If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be working for a Chinese manufacturer I would not have believed them. As a micromobility enthusiast with a vision to improve the health and functionality of city transport, in 2015 two friends and I launched a business to manufacture and promote electric skateboards. Despite some energetic lobbying on our part, the electric skateboard landed up on the wrong side of European transport legislation. But what was bad for e-skateboards was good for e-scooters, as cities across the US and Europe embraced e-scooters as a potential last mile solution.
My lobbying efforts had put me in touch with the Okai Berlin office. The more we talked the more I realized that Okai was not your ordinary manufacturing company, dedicated solely to shifting units. Okai is serious about using technology and innovation to transform urban mobility and improve our cities.
I am reminded that historically other manufacturers that were similarly dedicated to innovation like Ford, Apple, and Daimler have shaped not only our behaviours but the world around us. Since joining Okai in June 2020 I have rekindled my passion for micromobility as it is one of the keys to sustainable cities and more efficient transportation.
When founder JiangtaoLu started the company in 2006 he was interested in solving the challenge of moving millions of people around cities with ‘Safe, simple, fun transportation for everyone’, which is still our company vision.
The big story for e-scooters is in the growth of sharing providers like Bird and Lime in the US and Tier, VOI and Dott in Europe. In 2019 the e-scooter sharing market in the US and Europe was worth an estimated $743 million and is expected to grow at 25% CAGR to 2025, attracting billions of dollars from venture capitalists. The growth of e-scooter sharing puts Okai in prime position to contribute to sustainable mobility and sustainable business.
In the past couple years sharing providers received bad press for the short life cycle of e-scooters and the litter factor of broken devices. They’ve also struggled on the operations front, given the complexity of maintaining and recharging tens of thousands of scooters spread across a wide area. Okai works closely with sharing companies to resolve these challenges, with our latest designs (Okai ES400B Electric Scooter and Okai EB100 Electric Bike) offering the key innovation of user swappable batteries. Battery swapping is not totally new (Okai launched the first swappable battery scooter, the Okai ES400A back in 2019. But what is very unique in the market, is that the batteries are swappable between the e-bike and the e-scooter!
When Europe’s biggest sharing provider, Tier, acquired Pushme it put them at the cutting edge of swappable battery innovation. Now they’ve innovated on this technology to build a four-battery cabinet ideal for convenience stores. Users are given a free ride for dropping the battery at the store, while shop-owners benefit from increased customer traffic. Thanks to collaboration between manufacturer and operator, we now have better unit economics for the sharing industry. At the same time this is helping to reduce the emissions of driving scooters to a central location for recharging. Lack of infrastructure is one of the main challenges for electric mobility and this type of distributed, or ‘free-floating’ infrastructure is key to the challenge.
Another contribution is Okai’s commitment to reducing waste. Happily, the Bird Zero models from 2018 are still being used in many cities across the US. And our ES400 batch shipped to sharing providers last year are – twelve months later – still operating at near 100%. E-scooters have also faced criticisms about safety concerns. To address this we included various features in our ES400B design: a bigger (12-inch) front wheel, indicator lights, a wide footplate, dual suspension and dual drum brakes.
Okai is still primarily business-facing, but part of the rationale behind opening a Berlin office was to address the brand aspect of the company and connect directly with end-consumers. We’re currently in the release phase for our ES500, a foldable e-scooter designed as a mid-priced mid-range private ownership offering. It’s a delightful and durable run-around that also looks very beautiful. I’ll be keeping an eye on product forums to see how consumers respond.
I’m proud to be part of the micromobility revolution and I have no doubt that our innovation of a modular battery system will become the gold standard for sharing operations across the world, moving us closer to the vision of safe, simple, fun transport for everyone.
By Tony Günther, Head of eCommerce, Okai Berlin Office