Mobility revolution : A Berlin scooter maker that sees the pandemic as an opportunity
Unu had to delay the launch of its latest model and even altered its business plan. Now it's got some ambitious plans, and a new executive to match.
BerlinPascal Blum talks calmly and contemplatively and doesn't use many words. Almost too few, which is a change for Berlin's start-up scene. Especially since there's so much to say. 2020 has been different for everyone, but even more so for electric scooter manufacturer Unu. The company had wanted to launch a new scooter model last spring. They'd been planning it for two years from their offices on Tempelhofer Ufer. Then corona came out of nowhere. "We made the best of it," says the 31-year-old.
Blum founded the company in 2013 with two friends in Munich. They wanted to be there when the electric scooter made its breakthrough in Germany. City centres are supposed to become cleaner, quieter and more liveable. Two- and four-stroke scooters don't fit that picture.
They moved the company to Berlin two years later because it felt like pole position. They have since collected a total €24mln from investors and have sold about 12,000 electric scooters.
The new model was supposed to hit the roads in April. It was developed and designed by Unu. A two-seater with a Bosch engine, top speed near 50 km/h, an app as key and easily shared with others. Even the Chinese contract manufacturer was new. Flextronics, which also manufactures for Apple, Tesla and Dyson, was to guarantee quality.
Production had already started early this year. But corona turned a two-week production break during Chinese New Year into a three-month hiatus. Supply chains didn't fare any better.
"We couldn't plan, we could only react," says Blum.
But now the first vehicles have arrived in Germany, and most of the more-than 100 Unu employees in Tempelhof are back from their government-subsidised furlough. The scooters are being readied for delivery in a warehouse near Frankfurt am Main.
Deliveries are expected to begin next month. Blum is satisfied with the demand. About 13,000 potential buyers have registered for a test-ride and many have already placed an order.
But the Unu boss is shy with exact figures - pre-orders are in the "four-digit" range, he says.
Unu wants to concentrate on its customers now and has abandoned plans from earlier this year to get into the sharing business. It had hoped to deliver 400 scooters to a Rotterdam rental company. Now they'll be sold directly.
Blum is happy with the new approach "to prevent everyone from getting back into cars for fear of shared mobility," he says. Blum now even sees corona as an opportunity - the pandemic changed the market.
Unu is now targeting people who avoid public transport but don't see cars as an alternative and think sharing services are too expensive. Bikes, these target customers think, aren't good for distance. Blum hopes that 20- to 40-year-olds in particular will be lured by a monthly leasing rate of €69, competitive against the price of a used car or even a monthly BVG ticket.
Unu now sees itself as the market leader in Germany and wants to expand even further: cities in Austria, France and the Netherlands, for example. And they've brought in reinforcements. Thomas Beerman, the former European head of Car2go, who also later helped to set up VW's WeShare e-car sharing company, will develop Unu's European business.
Production is to be ramped up accordingly. Scooters are currently manufactured on three production lines in Zhuhai in Southern China. According to Blum, that's just enough to meet current demand. A fourth and fifth production line will be put into operation next year.
But Blum still won't quantify sales forecasts. For him, every scooter sold is one less car on the streets.
"Growth isn't the goal of goals right how," he says
Something else new to Berlin's start-up scene.
Adapted for the English Edition by Andrew Bulkeley.