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A basic unu motors electric two-wheeler costs 1,700 euros (Photo: unu motors)

Unu Motors, a small Berlin-based maker of electric scooters, is almost proud of its role of agile infiltrator in a new-mobility world dominated by huge automotive companies and other big-name players. “In an industry of giants we must maintain a lean and agile approach,” the startup says on its web site. It also pledges “an unconditional drive and people that stick and fight together as a team to outperform and disrupt any Goliath out there.”

The unu is an electric two-wheeler that can be bought for as little as 1,700 euros for a version with a 1,000 watt brushless electric motor. Models with 2,000 or 3,000 watt motors are also available. Included in the package is a 9-kilo portable battery that provides a fully electric driving range of up to 50 kilometers. An empty battery takes five hours to charge, but you can be at 80 percent within three hours. The company aims the unu at urban dwellers who average about 15 km a day. That means recharging is only needed once every three days

Unu Motors is one of a new breed of young companies that is attempting to prove that, as people’s personal mobility habits change, there are serious market opportunities for alternative offerings. The Berlin-based startup questioned the traditional automotive business model and decided to do away with warehouses and a dealer network. It manufactures on demand and ships without any dealer involvement. In Germany, service and maintenance are handled through the independent Bosch car service network. All in all, Unu Motors claims savings of between 20 and 40 pc compared with traditional ways of doing business in the auto industry.

Slow in the city

Pascal Blum, CEO and co-founder, said a business model like that would not have been possible even a few years ago. That’s because battery technology has only recently become affordable enough for a low-budget scooter. Moreover, portable batteries that can be easily recharged in the home didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. The growth of e-commerce and the internet are another major factor making Unu’s business viable. Blum said direct sales, the maintenance arrangement and the network of “pioneers” who help explain the scooter to new customers are all only possible because of the internet. And third, he said that growing air pollution, urban gridlock and near insurmountable parking problems are creating the right conditions for an electric city scooter. “Traditional transportation in cities is as slow as it was when we were using horses,” he said in a telephone interview.

Unu Motors says on its web site that its scooter is “the most efficient vehicle on the street.” With the help of a brake-energy recovery system, an unu ride costs a mere 70 cents per 100 km in electricity, much less than comparable combustion-engine powered transportation. But Blum said the company isn’t really in competition with any other mobility provider. The CEO fully expects unu owners to use other modes of transportation for shopping trips, rides to the airport with lots of luggage or in other situations where a scooter isn’t practical. “Mobility of the future is multi-modal,” he said.

Unus are built in Asia by partner companies and Korea’s LG takes care of the battery technology. It’s logical to look to Asia for manufacturing, Blum said, citing the omnipresence of electric scooters in the world’s biggest market, China, where more than 20 million electric bikes of all shapes and sizes are sold each year. But Unu Motors has independent quality control in Germany and each scooter is transported directly to the customer from Berlin headquarters. Since the company’s start in August 2014, it has sold several thousand scooters, mostly in Germany, Blum said. France and the Netherlands may be next as the company grows.

How does a customer order an unu? The process starts onlne, where you can configure , order and pay. Several weeks later, the unu gets delivered to your door by courier. If the customer wants, it is already insured and the license plate has been mounted. At the appointed time, a company representative is there to help you unpack, screw on the two side mirrors and provide assistance with any other issues. The courier takes away the packaging.

Blum said Unu Motors is heavily dependent on IT throughout the company, but it is  “clearly” a mobility provider. “But if you want to be good at this,” he said, “you have to be good in IT.”

By Arjen Bongard

(This story was first published in automotiveIT International magazine. For a complimentary subscription, please go to: www.automotiveIT.com/subscribe)