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About a car

that isn’t a car

The Bio-Hybrid is more than a vehicle somewhere between a bicycle and an electric car – it’s the missing link in future micromobility. From the end of 2020 on, the e-bike on four wheels is supposed to do no less than revolutionize urban transportation.

by Björn Carstens, Roland Löwisch and Volker Paulun  April 2019

By taxi the trip from the central station in Nuremberg to the headquarters of the young Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH takes ten minutes. The address is part of a former factory building: vintage red brick behind which people are busy designing mobility for tomorrow. The vehicle that everything in the modernly furnished facilities revolves around is omnipresent: as a model, as a full-scale prototype, as a drawing, and on monitors – a four-wheel pedelec with a roof. A mobility concept that still requires its drivers to pedal but that assists them with a 250-watt electric motor and provides the luxury of weather protection. A vehicle for which no driver’s license is necessary and that’s slim enough to travel on bicycle paths. A vehicle of a kind that doesn’t exist yet. To get the novelty rolling, the startup with its still small current staff of 15 is tackling three challenges at once: building an independent business, getting an all-new vehicle concept off the ground, and establishing a new market segment.

 

Challenge 1: building an independent business

 

Bio-Hybrid? Vehicle? Schaeffler? Wait a minute. Since when has the giant in the supplier business been building complete vehicles? This would indeed be an absolute first – with far-reaching implications that raise a number of questions such as: What about a consumer-­focused sales and support network? How can people’s enthusiasm be inspired for an attractive product with lifestyle appeal? Neither of these have answers that really fit a company with 92,500 employees that’s used to manufacturing product volumes in the 100,000 or million range, serving customers up to and including large conglomerates. By contrast, the mid-term plan for the Bio-Hybrid targets a production volume of “only” 10,000 units per year.

6 km/h (3.7 mph)

is the average speed of automobile traffic in Mexico City.

Bio-Hybrid employees Patrick Seidel, Dr. Alexander Schaub, and Dr. Simon Opel are working with a passion on getting their innovative pedelec ready for market launch

400 euros

per month is the average cost of ownership for a small car used as a delivery vehicle – up to ten times more than for a cargo bike.

Consequently, as the idea was maturing, it became clear that the 4-wheel pedelec would have to get off the ground elsewhere – in spite of having been born under the Schaeffler umbrella. Still, the people at Schaeffler did not want to entirely part with the Bio-Hybrid because, as a lighthouse project for the company’s pursuit of mobility for tomorrow, they’d become fond of it. The solution was to form a startup: Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH. “Actually, it’s more of a spin-off than a startup because we’ve emerged from within the Schaeffler Group,” says Jakub Fukacz, who’s responsible for PR and Marketing. The communication pro’s enthusiasm for the Bio-Hybrid project is instantly obvious when he welcomes us and then takes us on a spirited tour of the offices the startup has just moved into. An office area on the premises of the Schaeffler Group’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach was no option, as ­Fukacz explains: “We want to get a vehicle for urban mobility off the ground and that can best be achieved in an urban environment.” The parent company supports the process of cutting the cord so that the Bio-Hybrid idea can come to full fruition. “We have to communicate our own messages and ideas, address different target groups,” says Fukacz. It’s about communicating in other ways – more emotionally. The informal style in which Bio-Hybrid GmbH addresses visitors and prospective customers on its website and in social media is hard to imagine at Schaeffler, but has been deliberately chosen by the startup.

Start-up with dedicated

corporate desigN

 

At the end of 2017, Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH saw the light of day in the startup world. Although its “parent” is still part of its name, the young company operates autonomously and flexibly – with its own look & feel. That the team has ready access to the technology expertise of the Schaeffler Group is a major advantage.

In addition to the Bio-Hybrid product, it’s necessary to get the startup company itself off the ground: structures and processes have to be put in place, workflows defined, work schedules established. “Doing your job as an employee in an existing environment totally differs from building this environment from scratch,” says Gerald Vollnhals, CEO of the young limited liability company. “That alone would be an all-day challenge, but we more or less handle it on the side.” Rolling up your sleeves and taking action: the spirit of a startup!

 

Vollnhals is a startup pro, who launched his first business while he was still studying for his degree. In addition to fiber-optic networks and “Immobilienscout,” an online real estate platform, in 2009 he started a company for electric scooters that was responsible for the electrification of the German cult moped Schwalbe. Meister­werk Ventures, which is active in the field of medical device technology in Berlin, complements the portfolio of his business biography. So now it’s Bio-Hybrid. Vollnhals is an electric mobility enthusiast and has traveled a distance of 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) in his native Munich propelled by electric power. He’s convinced: “There’s no faster and better way to get from A to B in a city than by using an agile electric vehicle.”

