E-Z riding with MAHLE

More and more people are living in cities. As a megatrend, urbanization constitutes a new challenge for individual mobility. MAHLE has addressed this development and is systematically extending its range of powertrain solutions—with electric drives for scooters, for example. Hundreds of nimble two-wheelers powered by MAHLE are already on the roads of Barcelona. They are not only being used by tourists and private individuals, but also by professionals. The whisper-quiet electric scooter fitted with a MAHLE drive proves that it meets all urban mobility requirements for the city: it is flexible, reliable, and emission-free.

 

URBANIZATION—A GLOBAL MEGATREND

Whispers from the shadows: electric scooters with MAHLE technology.
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Growing global urbanization demands innovative solutions for an optimized vehicle mix. MAHLE is driving the trend toward increasingly efficient electrification in many sectors—for instance, with the development and production of environmentally friendly electric motors for scooters in the 50 to 125 cm3 power class.

While electrically powered scooters have long been part of the street scene in Asia, the majority of these vehicles are technically immature and barely stand a chance in the demanding European market. “Consumers expect high-quality vehicles that are in no way inferior to the competition and their combustion engines,” says Thomas Grübel from the Munich-based scooter manufacturer GOVECS. He goes on to explain why his company uses motors from MAHLE: “The maintenance-free unit is extremely reliable and fits our premium philosophy perfectly.” However, the price, charging times, and range of the batteries must be improved if they are to be used outside of city traffic. Iztok Spacapan, Head of Development at MAHLE Letrika, maps the route toward the future: “The current 3.3 and 6 kW models are now to be superseded by motors with 10 to 14 kW.” An intermediate step, he emphasizes—because the engineers at Letrika are already developing the following generation, with 20 to 25 kW.

WHISPERING NEW MOBILITY

“Frrrrrr…” is all you hear from the gleaming white scooter that hotel director Alexis Carbonell uses to ride to his workplace each day. If the wintry beach promenade in the Catalan seaside resort of Sitges were not so unusually empty, you wouldn’t even hear it at all. “We want to set an example and use environmentally friendly transport,” explains Carbonell. What’s more, the scooter is very practical because you can hardly get through the narrow alleyways of Sitges with a car, and finding a parking place in winter, even with relatively few tourists, is a chore. Carbonell’s whispering scooter is a pan-European mobility product. The manufacturer, GOVECS, is headquartered in Munich/Germany and produces these high-quality, robust two-wheelers in Wroclaw/Poland, where the capacity has been expanded to 20,000 units per year in the summer of 2015. The MAHLE motor, which is produced in the Slovenian town of Šempeter pri Gorici, ensures the ride is quiet.

THE COOLTRA FLEET

However, the electric scooter’s greatest success to date is currently coming from Barcelona/Spain. It was there ten years ago that the German Timo Bütefisch came up with the brilliant idea that a scooter rental business is bound to succeed in this two-wheeler stronghold. His company Cooltra—the name stands for “cool transport”—is meanwhile successfully represented in twelve Spanish cities on the mainland, as well as in the Balearic and Canary Islands. Nevertheless, Bütefisch had further ambitions: in a second step, he also wanted to offer environmentally friendly scooters alongside conventional ones. Since 2012, the Cooltra fleet on the Spanish streets has more than 500 electric scooters in addition to the classic two-wheelers with combustion engines. Their power classes correspond to the conventional 50 and 125 cm3 scooters.

“As with electric vehicles, the crux here is still the battery,” explains Jonathan Dörflinger, who is pushing ahead with this particular two-wheeler drive issue at MAHLE. In terms of the overall costs, the energy storage systems are still a significant factor. Furthermore, the cruising range is limited and it takes a few hours until the scooter is fully charged again. “This is more of a psychological factor than a genuinely limiting one,” comments Cooltra managing director Bütefisch from experience. This particularly applies to urban areas. Most of the stretches there are in fact no more than 20 kilometers, whereas a fully charged scooter can manage at least 80 kilometers. And the latest generation of batteries even allows a cruising range of 120 kilometers.

Valerio Motta is among those who push the electric scooter to its limits every day. The 31-year-old runs a pizzeria in Vilanova i la Geltrú, about 50 kilometers south of Barcelona. The “Bella Italia” restaurant also offers home deliveries. “We make a good dozen deliveries every evening. This amounts to 80–90 kilometers in total,” explains the restaurateur. It was a bit close at times, but it has never yet run out of charge. Motta praises the reliability of the electric scooter: “It’s perfect for us. You don’t need any fuel, can get virtually anywhere, and you also can’t hear us when we bring someone a pizza late at night. This saves hassle with the neighbors.”

