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The observation of the week explores Wombi’s recent US launch with Dan Carr. This week’s featured vehicles are a two long-tail cargo bikes and an affordable commuter.
Observation of the Week
Discussing Wombi’s US launch with Dan Carr
Ebike subscriptions are a game-changing business model that bundle vehicles and services at affordable price points and offer a lower barrier to entry for riders, particularly those new to micromobility. After launching what is now one of the largest ebike subscription fleets in the world, Australian startup Lug+Carrie recently announced its expansion to the US under its sister-brand Wombi. On this week’s Flywheel, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Carr, Founder & CEO of Lug+Carrie and Wombi, about Wombi’s launch in LA. Please welcome Dan:
“Could you start off by giving us a quick primer on your background and on Lug+Carrie?”
“Of course! My background is in vehicle and asset financing, and my co-founder and brother Ben Carr is a transportation expert that has done work in public transportation, ride sharing, and eventually designing and manufacturing electric scooters.
Lug+Carrie was founded on two key insights that came from a bunch of conversations that Ben and I had about the Light Electric Vehicle market.
The first insight is that the electric cargo bike, from a product category perspective, is quite mature in terms of its applicability and the people who could use it.
The second insight is that even though the electric cargo bike is a game changing product that allows many more trips to be done than could previously be done by any other form of light electric vehicle, its takeup was low and it was focused on by a relatively niche distribution network and market. Given the experience in vehicle fleets procurement, financing, and fleet management that we both had in our careers, we noticed the need for a new distribution model.
When I say distribution model, I mean both sales and service that can really support and encourage the adoption. If you want to displace car trips, you have got to level up to the types of sales and service that the car industry has. So, taking that as a signal, we set out to build a product that is more electric cargo bikes-as-a-service that bundles in all the service offerings that are required for those vehicles.”
“At what point did you realize that the Lug+Carrie model was working in Australia, and when/why did you decide to expand to the US?”
“We launched publicly in Australia in February 2020 and started with ~100 cargo bikes. That was an interesting time to launch because, by that time, we were under very restricted trading conditions due to COVID. But, I think the rate at which those first hundred bikes moved out the door and the type of people they were moving to validated to us that cargo bikes as a market could be many multiples of what it was before. Ben often talks about the moment where he delivered a bike to somebody in a middle Australian suburb with a family who had some very typical use-cases around what they would use a cargo bike for, and we started to notice that they were very representative of a massive segment people in the market. Ben and I did every sales call and every handover/delivery for the first 200 bikes, and this proved to be very insightful market research that validated that there’s a lot of people out there with needs suited to cargo bikes.
After that first year, we talked about where we should expand to. We talked about the UK, Europe, and the US, and we ultimately felt that US cities share a lot of similarities with the cities that we are live in Australia in terms of their topography, density, and their embedded car cultures with a lack of alternatives.
For example, Sydney is not known as a cycling friendly city, but it's becoming one through both people's need and desire to get around in a different way and through public policy that’s responding to that need. LA felt very similar to Sydney. Our impressions during our first week of biking LA properly was that it's actually quite pleasant if you've got someone to coach you on how to do it. You can have a very practical and enjoyable cycling experience in LA, but you kind of “have to be in the club” and know the tricks. That sounds a lot like Australian cities, where you have somebody who helps you join the club and you learn the practical and fun ways to get around your city, and then all of a sudden, you're a cyclist. That was coming across when we explored LA as a market and spoke to bicyclists in the area.
There’s also a fair amount of regulatory tailwinds in the US with constituents looking for change, as much as if not more than in Australia. So in total, you have a strong baseline of momentum from a bikeability and public support perspective. You also have good early adopters here, but most of the bikes being ridden are for leisure. We want to come in and focus on more practical everyday riding that is also safer and higher quality.”
“Why did you pick LA as your first US market as opposed to other US cities like NYC or San Francisco that are more dense and arguably more bikeable?”
“For us, our product is catalytic and we wanted to maximize the impact Wombi could have. We picked LA because it has genuine transportation challenges that make biking harder than in denser cities. But, despite its challenges, there’s still actually several structural elements that give LA the potential to be a very bikeable city. It is still reasonably dense with big swells of population movement, the weather is great 300 odd days of the year, and, perhaps most importantly, there's a lot of streets with low speed limits that are often empty or have very few cars.
