Common Tread

Electric scooters to look for and look forward to

Jan 25, 2018

Last year, Lance predicted that the most popular EV in the world would be a scooter from a major manufacturer.

While his prediction may have been a little ahead of its time, I agree that the scoot market is on track to become the catalyst for change in the EV-moto world, thanks to a host of new and upcoming models. 

Technologically, today seems like the ideal time to take the electric scooter to the next level. Battery advancements have increased the potential ranges and outputs of these little electron blasters to higher levels than ever before. If you haven’t experienced an electric scooter yet, try it before you knock it. One-way scooter sharing services, like Scoot in San Francisco, are just a few bucks for a one-way trip. But not everyone lives near a metro area with scoot sharing, so here are some options you can buy now or in the near future.

This is not a full list of every electric scooter being made, but rather some of the most interesting highlights. (There's also no DIY stuff, either, so if wedging a Nissan Leaf battery into a scooter frame is your thing, I wish you luck but no, I didn't call. Sorry.)

Electric scooters you can get now

GenZe (pronounced “Gen Z”) started in Silicon Valley back in 2012, then began production in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Backed by Indian powerhouse Mahindra, GenZe’s journey into zero-emission transportation includes electrified scooters and bicycles. They’re notable for producing one of the most accessible electric scooters available today.

They also supplied bikes to Scoot’s fleet. Scoot riders have logged a collective 4,026,721 miles at the time of writing, which is pretty incredible. Just for reference, that would get you about this far away from Earth. A base GenZe would cost me $2,999 and a three-hour drive to the closest retailer. For my efforts, I’d have a slow but practical little ride with no frills. Perhaps the best feature is the removable briefcase-sized battery, which can be pulled out for charging anywhere. This neatly sidesteps the problem of running extension cords out to the bike.

At 232 pounds, the GenZe doesn’t intimidate, but it’s severely limited by its 30-mile range and 30 mph top speed. Horsepower? It has, uh, two. Those numbers wouldn’t cut it for my daily drive, but GenZe notes that the average commute is only eight miles. In that case, the GenZe could be a sensible option for city dwellers and those who work close to home, which is the best application for electric scooters anyway. 

Feeling underwhelmed by the GenZe’s humble numbers? Enter BMW’s C evolution electro-maxi-scoot.

Europe got the C evolution in 2014, but it’s only been in the United States since September. A far-from-modest $13,750 gets you aboard this Bavarian road baron, which boasts some of the most impressive specs of any e-scooter.  Continuous output is mild at 26 horsepower, but get on the throttle and the C evolution will jump to its 48-pony peak. The motor is a unit-swingarm design, much like a Vespa, where the powerplant pivots with the rear wheel. It’s liquid-cooled, and the battery tech  is actually shared with BMW’s i3 electric car. Curiously, both the C evolution and the i3 will do 0-60 in 6.8 seconds.

2018 BMW C evolution. BMW photo.

Downsides? It’s hefty at 606 pounds, speed’s limited to 80 mph, range is just 99 miles, and the design is already four years old. Also, it’s only available in Ionic Silver Metallic with Electric Green due to a law I’ve never seen, but I’m fairly sure exists, that requires all electric vehicles to display either bright green or blue to denote their eco-friendliness.

Somebody got paid to take a 600-pound scooter around a track. 2018 BMW C evolution. BMW photo.

A silver lining: The BMW C evolution has the most comfortable seat of any two-wheeled vehicle I’ve ever encountered, bar none. Overall, the C evolution is a vision of a luxurious electric reality that isn’t quite here yet, but that hasn’t stopped BMW from offering it anyway. And while the maxi-scoot is too high-end to really disrupt the market, it’s a testament to what’s possible if e-scoots catch on. If you’d like to see how they’re made, check out this strangely quiet but satisfying BMW factory video that I sometimes watch when I’m having trouble falling asleep.

Electric scooters to look forward to

Does anyone know scooters better than Vespa? It’s only natural the Italian original would get in on the e-scooter game, and that’s exactly why the Vespa Elettrica is the scooter I’m most excited about in this list. It also has the best name of the lot. Vespa has totally embraced the silence of electric scooters in their latest promo for the Elettrica, which is almost as eerie as the BMW factory. 

The Elettrica looks pure Vespa, and I think that’s its greatest asset. There’s nothing blatantly Utopiamobile about it. Parked in a row of scooters somewhere in Italy, it would look at home with its internal-combustion predecessors. The riding experience shouldn’t be drastically different either, which is why the Elettrica is a perfect example of why an electric scooter makes so much sense. Hear me out: Vespas are already twist-to-go city commuters that anyone could ride. People don’t expect them to be very fast or powerful (unless you’re a Vespa tuner or ripping around on a 350 GTS.) Instead, they’re simple, easy to operate, and ultra-photogenic.

2018 Vespa Elettrica. Vespa image.

Aside from the silent electric motor and charging instead of filling up, the Elettrica isn’t that far off from riding a modern gas Vespa, which should make it more attractive to potential buyers. Sure, the Elettrica only makes 5.3 horsepower, but that’s actually better than the Primavera 50 it’s based on! After 62 miles of going, Vespa says the Elettrica needs four hours to charge from a 220V outlet, but expect slower times in the United States, where 110V is standard. Range is doubled for the Elettrica X, a hybrid version packing a gas-powered range extender. Maybe that’s cheating, but it gives an Elettrica X even better range than the Beemer. No word on pricing yet, but I’m confident this is the model buyers will be most excited about in 2018.

A range extender is one way to solve the shortcomings of battery tech, but Honda’s approaching the problem from the other direction. The PCX Electric is Honda’s next step into electrification.

Obligatory "eco-blue." 2019 Honda PCX Electric. Honda image.

Based on the PCX 150 scooter, the PCX Electric uses a hot-swappable battery system to power a “Mobile Power Pack.” Gogoro has developed a very similar system. Instead of stopping to plug in and recharge, Honda’s betting on a network of charging stations that store racks of batteries at the ready. Drop off your depleted cells, exchange them for fresh ones, and off you go. They’re already testing the idea in Saitama, Japan.

Honda's power cells, in situ. 2019 Honda PCX Electric. Honda image.

By turning a battery problem into an infrastructure problem, Honda can make up for limitations in battery tech and potentially pave the way to widespread EV use. It’s coming to Asia for 2018, but no word on U.S. availability or pricing. Just in case you’re riding outside the battery station network, a PCX Hybrid is also slated for production.

Electric scooters have a long way to go in this country, but GenZe, BMW, Vespa, and Honda all see potential in the idea. Though their approaches are unique, the shared goal of electrified personal transportation is part of the same global conversation. 2018 may not be the year of the e-scooter, but as Bernard Shaw/Puck Magazine/Elbert Hubbard/Confucius said, “Those who say it cannot be done, are always being interrupted by somebody doing it.”