Despite its obvious advantages, the electric scooter has still not taken off in Europe. This is largely due to consumer expectations. While electric scooters in Asia are now perceived as a perfectly normal introduction to mobility, in the developed markets the two-wheelers still need to assert themselves against the established competition with combustion engines. The millions of susceptible cheap models flooding the Chinese market don’t stand a chance when it comes to the discerning European customers. “Consumers expect high-quality vehicles that are just as good as the competition with combustion engines,” explains Thomas Grübel, who founded the Munich-based scooter manufacturer, GOVECS, together with Nicholas Holdcraft in 2009. They have therefore also opted for a drive solution from MAHLE. “The maintenance-free unit is extremely reliable and perfectly fits our premium philosophy,” comments Grübel.

“We are well able to meet the expectations of GOVECS because we are building on our extensive experience with electric drives for work machines such as forklifts, which also need to achieve high performance at low voltage,” explains MAHLE project manager Dörflinger. From the perspective of a large industrial group, the market for electric scooters is currently nothing more than a niche. “But we must not forget that urbanization is a global megatrend, which is generating many new mobility concepts. So it is only a matter of time before the demand for electric scooters and related vehicles will rise considerably,” says Dörflinger.

Meanwhile, they are already working on the next powertrain generations, confirms Iztok Spacapan, Head of Development at MAHLE Letrika in Šempeter pri Gorici/Slovenia: “Motors with 10 to 14 kilowatts are now expected to succeed the current 3.3 to 6 kilowatt models.” However, this is merely an intermediate step. MAHLE Letrika has already started working on drives with an output of 20 to 25 kilowatts (34 HP). “These motors will then have an operating voltage of up to 350 volts instead of the customary 48 volts,” explains Spacapan. And the drives will be cooled with liquid and no longer with air. For the new generation of motors that are to come on the market by 2020, Spacapan is expecting a huge improvement in the battery performance: “Future lithium-sulfur batteries will have an energy density of 500 watt hours per kilogram. That is twice as much as today’s batteries.” E-mobility is thus evolving rapidly.

In Barcelona today, the electric scooter can already easily keep pace. The motor responds quickly—as an electric vehicle, it reacts immediately with consistently high torque—making it easy to snake past the congested traffic in the evening rush hour. Barcelona’s high volume of traffic and maze of narrow alleyways make scooters and motorcycles particularly popular here. And they are, of course, part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The range of products available is correspondingly broad and the expectations toward two-wheelers high.

Ignacio Ferrer is a typical example of this discerning clientele. Attired in suit and tie, the senior development engineer uses his electric scooter for the daily commute to work. He could have naturally bought a conventional scooter. “But I work in the automotive industry and am fascinated by this innovative two-wheeler concept.” At first, he rented a scooter from Cooltra. In the meantime, he drives through Vilanova with his own two-wheeler. “I feel a little bit like a pioneer,” says the manager and smiles proudly.

Hotel director Alexis Carbonell also felt like a pioneer to start with. The scooter has since become somewhat of a trademark signature for the San Sebastian hotel. “Not only can we emphasize our ecological orientation with it, but we are also listed in the relevant guidebooks,” he proudly reports. The guests are showing such great interest in the whispering scooter that Carbonell now wants to buy a fleet for his hotel. “We will then expand our program to include the use of electric scooters.”

Cooltra in Barcelona is also on course for expansion. “We have already established branches in Milan, Rome, and Paris,” reports sales manager Damián Martin. As in Spain, they initially want to rent the scooters to companies in France and Italy on a monthly or yearly basis. Because in Martin’s experience, these customers tend to focus on the overall costs and quickly realize that the operating costs are considerably lower than two-wheelers with combustion engines.

Cooltra CEO Bütefisch has been pushing ahead with yet another project for some months. From March 2016, a smartphone app not only makes it possible to locate the nearest available scooter, but also to book it online and use it all over Barcelona. This free-floating model is the first of its kind for scooters in Europe, and with 500 scooters also the largest worldwide. “This is perfect when you need to get a few blocks down the road quickly,” says Bütefisch, CEO of Cooltra. “But it is also an interesting alternative for tourists who want to explore the city by themselves. This is modern mobility in urban areas.” He has already prepared the expansion plans for this environmentally friendly electric scooter rental model for other European cities. The scooters equipped with MAHLE electric drives are thus well on the way to whispering their way out of the niche.

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