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The e-moped startup Unu hopes Corona will change traffic

Unu

The corona pandemic is likely to change people’s mobility behavior over time.

The Berlin company Unu offers electric scooters and hopes to benefit from a change.

Unu also wants to contribute to the turnaround in traffic, but complains of unfair competition.

The corona pandemic has paralyzed public life and thus traffic in Germany for weeks. Suddenly trains and streets were almost empty. Many restrictions have already been relaxed. But will people now move differently than before?

The Berlin-based electric scooter manufacturer Unu hopes to benefit from a change. “We assume that there will be shifting effects in urban mobility, from public transport and shared mobility to individual transport,” says Felix Jakobsen, responsible for mobility services at the company, in an interview with NewsABC.net. “We have already noticed that there is increasing interest in us.”

Competitor to the car: Unu wants to contribute to the traffic turnaround

Unu was founded in 2013 with the aim of being part of the transport turnaround towards more sustainability. An aspect that is becoming increasingly important, especially among younger users, says co-founder Pascal Blum. Over half of the customers of the e-scooter manufacturer are under 35 years old.

The company sees the scooter as a real competitor to the car – in contrast to many other new offers: “An e-scooter is not an alternative to the car, or only in very rare cases.” According to Unu, according to surveys by Unu, its customers would travel ten times the car now do six with the scooter instead.

E-scooters have long conquered the streets in major Chinese cities

Unlike the Vespa country Italy or also Spain and France, the Germans are actually more of a scooter muffle. Electric scooters have long since conquered the streets in Chinese cities such as Shanghai. They are a quiet and inexpensive means of transportation, are easier to cover longer distances than a bicycle, are more spontaneous and individual than public transport, are easier to get through traffic jams and require less parking space than a car.

Unu hopes to be able to continue to score with these advantages among German customers. “80 percent of our customers in Germany are first-time customers of scooters,” says Blum. The founder came up with the idea for the company even while in China. Unu has its e-scooters produced there, even if the corona virus clearly affects the supply chains. But China is the world’s largest market for electric scooters with more than 90 percent. “That is why all of the suppliers are located in China, even Bosch, who produce our motors and controllers,” says Blum.

Unu founders Pascal Blum (left) and Felix Jakobsen

Unu founders Pascal Blum (left) and Felix Jakobsen

Unu

Unu has already been profitable in Germany. This is no longer the case at the moment, also because “massive” investments were made in the successor to the company’s first e-scooter, of which more than 12,000 were sold. The design and equipment of the new model have been revised according to customer requirements. Among other things, there is now more space on and under the seat, and the battery has also been slightly adjusted.

Shortly before the limitations of the corona pandemic began, NewsABC.net visited Unu, whose name is derived from the Esperanto word for one. Most of the employees now work in the home office. The company has registered short-time work. Jakobsen hopes that production in China will stabilize again soon and the new e-scooters can be delivered to Europe: “We are close to normal.”

A scooter from Unu is available in the online shop from 2,799 euros. It can be driven with a normal car license and can also carry two people. The range is 50 kilometers, but can be doubled with an additional battery. So far, customers have been able to charge the battery for their e-scooter at home. Blum believes the range to include battery subscriptions that outsource charging and would make the scooters cheaper without the expensive rechargeable battery is a “chicken and egg problem”: It does take a lot of stations to be attractive to customers such stations are expensive. Only when there is a sufficiently large number of scooter drivers does it make sense for unu to follow suit. That is why the model of the Taiwanese company Gogoro has not yet managed to expand internationally even after several years and despite high funding. The Israeli company Better Place also failed with a similar model for electric cars.

Unu wants to enter the sharing market – but the corona crisis has hit it hard

It wasn’t until the beginning of the year that Unu made its plans public to enter the sharing market. For this, the manufacturer wants to work with local partners. Unu does not yet want to reveal which partners they should be and when they should start. Public transport would at least be an obvious partner, Unu claims that it is already in contact with various providers.

The start was initially planned for Rotterdam, also three to
four other partners in different cities would be considered, including
Berlin. But the shared mobility industry is also hard hit by the corona crisis
hit, which is why the market is currently very cautious, says Jakobsen. Before the
Unu had targeted a share of sales of around 40 percent in the crisis with shared mobility.
Rental prices could vary between five to five, according to Jakobsen estimates
move six euros per half hour.

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Overall, the industry is considered difficult. Jakobsen sees the withdrawal of providers like Coup only as “slight corrections” in the shared mobility market. He refers to the number of around 43 million private cars that are currently registered in Germany. “If we simply replace the motor with an electric motor, we have not achieved anything in terms of the traffic turnaround,” says Jakobsen. “Other mobility services and offers have to be established. And we are very sure that this will also happen. ”Sooner or later there will be a“ dam break ”, one is convinced at Unu.

What have other shared mobility providers done wrong so far?

At Unu, you want to learn from your competitors’ mistakes. “Unfortunately, Coup was unplugged because they had operational inefficiencies and a strong competitive situation in Berlin, Paris and Madrid,” says Blum, who took over the coup scooters from the previous e-scooter rental company Tier as “a smart move from Animal to Diversify ”. “Circ also threw in the towel in the e-scooter market. It will go on like this, ”says the founder. “It is not sustainable that everyone wants to win in all cities. We also believe that local companies tend to establish themselves in the end. It goes hand in hand with a city’s understanding: what is the perfect mobility solution, what is the right pricing? ”

Previous providers were under pressure to quickly
to grow. “That means expansion, more vehicles, more cities, more customers and
more rides. But that also means more complexity, ”says Jakobsen. “If
I don’t take the time at the beginning, really efficient operational processes
build up, but just grow very quickly, then I suddenly have one
very large apparatus where it will be difficult to change it again. ”

He considers this to be normal processes in the development of a new sector: “We set a standard as if such a topic had to be profitable in three or five years. The change in our mobility behavior is probably one of the strongest changes we have. Something like that takes time. “

Traffic turnaround: New mobility service providers are often at a disadvantage against the car industry

In the competition with cars and public transport, new mobility service providers often feel like an overlooked stepchild on the market. The most recent example is the car purchase premium, which is now being demanded by the auto industry and some state governments in the crisis. “We know that the vehicle class we offer often falls through the cracks. But we also know that an electric scooter at 45 km / h can certainly replace some urban car trips, ”says Jakobsen.

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He himself advocates more political support for companies like Unu to create fairer competition. Unu founder Blum, on the other hand, wants fewer privileges for motorists: “In other cities it is like this: parking spaces in Amsterdam cost 500 euros a month, in London 5,000 euros in some cases. This is public space that the city simply gives away to car owners, but not to others. ”

“It’s still incredibly attractive in Germany,
owning a private car, ”adds Jakobsen. “Be it parking,
Tax breaks, commuter allowance, company car privilege, … I think it’s
in almost no country so pleasant to drive an upper mid-range car. ”In the meantime
Although there is more talk about the turnaround in traffic, this is only the first
Step. “A lot has been managed in recent years, but not a new one
Politics created, ”says Blum.

But the scarce space for non-drivers on the streets suddenly became an issue during the Corona period. In Berlin, for example, pop-up bike paths were even pounded out of the ground. Jakobsen therefore believes that the crisis can also lead to rethinking: “We believe that incisive experiences, over which one has no influence, can contribute to social changes.”

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