The small scooter elegantly turns the corner before drawing to a soundless halt. A young woman with tattooed arms takes off her helmet and shakes her partially green hair in the Californian sunshine. With a swing of her leg, she hops off and parks the red scooter before disappearing into a garage in San Francisco’s hip SoMa neighborhood.
Inside, electronic gear is piled high next to tires and other spare scooter parts. Tools lie next to a coffee machine atop a kitchenette attached to the wall in slapdash fashion.
“Yes, this is actually our office,” a young man with a hipster beard and antique watch says while giggling nervously and surveying the chaos.
Up some wiggly, white steps in the conference room, the heat of the Californian sun has combined with the musty air of hours of discussion.
Mike Waltman breathes it all in and drops into a chair. He just talked with Munich earlier today, says the 32-year-old.
“It’s really fantastic that the deal with the Germans went so fast and was so uncomplicated,” says the fleet boss of Scoot Networks, a scooter-sharing provider. While he’s talking, 150 electric scooters costing $5,000 (€4,471) apiece are being unloaded at the other end of the city.
Why should a young urban dweller own an expensive car when there’s no place to park it in big cities across America and Europe?
The U.S. West Coast apparently doesn’t have a monopoly on new technologies – sometimes they come from places like Munich, where the e-scooter producer Govecs is headquartered.
“The Germans” Mr. Waltman is dealing with includes Govecs boss Thomas Grübel, who is providing the hardware to the software experts at Scoot, who hope to revolutionize urban mobility in San Francisco.
“We were won over by the quality,” says Mr. Waltman, who started Scoot two years ago with just 10 vehicles. These days, he has 250-strong scooter fleet. His “Munich-San Francisco connection” has advantages for both sides. Scoot previously got its vehicles from a Chinese manufacturer, but they had to be retooled at considerable cost. Now the e-scooters come ready to ride straight from Govecs factories.
For example, there’s no speedometer – it’s replaced with a smartphone preloaded with an app offering an interactive map. The lithium batteries and software are also tweaked, so that they only signal the scooter’s location back to Scoot HQ every few minutes, thereby saving precious juice.
The partnership helped Govecs not only enter a new market, it also allowed the company to gain experience building vehicles tuned to the needs of the rapidly growing sharing economy.
Scoot Networks customers ride e-scooter that belong to the company but are available all the time and all over the city. Why should a young urban dweller own an expensive car when there’s no place to park it in big cities across America and Europe?
An e-scooter can go up to 50 kph (31 mph), which is enough for the city. Scoot charges $5 an hour, less than the popular car-sharing service Zipcar ($8.50), a taxi or Uber. Payment is made by credit card. Customers need only a regular driver’s license and no motorcycle training. Much like BMW’s DriveNow or Daimler’s Car2Go services, vehicles are simply found with a customer’s smartphone and can be parked at 75 locations within San Francisco’s city limits.
Mr. Grübel considered the cooperation a success these days, but at first he was somewhat skeptical last September of the “boys with the funny nerd shirts” and the office’s “grungy sofa in the conference room.” But that’s all changed now.
“Their knowledge of scooters and software at Scoot immediately impressed me,” he says. “I’m excited to see what problem we can tackled together next.”
Video: Meet Scoot, the electric scooters network.
Britta Weddeling is Handelsblatt’s Silicon Valley correspondent. To contact her: Weddeling@Handelsblatt.com