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Gogoro starts an electric scooter-sharing program in Berlin

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Cheap and clean crosstown rides

Gogoro

Gogoro is bringing 200 of its stylish all-electric scooters to Berlin. Starting today, anyone over 21 with a valid driver’s (or motorcycle) license will be able to rent one of the scooters as part of a new scooter-sharing program. Gogoro — which was created by former HTC chief innovation officer Horace Luke, and has some serious financial backing from companies like Panasonic — is starting the program in partnership with Coup, a new subsidiary of electronics giant Bosch.

Customers will have the option of paying €3 for 30 minutes of riding or €20 for a full day (about $3.40 and $22.50, respectively). Basic insurance will be included as part of the cost thanks to a partnership with "a leading German insurance brand," according to Urs Rahne, the strategic director behind the Coup service. The companies could offer more comprehensive add-on coverage if there’s demand, Rahne says.

Gogoro first unveiled its slick-looking scooter at CES in 2015. The electric two-wheeler can go up to 60 miles per hour (96 km/h), has a digital dashboard, and a phone app that controls customizable sounds and lights. But the highlight is that the scooters use a clever battery-swapping system that lets customers grab fresh batteries from kiosks stationed around the city (or, sometime soon, a home charger).

It's just a rental program — for now

The move into Berlin marks the first time that Gogoro has expanded outside of its home country of Taiwan, where it launched last year. There are some important differences with the way things will work in Berlin, though. In Taiwan, Gogoro customers buy the scooters and pay what amounts to a membership fee to gain access to the battery-swapping stations. In Berlin, that model gets thrown out the window for something that more closely resembles a sharing service like Car2Go or Zipcar.

The program will work simply enough. First, riders will need to download the app and punch in their driver’s license info. From there, they pull up a map and find the nearest scooter. After selecting and paying for the scooter, the rider can grab a helmet out of the trunk (which is electronically locked) and drive away.

This means the scooters will be accessible to a wider range of customers than they are in Taiwan, and it also demonstrates that Gogoro plans to employ multiple business models as the company tries to expand its reach around the globe. This is also where Coup comes in. Coup sounds a lot like Scoot Networks, a budding electric scooter-sharing service in San Francisco. But instead of requiring riders to finish their trip by docking the scooter at a designated station, Luke says you’ll be able to leave them anywhere within the four neighborhoods involved in the pilot: Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg.

There also won’t be any Gogoro battery-swap stations in Berlin, either — at least at the outset. Instead, Coup will send out employees to swap the batteries of any parked scooter that has a battery level below 20 percent within 6–12 hours. In the meantime, the scooter will disappear off the map in the app, preventing customers from renting it and winding up with a low battery. The scooters will also be periodically checked by the same team for damage and cleanliness.

The program will start with just 200 scooters and no battery swapping stations

That still sounds like a good way to stir up range anxiety, though both Luke and Rahne don’t think it will be a problem. Rahne expects most rides to last under 10 kilometers (six miles), and considers low-battery situations to be "edge cases." And since the scooters in Berlin will be speed-limited to 45 kilometers per hour, or about 28mph, they’ll have a range of up to 80 kilometers when fully charged.

Luke also hinted that, once Gogoro and Coup have battery-swap stations up and running, there might be discounts available to riders who swap new batteries in before leaving a scooter. He referenced how Car2Go users in Amsterdam get a discount on their drive if they plug an electric vehicle back in at the end as an example. "I can’t disclose exactly how we’re doing it with Coup," Luke says, "but you can imagine something like that that can incentivize users to help you optimize the network and optimize the vehicle."

Berlin wasn’t originally supposed to be Gogoro’s first big expansion; the company said late last year that it was planning to launch a network of scooters and charging stations in Amsterdam sometime in the first half of 2016. The rollout of that project has since been delayed, though Luke says the company is still working on it "and other unannounced cities."

As for the company’s presence in its home country, Luke says the first year has gone extremely well. Gogoro has sold more than 10,000 scooters since it launched in Taiwan last August, and those riders have already logged nearly 20 million kilometers. The company has also installed 225 battery-swap stations which account for about 7,000 swaps per day. The company is already looking at expanding into more cities south of the capital in Taipei, he says, and the network is expanding at a pace of one battery station per day.

Until now, Luke has spoken about expanding Gogoro to other cities by replicating this model — a plan that is obviously at the mercy of the company's ability to build out the battery-swapping infrastructure, and the willingness off municipalities to allow that to take place. It's been the most prohibitive part of Gogoro's plan since we first learned about the company over a year ago. But if Gogoro can find success with the scooter-sharing program in Berlin, it would provide the company with a second business model that might be easier for cities to adopt, and one that would let Gogoro start small in more new places.