25 Mar 19

Car makers explore bicycle solutions for last mile

The humble bicycle has forced its way into the plans of vehicle manufacturers as they seek zero emission solutions for congested city streets.

Where once the philosophy of ‘four wheels good, two wheels bad’ applied (to paraphrase George Orwell), now two-wheel transport is clean, nimble and convenient for urban transport.

This week Peugeot has launched eight new e-bikes, sold through bike shops rather than car dealerships. The bikes are powered by the 500W BOSCH PowerTube battery, which can speed even the least fit rider uphill and make city cycling an effortless way to travel. Prices range from €3,199 to €4,199, sums which would pay for hundreds of Uber rides.

Arguably more interesting for company car drivers is Peugeot’s folding eFO1 (pictuted above), an electric bike launched last summer as an integrated mobility solution with the new Peugeot 5008. The bike fits neatly in the car’s boot, where there’s a mobile charging dock, and has a range of 28 to 40km, which makes it an ideal solution for drivers who have no parking space at their workplace. Instead, they can park out of town and ride the last miles to work.

In Germany, Ford and Deutsche Bahn Connect are working on a bike sharing scheme in Cologne and Dusseldorf. The manufacturer has made 3,200 FordPass bicycles available via the Call a Bike app and service.

At the programme’s launch, Wolfgang Kopplin, deputy chairman, Ford of Germany, said, the bike sharing project was another step on the manufacturer’s strategy to expand into mobility services.

“It will enable us to supplement transportation systems in the cities with a completely pollution-free component and provide an environmentally friendly, and low-cost service for increasing numbers of customers,” he said.

Ford is also trialling the integration of courier bikes with its ‘warehouse on wheels’ concept, a fleet of light commercial vehicles which will synchronise with pedestrian and bike couriers. The manufacturer claims that one van and a team of four couriers on foot or bicycle could deliver the same number of parcels as five individual vans when working as part of a multi‑modal network.

Tom Thompson, project lead, Ford Mobility, said, “For the last mile of a journey into an urban area, where congestion and lack of parking can be a challenge, it makes sense to offload deliveries to more nimble, efficient and cost‑effective modes of transport.”

This approach has already secured the support of Transport for London, which is responsible for all modes of travel in the British capital.

“Congestion and poor air quality are some of the biggest challenges the city faces,” said Michael Hurwitz, director of transport innovation, Transport for London. “More last‑mile deliveries made in this way, alongside the growth of micro‑consolidation centres, are essential to tackle the pollution problem and keeping the roads moving. Ford’s harnessing of technology to change the model for supplying homes and businesses should be applauded and is an example for others in the sector to follow.”

Volkswagen is another manufacturer with its eye on the last mile market, and will launch the three-wheel Cargo e-Bike (pictured above) later this year. The bike has a self-levelling platform at the front to keep loads stable and horizontal, with space for a 0.5 m3 storage box. The Cargo’s maximum payload (including rider) is 210kg, and it’s powered by a 250 watt motor capable of 25kmh and a range of up to 100km, depending on the load it is carrying. Importantly, it can be ridden without either a driver's licence or insurance.

These new developments of bikes and e-bikes are very different from car manufacturers’ previous experiments with bicycle design. Their former two-wheeled creations verged towards vanity projects, such as Aston Martin’s partnership with Storck to produce the superlight Fascenario.3 (pictured above), with an eye-watering €18,000 price tag. BMC’s Impec Lamborghini may have been a lot cheaper than one of the Italian supercars, but at €25,000 it was never going to be a big seller. And when Specialized teamed up with Formula One’s McLaren team to develop a magnificently aerodynamic special edition Venge racing bike, buyers needed a Monte Carlo salary to pay for it.

Authored by: Jonathan Manning