility is a segment that is still evolving and so far vehicles have been produced in small quantities, increasing the price, and it would seem their use is somewhat limited and specific to the accommodation of some urban trips. They could potentially make their way into vehicle-sharing platforms as service providers whose apps enable users to rent cars could incorporate minimobility vehicles as a flexible and cheaper option, suitable for users who need to get from one place to another, but don’t require a back seat or a big trunk.

Examples of Minimobility Services Around the World

A leading company currently at the forefront of the minimobility market is CityQ. Based in Norway, CityQ has successfully created a pedal-assisted electric vehicle that combines the best features of a car with those of a bike. The vehicles are four-wheeled and come with fully enclosed cabins that can carry up to two passengers and a decent amount of cargo. They are further equipped with a range of features designed to increase the convenience and comfort of urban dwellers, including a heating and sound system as well as sufficient storage space. A unique feature of CityQ has to do with its flexible, modular design. The vehicle can essentially be customized to adapt to a wide range of needs and preferences, from last-mile delivery to personal transportation. For instance, the cargo module can be replaced with a child seat or an extra passenger seat.

The OUI is an innovative type of light-electric vehicle that aims to reduce regular car usage. The concept of the OUI is underlined by its unique attributes such as a total weight of just 500kg and a speed of up to 45km/h (28mph, L6 category). This is currently the first vehicle of its kind in this category to include a total of four seats, allowing entire families to travel, with additional options for cargo storage. The Dutch company that creates these vehicles is based in Amsterdam and is largely inspired by their drive to combine architectural and design elements to produce functional and sustainable solutions for urban travel. The initial concept was based on the notion of the project being a shared model, with contributing partners having developed a range of subscription and rental models that strive to maximize the availability and accessibility of this type of travel. It is believed that the OUI will allow people to easily switch between modalities while traveling, serving as a multifunctional vehicle with minimal impact and maximum practicality and flexibility.

Bzzt is a Swedish company offering minimobility services that are zero-emission, bearing a striking resemblance to what many people know as “pod taxis”. The service is currently operating in Stockholm after launching in 2017 and it focuses on last-mile delivery using two- or three-wheeled vehicles in the center of the Swedish capital. It has been reported that one in every five citizens has the application associated with the services and it’s predicted its application will extend to other cities around the country.

Conclusion  

Overall, minimobility is an interesting segment that has the potential to deliver a variety of benefits to communities although its future at this point remains rather uncertain. It’s estimated that minimobility will be more successful in countries such as Brazil and China where interest is higher and this mode is already in operation in some parts of the countries. It’s also possible that in the future it could gain popularity across Europe as well as the U.S., depending on demand for these types of vehicles and manufacturers’ willingness to invest in this segment.