Fringe Benefits

We’ve been feeling increasingly that right now, we are living through an automotive Cambrian Explosion, a time when an extraordinary number of new types of vehicle are being created. We know that not all of these will survive – the bar to entering the automotive market has long been punishingly high – but even those that perish will more than likely leave a mark, shaping the survivors in ways that we can only begin to imagine right now.

With this in mind, we have been interested to see that some of the most thought-provoking automotive ideas of the last few months are from relative newcomers to this scene. A case in point is the Biomega SIN, a quadricycle concept from the Danish bike company that seats four people in a stylish, minimalist – some might say no-frills – package. It’s a beguiling concept but one that will have to work hard to find its market – at €20,000 the SIN will have plenty of competition from the next generation of electric cars, most of which will offer far more in the way of functions, features and comfort. If the SIN can’t offer any of these or the traffic-beating narrowness of an ebike, it will need another USP.

Another contender from Scandanavia is UNITI, who have announced the Uniti One, a tandem, 2-seat, electric city car. The One is about the same size as a Renault Twizy – another vehicle that sits right at the edge of the motoring mainstream and one that also offers the same bicycle-built-for-two tandem layout. Whilst the exterior of the Uniti One features many cues familiar to mainstream car design, the Swedish company is obviously working hard to define shared mobility service models and collaborations with partners such as E-On that can give it a unique position in the market. As is the case with Biomega, it is clear that there has to be a compelling need for difference, a need unmet by existing vehicle architectures and service models.

Concepts such as these two and the entrance of car companies such as VW, Seat, GM and Ford into the scooter, bike and mobility market suggest that in this new Cambrian era, the clear boundaries between cars and bikes are getting blurred. Hopefully, this cross-pollination will benefit everyone and the renewed competition will prompt the incumbents to be bold with their product offerings. Many automotive brands have their roots in the bicycle industry or have produced limited ranges of bikes as leisure products alongside their cars; it would be great to see these becoming an integrated part of a coherent, multi-modal service.

In the same way that the biodiversity resulting from the Cambrian Explosion created a vibrant, sustainable ecosystem that was vital in supporting human life; if we are to maintain our 21st Century lifestyles, we are going to need transport diversity – a broad spectrum of mobility solutions, providing a wide variety of options, for many different needs. Maybe some of the new automotive players are evolutionary dead-ends but maybe, just maybe, their very existence benefits us all in the long run.