Zachary Shahan, director & chief editor here at CleanTechnica, interviewed NIU International Director Joseph Constanty at Autonomy in Paris last year. Below is a rundown of the high-quality connected scooter company, the “Tesla of electric scooters.” NIU is reportedly the world’s top selling smart electric scooter.
Zachary leads into the discussion by jumping to the core question: “You have a hot electric scooter here, really really beautiful vehicle. We see news here and there about the different electric scooters — can you tell us 4 or 5 things that are particularly special, unique about your scooter, that sets it apart?’
Niu’s vital International Director jumps in. “Okay, Niu — we’re the largest smart scooter company in the world. Smart meaning connected. We’ve sold about 330,000* scooters globally. We use lithium-ion batteries that are removable from the scooter. Those batteries — our main supplier is Panasonic. Our motors are a hub-mounted motor from Bosch, and we’ve co-developed that with them.” [*The figure is now more than 430,000 sales globally.]
Zachary asks, “Maybe it actually works if you sit on the scooter a bit while we chat. … So the motor’s Bosch.”
Joseph expands, “we co-collaborated and designed the architecture of the removable battery.”
“18650 cells?” Zach asks. (That is the cell size that was originally used in Tesla vehicles, but Tesla now has a new size for the Model 3 that is a bit larger.)
Joseph confirms, “18650 cells. Typical battery has about 170, 180 cells in a single battery. The bike that I’m sitting on, the N, is a 1.8 kilowatt(-hour) battery, with a max output on the motor of 2.4 kilowatts. It’s got a range, a real city driving range from anywhere from about 55 to 70 kilometers depending on temperature, weight, things along those lines. And right now this is selling in about 400 points of sale across Europe.”
Zachary inquires, “And China as well?” (China is where Niu originates.)
Joseph responds, “China — we have 400 of our own retail experiences*, plus hundreds of others. So, in China we sold about 330,000 scooters give or take. In Europe right now we have about 5,000 scooters in the market … about 80% of that is already sold out.” [*The figure is now more than 570 franchise stores in China.]
Zach resumes, “You mentioned the range and the battery being lithium-ion from Panasonic, 18650. You mentioned to me a few moments ago that a lot of scooters in China use lead-acid. Is this also — are other markets also still using lead-acid?”
Joseph exclaims, “Yeah, even bikes you see in the show today, some of them are still using lead-acid.”
Zachary responds, “So how does that then set you apart with customers for …”
“Well, one, using a lithium-ion battery you’re then able to remove the battery and carry it up to your house to plug it in or carry it up to your office to plug it in for recharging. Clearly, for environmental purposes, lithium-ion is a bit cleaner than lead-acid. The other great part about the lithium batteries is the second life of those batteries. After they become, they need to be used for other purposes when not being used by the scooters anymore. So, from a lithium standpoint: mobility; also, the ability to use them for longer periods of time than lead-acid; and, most importantly, we can put it into our entire powertrain, with our BMS …”
Zachary continues, “So you’re selling them to private customers, private individuals of course, but also electric scooter sharing networks?”
Joseph responds, “Correct. Our main market right now globally is definitely B2C — so, selling through retail. We have a lot of inquiries from sharing companies around the world — Europe, US, Asia — and we are open to all possibilities.”
Zachary continues, “And if we’re looking at the bike here, how does that relate then?”
Joseph continues, “So, in terms of the bike for sharing, it’s a slightly different model than the B2C bike. What we’re looking at here is a B2C. For sharing, it would be a push-button start. For sharing, also, it’ll have a rear tailbox that’s electronically integrated, an electronically integrated seat as well.
“And most importantly, all of our bikes — B2C, B2B, and sharing — are all connected to the cloud. We have our own cloud sitting on Amazon Web Services in Germany. And all of that we apply an API with a software developer kit for any of the sharing programs to connect directly into.”
Zachary wants to know, “And how does your app work?”
Joseph rep believes, “Probably best is to show right here. The app itself — for iOS and for Android — for the B2C model, you can see where your bike is, you can see how much battery you have left and the estimated range based upon your driving, and a handful of other things as well.”
