On Wednesday, Skip unveiled a new scooter model that’s “purpose built” for heavy fleet use. It’s the latest sign that the dockless scooter industry is intent on shoring up its losses by introducing more rugged vehicles that are safer to ride and last long enough to recoup their cost.
The original scooters deployed by companies like Skip, Bird, and Lime — mostly sourced from Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Segway-Ninebot — weren’t built for shared use, so they were prone to breakdowns, often within weeks of being rolled out. As they struggle to keep afloat, the startups have each rededicated themselves to building a better scooter. Bird and Lime each rolled out new vehicles they claim can last months in the field.
Skip is one of two companies authorized to operate in San Francisco as well as Washington, DC, San Diego, and Austin. In an interview, the company’s CEO, Sanjay Dastoor, said that the new S3 scooter’s modular design allows for easy repairs as well as reductions on wasted parts. “We end up throwing away less of the vehicle when something is damaged by wear and tear, or vandalized,” he said. “So the vehicle can last much longer.”
Dastoor couldn’t predict the length of the new scooter’s lifespan — a key metric in scooter unit economics — but he claimed that the S3 would prove its sturdiness in the field. “We’ve already seen a huge improvement in sustainability over the industry standard with the current model we have,” he said. “And this is going to take that to another level.”
The S3’s handlebars are much thicker than previous models, measuring about 24 inches and encased in a hard blue plastic. The deck is wider, and the 615Wh lithium-ion battery is swappable, meaning Skip’s team of freelance chargers can just replace it with a fully charged battery rather than move the entire scooter every night. Dastoor said he envisions people using electric bikes to transverse the city, swapping scooter batteries, rather than vans or trucks — which would have the added benefit in reducing the carbon footprint of Skip’s overall service.
Dastoor said the new scooter is more stable to ride than previous models, which should improve safety for riders. The scooter’s internal sensors monitor the battery as well as the functionality of other components, and they can quickly identify problems when they arise and upload that information to Skip’s servers.
The need to identify a malfunctioning battery arose for Skip earlier this year when one of its scooters in Washington, DC caught fire. The company grounded its fleet in both San Francisco and DC as it investigated the issue, and it only recently resumed operations.
Meanwhile, the scooter industry is getting smaller. Scoot, the other company authorized to operate in San Francisco, was recently acquired by Bird. The city had previously declined to award Bird a permit to operate scooters, but the acquisition of Scoot allowed Bird to sidestep that obstacle.
Dastoor said Skip plans to stay independent, even as many experts predict that money woes will force smaller scooter companies out of business. “If the hardware and the operating system works, well, these vehicles can be quite profitable,” he said.