That last point was particularly important for us. In Australia, we noticed that we were very popular in suburbs that had low-speed corridors even though their bicycle infrastructure was from the early 2000s. There’s a lot of these types of corridors or secondary roads in LA that are spacious and often have a 25mph or less speed limit.”
“Could you give an overview of the Wombi product? What are the different options of vehicles, subscription plans, services, etc.?”
“We offer two formats of e-cargo bikes, both of which are Terns because they’re products we know well and love a lot given our experience with them in Australia. We're launching with the Tern Quick Haul priced at $99/month and the Tern GSD priced at $150/month. The Quick Haul is the light option that is the same weight as a commuter but is much more competent and can really haul stuff. It’s perfect for replacing Uber trips, grocery store runs, carrying your dog, etc., but it can also be accessorized to carry your 10 year-old to school. The Tern GSD is the game changing, midtail cargo bike that still has a small profile but is designed for heavy cargo and shareability. It’s a great family vehicle that enables multiple passengers or much higher cargo. This model is adopted predominantly by families with a couple children, but also individuals who might want to carry their partner with them.
The next part of the offering is the flexibility around accessories. A lot of new riders don’t know what accessories they might need for their use-case, so we offer several bundles for different use-cases that you can easily swap in and out of your subscription.
The last part of the offering is servicing and maintenance, which is included in the subscription price. If your bike needs servicing, we’ll come to you or you’re welcome to bring it to our store. We'll also include roadside assistance that's provided by us and a service provider. If you have a breakdown and you're a long way from home, you and your bike will be rescued and we’ll get you home. This feature has been especially well received, and its one of the ways we’ve tried to match the types of services people are used to with cars.
At the end of the day, what we’re offering customers is flexibility and simplicity. Subscriptions are a flexible lease that can easily be cancelled, come with services and accessories, and simplify all the things you need to think about by combining them into one package. What we hear a lot from customers is that buying an ebike has a lot of decision making challenges. Ebikes are expensive up front, its hard to know how real the payback/TCO savings are, and the cash down is expensive if you make the wrong choice. New customers don’t have the heuristics to make that decision. Whereas if you’re in the market for a new car, you likely already have a car that you can evaluate the new car against. Offering customers the flexibility of a cancelable subscription eliminates those decision making challenges that often prevent them from buying an ebike altogether.”
“How did you select the vehicles for your fleet?”
“Launching with just Tern bikes is a deliberate choice. Terns have a high level of shareability, they’re highly reliable, and they have a small format that works well in smaller buildings and is less cumbersome for smaller riders. Whilst we could introduce other formats of cargo bike like larger front loaders or trikes, for now we wanted to keep the fleet streamlined to simplify maintenance and other operations as much as possible.”
“How do you think about subscriptions vs. ownership? I can appreciate a lot of the flexibility and upfront affordability that subscriptions offer. However, what happens when people figure out what configuration works for them? Do you see them “graduating” out of the subscription?”
What we see in our customer base is that within the first three months, people are evaluating a lifestyle or evaluating a product and they might want a path to ownership. Beyond those three months however, what we actually see is a very loyal customer base that values both the service and the price point they can get it at. As these riders get a better sense of the TCO, they start to value the maintenance and insurance services so highly that the subscription price is still very much worth it.
We often have second-time ebikers coming to us who have had a poor product experience with a short lifecycle ebike and have learned what the TCO of these vehicles really is. They typically find the subscription to be worth it for the services alone.
We do also give people a path to ownership if they so choose, and we’re starting to roll out à la carte servicing options for these customers.
“That’s a great segue into my final question. How does the secondary market play into your operations? How do residual values factor into your pricing and vehicle selection?”
“The used market is an exhibit of a well functioning vehicle market, and ebikes are early in the maturity curve in that regard. In the early days, Ben and I very much believed that accessing quality product that has a great secondary lifespan with a second or a third owner was a market need that needed to be fulfilled. Vehicles that go through vehicle fleets are a large portion of the used vehicles that are sold, and people love buying them because they give access to products at lower price points. We're excited to be able to put quality, well-maintained product into the market at two or three years and compete with, what we think, are vehicles that don’t offer as good of an experience as what our vehicles do.
The interesting thing about bicycles is the very high consumable nature of their parts that get replaced and maintained at relatively low cost. Couple that with the service lifespan of a Bosch powertrain and the high-quality of Tern bikes, and you're looking at more and more affordable quality vehicles getting on the road that have plenty of life remaining. A mature secondhand market is a further catalyst for people to adopt the category.
