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Launching into transport: is there even a bike category anymore?

As the transport industry moves forward, many are contemplating a future where kids are picked up from school by driverless ride-shares, south-western railway’s planned engineering works are finally drawn to a close and cities are filled with lush fern-filtered air rather than smoggy particulates.

Whilst perusing the recently launched Nissan Leaf (the most popular Electric Vehicle in the world); I felt aged beyond my years as I realised that those born today are unlikely to ever experience the embarrassment of stalling in the middle of Elephant and Castle roundabout – indeed the cost of electric vehicles is forecast to fall below that of conventional ones in the early to mid 2020s and shockingly, electric cars have no gears.

Changes within the power, transport and tech industries are colliding with those of transportation, with players all seeking to take a slice of the others’ pie. Energy companies require complicated IT platforms to create new networks whilst those making EV batteries realise the potential of the technology for mass energy storage.

Launching into any of these markets requires a more multifaceted approach than ever before, as traditional category boundaries are eroded. This is a future where your dishwasher is connected via the much vaunted ‘internet of things’, dictating the most cost-effective time of day to run in perfect harmony with the other 12.5 million dishwashers in the UK.

The likes of traditional automotive manufacturers scrabble for ground among other parts of the literal consumer journey, partnering with car sharing/ride-sharing/bike-sharing/magic carpet networks with what seems like frantic urgency – cue Chariot, whose (glamorous) Ford Transit minibuses were given the green light, launching for the first time on the London transport scene in January, operating on route names playfully named the ‘Wandsworth Wanderer’ and ‘Nuxley Navigator’.

We’re seeing General Motors investing in Lyft; Ford launching its Transport Mobility Cloud, a cloud based platform designed to manage several components within a transportation ecosystem, whilst Shell has taken a 44% stake in a major US solar company and has also acquired First Utility along with NewMotion, Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging company. And it’s no surprise given the decreasing consumption of energy in our homes due to greater regulation and efficiency in the developed world that Energy companies are looking to invest in networks to support electric vehicles – a potentially massive new source of demand on our grid.

A less publicised, less glamorous knock-on effect of investment in electric cars has been the vast improvement of the capability of electric bikes or ‘pedelecs’ as some describe them. Launches of bigger, faster and cheaper e-bikes have come thick and fast in recent months, set to rival their past image.

While Delfast has just launched one with a phenomenal 300+ km range (main photograph at the top), Uber has announced a buy-out of New York based Jump, which allows riders to rent electric bikes via a smart platform, a clear move to consolidate control over the broader transport network in cities where it already has a strong foothold. And the possibilities of e-bikes continue to grow alongside the technology – Sainsburys and DHL have just announced the trial of electric cargo bikes in South London as part of a bid to both reduce emissions and improve transport schedules, whilst the Spanish Postal Service have since January been test-driving Continental’s stylish three-wheeled E-cargo bikes in Madrid, Seville and 3 other cities in Spain.

Thinking of the wider transport category.

The lessons from these new players is that there’s an increasing need not to think merely within the existing transport categories (bikes, buses, cars), but broader within a mobility system asking – which part of the journey am I trying to solve and how will they integrate?

Take the launch of Peugeot’s first folding electric bicycle which came to market in early 2017 – the eF01 provides a solution for travelling those last few miles into the city after parking the car and can be stored and recharged in the dock station within the boot of the Peugeot’s 5008, ready to ride in 2 hours. Bugatti’s just launched luxury electric bicycle (if you can afford one of the 667 built) comes adapted to match your Bugatti supercar – the ultimate cycle to go with your ultimate car.

Adopt a test and learn approach.

The second lesson is how to operate an effective ‘test and learn’ strategy. Ofo bikes, the dockless bike hire company started in 2014 but now operates in 250 cities, launching gradually city by city improving their bikes and system as they gather more data about customer journeys. It’s London consisted of a tentative 200 bikes in Hackney used as an exercise in gathering initial insights in usage patterns and operations before expanding to serve the whole borough. Compare this to the launch of Boris bikes in 2010 with 5,000 bicycles and 315 docking stations, with little understanding of usage patterns or how people would use the scheme, and many highly publicised teething problems.

Think of City mappers’ vision for flexible, networked bus routes, first tested in 2017 in North East London. Mapping data helped establish test routes that precisely matched public transport black holes with room to adapt and change in response to usage. Their latest experiment is a popup bus route, the CMX1 from Waterloo to Blackfriars, due to launch on May 9th 2018. Launches in these categories are often not the big bang entrance we assume, but a gentle crescendo with small incremental improvements along the way.

Indeed, ‘Test and Learn’ forms a key part of how we define launch marketing at Five by Five, inspired by those very design thinkers and agile startups. Establishing the success metrics early on is key to taking full advantage of an iterative ‘test and learn’ approach, but no doubt if the learnings are robust, each cycle can lead to something more compelling than the last. Those looking to launch products within mobility would be wise to look for gaps in the capability of the bigger players within transport, and for what applications that product or service could bring.

As capability moves from physical things to the platforms that run and coordinate them, partnerships with existing tech firms who control the ‘internet of things’, but also with those fleets or institutions with potential capacity to be running who systems of vehicles, could be a source for growth.

Image Credits
  • Shutterstock

By Constance Meath-Baker
Strategy Planner, UK

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