Are ‘microcars’ the way forward for shared mobility services and products?

Shared mobility as we all know has come a long way over the past decades. From conventional public transit buses to remote-controlled e-scooters, the space has forever been evolving to cover all aspects of transportation. Today the space is so dynamic in modes and business models, that almost every year there are innovative businesses springing out of cities around the world addressing even bespoke needs. In the global context, however, modes in shared mobility can be broadly fit under one of these: public transit, carsharing, bikesharing, scooter-sharing, moped-sharing, car(van)pooling (or ridesharing), and microtransit (on-demand shuttles).

Use cases and the resulting popularity of any mode in shared mobility always have had to check these priority boxes: convenience, speed, cost, and recently (outranking the other 3 since the pandemic) health concerns. Mobilizing people (individuals) over shorter distances has been the focus of micromobility (viz. Bikes, scooters). Cars have always been best suited for longer distances and with more than one rider and/or with a small cargo capacity. However, whether we call it the risk-averse or irrational decisions that most humans make, the reality isn’t exactly that. In most markets, cars (owned or shared) have single occupancy most of the time irrespective of the distance to be covered. Factors such as parking and zonal (e.g. city-center) restrictions seem to impact the decision to leave one’s car behind more.

Factors working against micromobility include perceived safety concerns with a 2 wheeler (sit or stand), the mobility culture of the market (Asia, Europe have had millions of moped riders over North America), and even demographics (considering ergonomics and physical comfort). There clearly is a gap that exists between micromobility and carsharing.

Enter microcars, a class of vehicles with a capacity for not more than 2 passengers and a little cargo hold, which offer the best of both worlds and coupled with the leverages of shared mobility can offer multi-stakeholder benefits. But, can these tiny microcars prove successful in filling the gap in urban mobility while upholding the sustainability aspect?

In this article you will read:

  • What the current market potential for microcars is and what current gaps in urban mobility they solve
  • How these vehicles stand to benefit not just users but also accelerate shared-electric (zero-emission) mobility initiatives for cities while saving costs for carsharing fleet operators
  • What factors pose a challenge to their full-scale roll-out in carshare fleets

Shared mobility evolution and where microcars fit in it

Carshare, well, has technically been around since 1948 as a small implementation in Zurich, Switzerland (first wave) but only got adopted outside of Europe (in the US) in the ’90s. Decades later bikesharing was introduced which was quickly followed by shared scooters, and since then the term micromobility. It has been evident that more innovative modes and business models have been added to the shared mobility space and evolving fast. With millions of trips being supported by micromobility and the millions of users being served by these modes, last mile connectivity has certainly improved. However, cities grow increasingly concerned and worried over the operating models of these services.