“Thank you so much for your time Dan. Any final thoughts?”
The thing we love about the subscription model is that we're 100% aligned with somebody's success in terms of becoming a cyclist or riding a bike for their trips. If they don't transition to riding the bike regularly, they're probably not going to pay us that next month and they're going to want to give the bike back. So we're heavily incentivized to make sure that they do realize those cycling dreams and become a part of the club, so to speak.
We’ll be headquartered in Culver City, but we’ll be available in the broader LA area. We’re super excited about this launch and have great ambitions for what this means for cargo bikes and cycling in the US. Our first goal? Increasing the cycling participation in Culver City/West LA by 50% in a year.
To learn more about Wombi, check them out here.
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Featured Vehicles of the Week
The Velotric Packer 1 is an affordable class-2 longtail cargo bike with features that belie its price. Its powertrain features a 75Nm rear hub motor and a 692Wh battery pack. While the Packer 1 is limited to 20mph out of the box, it actually has an off-road mode that lets it hit speeds up to 25mph. Both the Packer 1’s battery and its entire drive system are UL certified, which is extremely rare for ebikes retailing for <$2K. The Packer 1 also has an industry leading 440lbs payload capacity, and its chassis is designed such that the vehicle is still highly maneuverable even when fully loaded. Its lopsided wheel configuration where the front wheel (24”) is larger than the rear wheel (20”) gives riders a large attack angle to get over bumps while keeping cargo low to the ground, and its suspension fork helps smoothen rides. Additionally, there’s several other thoughtful design additions to the vehicle that make it highly practical for cargo hauling, such as the sturdy frame-integrated rear rack, a Y-kickstand, built-in lighting, and a rich custom accessory ecosystem. The Packer 1 also has great software functionality. Its Apple FindMy integration is an excellent theft-protection tool that seamlessly syncs with your iPhone, and its walk mode is a useful feature to push the vehicle when storing/repositioning it. This listing is practically new with a mileage of only 2mi. Listing can be found here.
The Aventon Level.2 is an affordable class-3 commuter and an upgrade to their most popular model. Its powertrain features a 50Nm geared rear hub motor and a 720Wh battery pack. One of the most notable improvements that the Level.2 offers is its torque sensor, which significantly improves the smoothness and intuitiveness of the pedal assistance and is rarely found on budget ebikes (<$2K). To further enhance the rideability, the Level.2 also has an 8-speed transmission and a front suspension fork. The vehicle even comes standard with must-have commuter accessories directly integrated into the frame (i.e. lighting, fenders, and racks). Despite all of this hardware included on the vehicle, the Level.2 is still lighter and more maneuverable than most other ebikes and only weighs ~50lbs. Lastly, because of Aventon’s substantial physical retail presence around the country, their ebikes are very easy to maintain and service. Retailing for ~$1.8K, the Level.2, like all of Aventon’s other models, is remarkably competent yet still very accessible. It’s no surprise that the brand has developed a strong reputation for building high-performance and high-value vehicles. This listing is a floor model at an LA bike shop with only 82mi, and it comes with a 1yr in-store warranty. Listing can be found here.
The Pedego Stretch is a highly customizable class-2 cargo bike. It’s distinguished by its distinctive chassis, which fuses Pedego's signature cruiser rider positioning with integrated racks to make the vehicle ultra comfortable and give it a high payload capacity of 400lbs. The rear rack is also modular and is comprised of a series of detachable tubes, which allows it to be easily configured for added length, expanded width, or even a second rear passenger. Additionally, the Stretch has smaller 24” wheels to give it a low center of gravity and great maneuverability while still maintaining a high attack angle for getting through bumps and potholes. Its powertrain features a 40.5Nm rear hub motor and a 624Wh battery pack. While this motor is modest compared to other cargo bikes, the Stretch’s throttle is a notable feature that is rare for cargo bikes but unbelievably important when you’re trying to use a cargo bike as a minivan replacement and haul in real-world situations. This listing has a mileage of 669mi and comes with ~$600 in add-ons, including rear passenger accessories and Pedego’s throttle adapter which upgrades it from a twist throttle to a thumb throttle. Listing can be found here.
That’s it for this edition. Thanks again for joining, see you next week!
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