 

Challenge 2: getting a new vehicle concept off the ground

 

The history of the Bio-Hybrid starts in the parent group in 2014. The challenge to be mastered back then and today: taking urban mobility to a new level. How can gridlock be prevented in growing cities? What does personal mobility look like, going forward? The answer the innovation drivers at Schaeffler come up with is an electric bicycle with weather protection and stowage space like the Renault Twizy, albeit without dependency on a charging column infrastructure and with greater agility in reduced-traffic areas. Voilà: the Bio-Hybrid. After countless discussions with government authorities, engineers, and potential consumers, it was clear: we’re going to pull this off. The key aspect in pursuing the project was to avoid a cardinal error that’s apparent in vehicles of similar categories: their rather plain and pragmatic look. “We found at the time that lifestyle and stylish design are important to people in the context of innovative mobility concepts. An all-new field for Schaeffler,” admits Bio-Hybrid chief strategist Patrick Seidel. For this reason the team enlists support for initial designs from a design school in Graz, Austria, early on. Finally, at a congress in April 2016, the first concept vehicle sees the light of day in the mobility world. “An emotional experience,” Seidel says, still filled with obvious enthusiasm today, even though not everything was perfect yet at the time. Since then, the megaproject has been picking up momentum and arrived at the offices in the heart of Nuremberg – al­beit far from having crossed the finish line. At least, though, a cargo version with high versatility has by now joined the original model for passenger transportation. At the beginning of 2019, the non-identical twins made their world debut as near-production prototypes at CES in Las Vegas, the world’s leading innovation show.

Due to the Bio-Hybrid’s uniqueness, almost every component is purpose-built, featuring a mix of passenger car and bicycle technology that in this respect combines the best from two worlds as well. Some of the required components can be picked from the diverse Schaeffler shelves, which is helpful. Others have to be supplied by external specialists. “We’re still in the process of exploring options,” says production manager Josef Hackner. In considering them, Hackner constantly liaises with his colleagues, including Dr. Simon Opel, who is responsible for development. In his specifications, Opel has underlined a particular word in bold font: safety. Fully laden, a Bio-Hybrid tips the scales at 300 kilograms (660 pounds), so it has to be strong enough to support this load. Although crash tests are not officially prescribed for pedelecs – and the Bio-Hybrid belongs to this category – Simon Opel has extensive simulation tests run on the computer. Offset impact, vibration tests, vehicle dynamics, curb crossings, and stress tests of individual components: every element is put through its paces countless times. In this respect, the Bio-Hybrid is more of an automobile than a pedelec. “As a Schaeffler subsidiary, we have a responsibility. We have to put safe vehicles on the road,” says Opel. The Bio-Hybrid is intended to clearly stand out from the competition as a benchmark both in terms of technology and quality. The team doesn’t mind that, consequently, the vehicle it’s pinning its hopes on may hit the market a little later than the competition. “Quality is more important than speed,” Opel promises.

 

Challenge 3: establishing a new market segment

 

The third playing field on which the Bio-Hybrid squad has to prove its prowess is introducing this new vehicle category to the markets. Secretly, its makers are hoping that “Bio-Hybrid” will become no less than a synonym for this vehicle category – like “Kleenex” for tissues or “Pritt Sticks” for glue sticks. But where are the markets? What customer segments could/should be targeted? Strategist Patrick Seidel points out: “To achieve the targeted production volumes, the Bio-Hybrid shouldn’t address a niche group, but a broad customer segment: hotels and delivery services, sharing companies, tradespeople or commuters. This is also the reason behind a Passenger and a Cargo version.” The Bio-Hybrid is planned to embark on its success journey initially in Europe, logically and preferably in big cities suffering from congestion, and primarily serving the business-to-business segment. This has the advantage of facilitating sales and support, which can be managed more centrally in this way. For the business-to-consumer segment, a close-knit network has to be established first. Initial ideas for this already exist as well. Half of the car dealerships contacted in a survey indicated that they could imagine selling the Bio-Hybrid. However, its makers are receptive to sales and support partners also from other sectors and are even actively looking for them.

 

Pricing is another key aspect. The price is oriented to the competition,” says CEO Vollnhals. “Electrified cargo bikes today cost between 8,000 and – with integrated cargo boxes – 15,000 euros. The Bio-Hybrid is planned to be priced in between.” In return, the customer will receive an innovative vehicle featuring sophisticated technology and styling that easily connects with digital worlds. Plus, on request, the car that isn’t a car will even be fitted with doors.

Our production target is a minimum of 10,000 units per year and we’re convinced that this business potential exists

Gerald Vollnhals,
CEO

Photo Credits Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH

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Start-up with dedicated corporate desigN

 

At the end of 2017, Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH saw the light of day in the startup world. Although its “parent” is still part of its name, the young company operates autonomously and flexibly – with its own look & feel. That the team has ready access to the technology expertise of the Schaeffler Group is a major advantage.

  •  

    The tires are custom-made. Rim size: 24 inches.

  •  

    Muscle power paired with electric assistance:
    Two electric motors on the rear wheels deliver output of 250 watts. Top speed (electrically assisted): 25 km/h (15.5 mph)

  •  

    The purpose-developed battery offers 50 km (31 mi) of range (100 km (62 mi) with second battery).

  •  

    Length/width/height:
    2,180 (2,595*)/855/1,530 mm.
    7.15 (8.51*)/2.8/5.0 ft.
    *Cargo

  •  

    Display or hooked-up smartphone: Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and 4G turn the Bio-Hybrid into a digital platform.

  •  

    Styling is a key consideration for the Bio-Hybrid.

Bio-Hybrid employees Patrick Seidel, Dr. Alexander Schaub, and Dr. Simon Opel are working with a passion on getting their innovative pedelec ready for market launch

400 euros

per month is the average cost of ownership for a small car used as a delivery vehicle – up to ten times more than for a cargo bike.

6 km/h (3.7 mph)

is the average speed of automobile traffic in Mexico City.