Christoffer Sveder got interviewed by Wallpaper, about the future of urban mobility, connectivity requirements of urban vehicles in the 21st century and about the Zbee, Clean Motions ultra light, electric vehicle and shared urban mobility pod.
“The business model is focused around sustainable mobility with fleet sales to professional ‘last mile’ operators like taxi and shared vehicle fleets, as well as delivery of goods and urban service providers. The vision is to offer clusters of Zbees as a mobility package including connected services. We want to create an affordable, efficient e-mobility solution that is so needed in today’s world.”
-Christoffer Sveder, Commercial director at Clean Motion
Wallpaper is a TI Media publication focusing on design and architecture, fashion, travel, art, and lifestyle. The magazine was launched in London in 1996).
What is the story behind Clean Motion?
Answer: Clean Motion was founded over a decade ago by Göran Folkesson our CEO, alongside his father Hans Folkesson, a former Volvo chief technology officer and the current chairman Niklas Ankarcrona. Our mission was to develop the most energy-efficient vehicle.
The automotive sector is not reducing resource and energy waste enough to make a big enough impact to battle climate change. We believe we have found a solution: By letting simplicity guide our design framework, we have set the path towards a lightweight vehicle that consumes a minimum amount of energy. To reduce the energy needed to transport the vehicle and maximize the energy-efficiency towards carrying the load, we constructed Zbee using advanced fiberglass structure and small batteries.
Tell us about the Zbee city pod.
Answer: We have reinvented and optimized an already existing vehicle concept, the auto-rickshaw. The rickshaw has been used around the world in congested urban environments, like South East Asia, this type of vehicle provides a cheap, small and efficient mobility option in the region.
Zbee is a fully electric version of the auto-rickshaw and is available in two variants: a smaller passenger and cargo version. It sits in a segment between bikes and cars, is fully connected and offers shared transport scheme solutions to fully support the growing number of last-mile delivery service companies in cities.
You talk about simplicity in design.
How has this and the modular manufacturing reduced production and maintenance costs?
Answer: It is about minimalistic multipurpose: to use as little resources as possible in every step. As an example, the pod contains only 270 parts in total, built on a modular architecture that is a little like a Lego assembly. This method enables short lead times and reduces the need for advanced tooling.
The simplicity also reflects in the interior: the interior and exterior are molded as one component, and the roof and rear of the pod is the same element. The composite body is beautiful, lightweight and strong – its monocoque design functions both as the shell and structure. This is at the heart of our philosophy.
Zbee is made from advanced fiberglass.
Why choose this material and what challenges did you face with manufacturing?
Answer: We needed to find a more affordable lightweight composite material, because carbon-fiber is not suitable for small vehicles and low speeds in urban environments. Fiberglass is very common in the boating industry and wind power plants. We carried out multiple research projects in order to maximize the potential of fiberglass composite from both a durability and economic perspective and investigate how to make use of the material for our electric vehicles as well as how to scale the production volumes.
Zbee’s interior design is also clear of unnecessary decoration.
What can you tell us about the sustainable ideas and materials utilized here?
Answer: The interior is stripped down, and in its dark soft grey tones, feels functional yet comfortable. The body of Zbee consists of both the exterior surface and interior wall. This is a part of the simplicity mindset to facilitate as many features as possible in each step of the manufacturing process. We are also looking at how to use sustainable fibers such as the vegetable fiber “Jute” in the body of our vehicles.
Clearly as shared pods, these Zbee’s need to be highly connected.
Answer: Absolutely, they are fully connected both with the Cloud and Bluetooth. The fleet operator can access all vehicle data such as; GPS, state of charge, battery health and more through our connected vehicle software “ZbeeConnect”.
We are testing additional features such as remote start and stop, as well as geo-fence the vehicles through a service we are launching soon. This is aimed at supporting the growing use of city mobility, where e-scooter operators have been experience fast grow in demand for the last couple of years. This mini-mobility offer will be aiming to fill the gap between the micro-mobility segments such as scooters and macro-mobility segment such as cars and vans.
Who do you see as the Zbee’s primary consumers?
Answer: The business model is focused around sustainable mobility with fleet sales to professional ‘last mile’ operators like taxi and shared vehicle fleets, as well as delivery of goods and urban service providers. The vision is to offer clusters of Zbees as a mobility package including connected services. We want to create an affordable, efficient e-mobility solution that is needed in the world today.
The distribution model is based on our micro factory. This creates products in local markets, but with a global distribution from a centralized unit at Clean Motion in Sweden. We are basically selling a ‘mobility factory’ in a box.
Currently Zbee is sold to various customers in India, South Africa, Norway and Sweden. Do you have plans to expand and manufacture locally?
Answer: Yes, we have customers around the world and interest from over 35 countries, including European countries. The products are global in their design, and the manufacturing process is the same all over the world. Today we produce our pods in our factory in Sweden, but we have plans to set-up our first micro factory in India – we just need to find the right local partner.
What do you see as differentiating your concept from other city mobility ideas?
Answer: It is one of the most sustainable urban mobility alternatives with a roof over your head and without the need to pedal your way through the city. Zbee has extremely good energy consumption of only 0.04 kWh/km, which limits its need for heavy resource-demanding batteries. It is also a differentiator in the raw, naked feel of its appearance. It really stands out in noise. The Zbee has gone through real crash tests, has a small footprint, is lightweight and runs on slow speeds so it is very safe for the occupants and pedestrians.
The original Zbee was developed in 2013.
How far has the concept evolved since given the technological advances and the more progressive consumer mind-set?
Answer: When we first presented the vehicle, the e-mobility market was immature and a lot of the big players had yet to launch any electric cars yet. Zbee has gone from being a product aimed at direct consumers into addressing commercial fleets. We came to the conclusion that sustainable transport cannot be solved by simply addressing the market of privately owned vehicles; we need to utilize our resources and vehicles to maximize the impact we make on mobility, that is why we are now customizing the vehicle to be fit for purpose for companies in the transportation and logistics sector.
What is the next step with Zbee and will this involve self-driving pods?
Answer: Unlike car companies, we do not have conventional model years on Zbee – Our pods our upgraded with digital services and software updates continuously. Clean Motion is testing autonomous drive and researching how the autonomous technology will impact urban mobility and different business models. This includes a free-floating semi-autonomous shared vehicle fleets, where customers rent a pod for a private trips of leisure or to work. The electricity to power the pods will come directly from integrated solar panels on the roof – we have estimations on a 30km range from eight hours of charging. The pods then reposition themselves in autonomous mode and make themselves available for people to use on-the-go as a pooling service. To park, they would be placed on the street and autonomously re-arranged parallel to one another.
The fleet operator can simply log on to our system and use the pods as taxis or parcel delivery services. This way you get maximum utilization and multiple revenue streams out of the vehicles, with no need for handling repositioning or charging. This we consider as the Holy Grail for sustainable urban mobility, but there will be a lot of minor improvements to made first and many hours of research and prototyping before we have a fully autonomous prototype ready for the market. The first step is to enable swift battery swaps in order to maximize continuous uptime for the operators.