Bird doubles down on selling electric scooters directly to customers

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Bird, the electric scooter startup that helped kick off the shared micromobility boom, is doubling down on personal ownership. Over the weekend, the company unveiled its new, foldable electric scooter, the Bird Air, which can be purchased for $599.

It isn’t the most powerful scooter on the market, with a top speed of 16 mph (25 km/h) and a range of 16 miles (25 km). But at $599, the Bird Air is significantly cheaper than the company’s first retail scooter, the Bird One, which retails for $1,299. That puts the Bird Air in the same category as other mid-priced electric scooters like the Razor E Prime III or Segway Ninebot’s Max.

The Bird Air is designed in-house by Bird’s team of “aerospace and automotive engineers,” the company says — though the company won’t disclose its manufacturing partner. The company manufactured its Bird Zero scooters in cooperation with Okai, a Chinese scooter company, and previously sourced scooters from Segway Ninebot.

Bird first made the shift to selling scooters in mid-2019. When the company launched in Santa Monica, California, in 2017, its fleet was comprised mostly of consumer scooters made by Xiaomi and Segway Ninebot, which were never intended for heavy fleet use and depreciated quickly. Bird lost money on each trip, but it managed to scale up after raising millions of dollars in venture capital funding. Bird also offers its scooters for monthly rentals.

Bird announced that it had raised $75 million in a Series D funding round last January. Since then, the company has lost two of its bids for citywide permits in Paris and Seattle, and it won one in Chicago.

Initially, COVID-19 brought the scooter sharing industry to a halt. Ridership plummeted as scooter companies yanked their vehicles from city streets. Bird and Lime, the two biggest companies in terms of fleet size and valuation, went through mass layoffs, eliminating around 580 full-time positions. Uber offloaded its Jump shared bike and scooter business on Lime as part of an investment that would see Lime’s valuation drop by nearly 80 percent.

But the industry is slowly recovering, thanks to a resurgence in interest in biking and other alternate forms of transportation. As they look for safe ways to get around, city dwellers are using scooters for longer trips, too. Last week, Lime reported that on average scooter trips have been 34 percent longer in duration and 18 percent farther in distance since the pandemic started.

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