PHOTO CAPTION: Taiwanese scooter maker Sym introduced is EX4U micro-mobility concept EV in late 2014.

Are US Carmakers Missing Micro Mobility Trend?

It's a growing trend in Asia from Taiwan to China to Korea and Japan, one that gained credence in Europe with the launch of the Renault Twizy.

Published: 16-Jun-2015

With cheaper oil prices in America, large car and truck sales are booming again, while sales of hybrids have markedly slowed. Big vehicles are where the profits are, so it's only natural that's what Ford and GM and Chrysler are going to build. But in that pursuit of profit are they missing a trend that will come to haunt them, as the 1970s OPEC oil shocks did?

From Taiwan to mainland China to Korea and across the Sea of Japan, we are starting to see the rise of Micro-Mobility EVs: tiny one and two-passenger electric cars that are cheap to buy and even cheaper to own. It's a trend Thomas Bartman and his colleagues with the Forum for Growth and Innovation at the Harvard Business School see as being the true disruptive technology in personal mobility in the 21st century.

Micro-Mobility EV developed by South Korea

The most recent example of this trend is the Micro-Mobility concept vehicle picture above and developed by South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy as part of a $35 million program to introduce small, city-friendly electric cars and tricycles into its urban cores. Reports the Korea Herald:

The ministry explained that micro-mobility is cheap ? the cars are less than 10 million [won] ? and apt for short-distance mobilization. It is also optimal for small-volume production with a wider range of models.

“Disabled, old and others people in need of specialized cars will benefit from the production,” the ministry stated, adding...

"It's a car of the future. In 10 years, 60 percent of the global population will reside in cities. With the emergence of mega cities, an increasing number of city dwellers will use private transport commuting short distances. This new trend calls for the development of a new form of transport..."

Coincidentally, articles are appearing, like this one on Fool.com, how small, low-speed electric cars like the Lujo R&D EV below are outselling Tesla in China with an estimated 200,000 being sold in 2013 alone.

Loju R&D EV

Both Toyota and Honda have developed their own Micro-Mobility EVs, the former deploying their iRoad both in Japan and France. Toyota also recently introduced its COMS EV in an experimental program with Japan's postal service. Honda's Commuter concept is depicted below.

Honda Commuter concept EV

Late last fall, Taiwanese scooter maker, Sym, debuted their own Micro-Mobility concept EV, the EX4U, pictured at the top of the page and closely resembling the Renault Twizy from France.

The question is, Where are Ford and GM and Chrysler's Micro-Mobility concepts? They don't appear to exist, and probably for good reason, at least from a boardroom perspective. There's still lots of room for Americans to spread out and that geographic reality has pretty much dictated buyer preferences for big, comfortable vehicles. How long that trend lasts as we inexorably wind our way through the 2020s and 2030s is anyones guess?

Just as Volkswagen gained its American beachhead in the late 1950s with the small, affordable, cheap to operate Beetle; and Honda and Toyota followed suit in the 1970s, it's entirely possible that Micro-Mobility EVs from any number of existing or future manufacturers (Foxconn?) will similarly begin capturing increased market share in the age of the megacity, while spelling the end of the megacar.

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