Ford is getting into the electric scooter business, sorta
When it comes to the clean transport movement, some legacy automakers have been slow and cautious in their forays into electric and hybrid solutions, and even more sluggish to integrate last-mile options into their vehicles. And although the relatively rapid success of Tesla, and the idea that auto companies might lose market share to the new kid on the block, seems to have spurred a race to get more clean car models into production, there is still little to no movement on the other front, even though cars are only one piece of the transportation puzzle.
Parking is another huge piece of the puzzle, as are traffic density, pedestrian access, and a myriad of other issues that affect high-population cities, so it’s important to learn to see cars as just one element in a much more complex system, and to incorporate features that support other modes of transportation. For instance, I’ve often wondered why all new cars and trucks aren’t designed with bicycles in mind, and what a difference it would make if people could easily mount their bikes on a vehicle without having to buy an aftermarket bike rack and then rig it to fit their car. Considering the fact that most small and mid-sized cars will not fit a bike completely in the trunk, let alone a pair of bikes, the addition of a small receiver hitch system could allow for the use of an easily removable bike rack. That’s just one approach, as there are simpler options still, such as adding a quick-release fork mount to the body or bed, but as far as I know, they are all aftermarket solutions and not designed into the vehicles themselves.
Recent news on the electrification front is the announcement of a global licensing agreement that Ford Motor Company has agreed to with OjO Electric, an electric scooter company, to build an exclusive line of six Ford-branded models that “will draw visual inspiration from classic and contemporary Ford vehicles while integrating OjO’s innovative design and technology.” These Ford OjO Commuter Scooters will then be available “at retailers nationwide” as well as through online vendors, after January 2018. It would seem like a good fit for these Ford OjO scooters to be demonstrated and sold right along the rest of the automaker’s line of vehicles at the dealer, because like many new things, we’re much more likely to buy it if we can try it. However, it’s not specifically stated in the press materials if the new scooters would be available at Ford dealers, and there’s no indication of a move toward integrating the scooters with any of the company’s vehicles, so this move looks more like a marketing tactic than anything else.
OjO Electric already has its Commuter Scooter available for sale for about $2000, and while the details of the Ford models haven’t been released quite yet, the current model is built on a welded aluminum frame, with front and rear shocks to smooth out the bumps taken by the tires, includes front and rear LED lighting, and is driven by a 500W rear wheel-hub electric “HyperGear” motor for a range of about 25 miles per charge. The top speed of the scooter is limited to 20 mph, and it has three different power settings to manage speed and battery life, while it’s also claimed to be able to handle a 300-pound load and grades up to 15%.
However, full stop. This scooter isn’t a foldable model (though the seat is removable to use while standing), and it weighs in at a hefty 65 pounds, so it’s not exactly designed to be hustled in and out of vehicles, and it doesn’t look like it could be easily mounted onto a bike rack. It also isn’t well-suited to hilly terrain, as this review on TechCrunch found. To my mind, that makes this scooter a standalone solution (or perhaps one for car-free trips where it might be able to be wheeled onto public transit), so I’m a bit confused as to how this fits with a car company, other than some form of a ‘strategic partnership’ to explore additional revenue streams.
The OjO Commuter Scooter does look like a useful and fun way to get around local neighborhoods, or as part of a fleet of corporate campus vehicles, as the 25-mile range is plenty for that type of application, and it integrates an alarm system, a wireless key fob, and a pair of waterproof Bluetooth speakers to cover both security and entertainment on the road. It also has an onboard charger with a retractable cord, although it’s not clear how long that cord is, so it may very well have to come inside to be charged.
One issue with the OjO scooter, which is “designed to be an alternative mode of transportation for when you’re traveling too far to bike and too close to drive,” is that while it’s promoted as being able help you “own the bike lane,” there are probably crowds of cyclists who would rail against their usage in bike lanes, as they don’t even have pedals or other form of manual propulsion. That issue may require more of a culture change to overcome, and perhaps a raft of well-defined regulations governing small electric vehicles, as we’re likely to see more and more e-mobility options like that on the roads in coming years.
Although the electric scooter trend looks to be around for a while, I’m not so sure that Ford-branded scooters will have much impact, unless it builds one that is designed to fit into one of its vehicles right from the get-go, and the company may be able to do far more by growing the cycling ecosystem, as it has done with the Ford GoBike program, or by concentrating on e-bikes.