Zach wonders, “So what do you see as the biggest bottlenecks — I mean, scooters are a great city tool, city vehicle. In some cities and some countries, they are really popular. Others, they’re not. The thing I always wonder is what psychological factors are preventing that greater adoption.”
Joseph rep responds, “Well, I think — I’ll unpacked your question a bit. So, the first question is how do you get people scooting who are not used to scooting scooting? So, for example, America — really we are a car culture. So, getting people into the scooter is making them feel familiar and safe with the product — number one. Number two is you need to focus on the right markets. In, for example the United States, you’d be focusing in on San Francisco; New York; Austin, Texas; cities where you have a young millennial creative class type of customer base.
“In terms of Europe, getting people over to electric is taking them from petrol to electric, and the biggest barrier that’s stopping Europeans right now is really range anxiety. People are very, very worried that they’re going to run out of battery in the middle of nowhere. So, what we’re trying to help them understand — that this thing is going to get you, like I said, 55 to 70 kilometers on a single charge. The daily average use of a scooter is 15 to 20 kilometers. That means you have at least 3 or 4 days of riding.”
Zachary jumps in, “And then, like you said, you can take the battery out, take it inside, charge it.”
“Exactly,” Joseph confirms. “If you want to take the battery out — I’ll show you how it works.
“So, we have a double security. So first you unlock the seat, do a second unlock, and then we have the battery stored right here in the floor. So from here we just unplug … and take the battery out.”
“Boom,” Zach responds.
Joseph: “10 kilograms.”
Zachary: “So easy. And then you said you’ve got a smaller bike. …”
Joseph: “The other battery is an 8-kilogram battery, this is a 10-kilogram battery.”
Zach responds, “Well, looks great. Tomorrow we’ll be talking on a roundtable discussion at Autonomy here in Paris. Fascinated to get your views more in the discussion.”
“Happy to talk,” Joseph chuckles.
But that wasn’t the end. Zach caught up with Joseph later at Autonomy to continue with questions of financing.
“Can you say when you had the idea to get into this sector and then the different stages of funding for the company?”
Joseph explains, “So, the company officially launched in 2014. Raised venture capital in late 2015 and 2016. And then we did our first crowdfunding campaign in June of 2015, where we were online for about 2 weeks and we raised approximately $11 million, and then about a year and …”
Zach interrupts, “Kickstarter?”
Joseph responds, “No, JD — Jing Dong. So, using their crowdfunding platform, raising about $11 million a year. Basically, about a year later, we launched this bike that I’m sitting on, and we did about $13 million in crowdfunding for the second time. So, combined, about $24 million, making it [one of] the top six crowdfunding companies globally.”
Zachary smiles, “It’s crazy — top six! And in such a short period of time. The first one was two weeks and the second one was …”
Joseph nods and answers that it was again two weeks.
Zach expresses, “That’s insane. Yeah, so people just fell in love with this idea of a hot electric scooter …”
Joseph: “Well, I think it was a combination of something completely new in the market. More importantly, we’re selling a technology device. The millennial customer in China, they were looking for something they could actually connect and identify with, as opposed to some of the other products that were on the market.”
Zachary: “Boom. Well, congratulations. That’s a tremendous feat. I thought $24 million, maybe that was the top 500 — no, top six, you said.”
Joseph nods. “Top six. … Yeah, in terms of, for mobility, I don’t have all the facts, but I would say it’s probably number one or number two.”
Zachary asks, “And would you go back to that method again for future products?”
“We’re contemplating if for some international options,”Joseph notes.
Zachary leads, “It’s also just a good way to get a sense of how much demand there is, right?”
Joseph: “Yeah, for sure. We can sense demand — not just total market demand, we can isolate it down to city level, regional level. It actually helps us design a retail and future e-commerce strategy as well.”
Zachary thanks, “Well, thanks again, and congratulations again!”
NIU joined the NASDAQ last month, October 2018.