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3D Printing, A Pedalution – Part Eight: The E-Bike Apocalypse

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All in all, we’ve learned which 3D printed parts are being used by bike companies and how people are using 3D printing. We’ve learned how the technology may be able to disrupt value chains, what kind of preconditions exist to make it extra disruptive, the different  market entry scenarios that exist in cycling, the relevant additive manufacturing (AM) technologies for the bicycle industry and what abilities AM has that other technologies do not.

Now, we’re going to look at why this is relevant today. A plethora of electric vehicles pass me by as I ride my bike. There are electric scooters, electric motorcycles, one-wheeled contraptions, knock off Segways of all sorts, electric skateboards, electric longboards, hoverboards and electric bikes. The scooters are made by companies such as Eskute, Hoverstar, Swagtron, Unagi, OIUT, Gotrax, Glion, Razor, Slidgo, and Gyoor. They have prices from $100 to $700.

Then there are electric scooters you can sit on from Super Soco, RadRunner, Govecs and staid German TV brand Grundig.

There are e-bikes from Propal, Vyber, Watt, All of the regular brands, plus Cowboy, Stromer, Brinckers, and more. In the Netherlands, over 1,007 different models of e-bike are available. Their prices range from a $600 to $7,000. There are also electric motorcycles from Zero, Arc, Energica, Lightning, Tarform, Fuell, and more, ranging in cost from $1,000 to $30,000.

Ali Baba shows over 4000 suppliers of hoverboards and 39,000 suppliers of electric scooters, as well as another 39,000 e-bike suppliers. Everyone from app-centered startups to mobile phone companies is in this market. With $4 billion in revenue, one of China’s largest firms, search engine, AI and app company Baidu, is a significant competitor in the e-bike field there. Also one of China’s largest smartphone businesses with $37 billion in revenue, Xiaomi is large in the electric scooter space with a 4% global market share in phones. Meanwhile, on the motorcycle front, we have Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, Volkswagen-owned Ducati, KTM and BWM. In scooters, we see a lot of the same players, including companies like Piaggio, Mahindra Two Wheelers (which owns Peugeot and Bajaj). E-scooter rental firm Lime has so far meanwhile received $900 million in funding, while competitor Bird has gotten a paltry $600 million.

Other VC-funded firms like Uber, Ola and huge integrated startups like mega app Grab also have a strong interest in the ride-hailing, delivery, and scooter- and bike-sharing markets. S,o we’ve got some of the largest car companies on earth, competing with large industrial groups, competing with some of the largest mobile phone companies and also VC-funded rocket ships. This is going to be a complete killing field of a market.

Because pretty soon this diverse group of players is going to discover that they’re all in essentially the same business. Yes, the form factor may be different and you may give it a different name, but they’re all mobile battery-powered vehicles for getting people around. The structure, most of the components, and materials are identical. The production processes and skills are the same. All of these huge companies making millions of transport devices are essentially in the same business. And, for all of them, the key components are batteries made by Panasonic and the like, as well as drivetrains by Bosch and a few others. So, the critical components are often not even made by them.

Bit by bit, this market is truly going to be a killing field. At the same time, the super apps, businesses like Uber, and scooter rental firms, have much better business models because they get cash per month or per minute. This is going to be an exceptionally competitive segment where the people selling a vehicle, but not a movement or service, will find it difficult to compete. The former all want to be Apple and are supercharged by millions in VC funds while the latter just want to do something dumb, like making money selling a vehicle. And companies are crossing over from hoverboards to scooters to motorcycles so what used to be separate verticals will disappear as time goes on as well.

We will have battery players, drivetrain players, retailers, and app companies all cross over into becoming brands, buying from contract manufacturing companies. Margins will be filleted and filleted again until gossamer thin. There is a prize at the end of this race, but who will have the wherewithal to make it there?

As prices implode and the clubby e-bike market, now so fat and happy selling their $3,000 bikes, becomes overwhelmed by all sorts of competitors. Former bastions will collapse under VC funding, pressure from large industrial groups and people leveraging leads in scooters to make motorcycles, as well as hungry hoverboard companies used to subsisting on crumbs. And with such value chain interruptions and disruptions, what do we know happens? New technologies get adopted faster.

3D printing can allow you to make some components on-demand and could permit you to extract value by manufacturing close to the consumer. But, overall, it will be much more important that you can stay ahead of the competition and stay close to the latest fashion trends by 3D printing parts and molds. Reducing the fashion risk of having unsold inventory or not being able to meet demand will be tough for mobility companies that will find themselves in a consumer electronics, fast fashion business hybrid of a market. Through 3D printing they can take a core scooter or bike and update it weekly to the latest styling trends. At the same time, mass customization can let them wring precious profits from commoditized products. Indeed, your mass customized scooter will be a part of your lifestyle, unlike all those standard counterparts. It will not be fun but at least you’ll get to depend on 3D printing and meet us at trade shows!

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