VeloMetro: Bringing the velomobile to mainstream
Before Tesla or Nissan put their electric cars in showrooms, engineers Kody Baker, Jon Faille, and Sean Boyd had already designed and built a commercial electric car and electric drives for other internal combustion vehicles. Chartered Accountant and business executive John Stonier, was also out front in the electric car field, converting a Porsche Boxster to 100% electric prior to the availability of showroom cars. The four founders first met at Rapid Electric Vehicle Technologies in 2012, a Vancouver company pioneering electric drive automobiles. That business ultimately pivoted in another direction. Being in the electric car business is tough, and costs big money.
A year later, Kody and John met up to revisit opportunities for electric vehicles. They realized that cars, even electric cars, were massively overbuilt for the most common case of a single driver traveling around town. Was there another approach to urban mobility that had been overlooked? Was there a better alternative for commuting around urban and community cores, but still have an affordable personal vehicle you can use in any weather, by anyone? What would be the best business model to reach the most people affordably and with the most value to their daily lives?
Velomobiles, sometimes called velocars or human powered vehicles, had been around for almost as long as the emergence of the bicycle in the 1890’s. It was Charles Mochet that brought it to prominence in France in the 1930’s as a more efficient vehicle for cycling races with better aerodynamics and cycling position. Ultimately banned from racing for those advantages, the velomobile has since evolved as the ultimate three wheel cycle machine for enthusiasts for longer distances and the greatest efficiency.
Today, velomobiles are available with lightweight composite designs, and electric assist, but they all share the same characteristic: they are built for speed and efficiency, and not for ease of access or personal comfort. Essentially not practical for ordinary use as personal transportation.
In the fall of 2013, given the experience and passion for electric drive lines and vehicle design the Velometro founding team took the design challenge to make velomobiles mainstream. But it was the last question that filled the imagination of the founders. How do we reach the most people with our mainstream velomobile? In fact, the founders saw a solution that could potentially realize an even more audacious goal of the founders. Could we bring more people to electric vehicles, than any other company?
Since 1996 Vancouver has had a long standing car sharing program with Modo being the first car sharing cooperative in the English speaking world. Zipcar had arrived in 2006, but it was the arrival of car2go in 2011 that had put carsharing on the map. One-way carsharing provides the most value, and flexibility for users. The Vancouver car2go fleet outperformed any other North American city that Daimler had entered and the benefits of access to vehicles, over ownership became clear to the thousands of users.
Carsharing, was the answer Stonier, Baker, Faille and Boyd were looking for to leverage the value of each velomobile they would create. Enabling sharing of each and every vehicle became a key design consideration, and thus VeloMetro had its vision, design criteria, and its business model.
In order to keep the velomobile a power assisted cycle it was designed after an extensive survey of North American power assisted cycle regulations. With the completion of an alpha prototype in the summer of 2014, an open test platform to prove the functional drive capabilities, VeloMetro had its first feedback from users: they had never experienced such a sophisticated, fully suspended and stable ride like this.
This enthusiastic feedback is a result of the unique features and scrupulous design as created by VeloMetro engineers. An intelligent pedal drive system that takes away the exertion required for a cycle vehicle. Superior maneuverability with a tighter turning radius, better braking power, and good visibility with an upright seating position. Cadence (the speed of pedalling) automatically adjusts as you travel to a maximum speed of 32kmh (20mph) per regulation. In December 2014 VeloMetro registered a patent on its sophisticated drive system designed for cycled vehicles.
Communities and cities everywhere are building cycling infrastructure and making it less attractive to drive cars in urban cores. Some strategies include reducing the number of road lanes and increasing parking fees. Timing for the arrival of a new urban vehicle that is zero emission, energy efficient, and engaging to riders couldn’t be better. It coincides not only with increasing interest in cycling but also with the building of cycling lanes and bike ways in cities and communities everywhere.
Combining carsharing capability to the velomobile made this a powerful combination. The result will be VeemoTM a one-way, free floating sharing service that will debut in Vancouver later in 2016. VeloMetro’s velomobile and VeemoTM have had a warm reception from any civic governments that they’ve presented their idea to. Home City of Vancouver will be the company’s first third party pilot fleet as part of the Green Digital Demonstration Program. City staff will use the vehicles within various departments and provide feedback directly back to the company. Later in the year, a major university will be the location for a first public pilot for VeemoTM prior to commercial launch in the city of Vancouver.
Cascadian sister cities of Seattle and Portland are naturals for the expansion of VeemoTM. Both have strong cycling and carsharing followings. The prospect of true ‘modal shift’ is alluring to civic governments everywhere.
VeloMetro has ten staff members and is located in Strathcona, a vibrant neighbourhood just east of the downtown core of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bio John Stonier, CPA, CA
John is an entrepreneur, CPA/Chartered Accountant and business builder who has provided leadership to a wide spectrum of high tech Canadian companies over the last 30 years including leading edge companies in telecom, satellite communications, internet, renewable energy and SaaS software. He was an early electric car enthusiast long before they arrived in showrooms without waiting converted a Porsche to electric. Combining business strategy with his passion for applying technology to sustainable applications is what John loves to do, whether that be with advanced communications, solar energy, electric cars, or … velomobiles. Twitter @fullonelectric