Minimobility: The next big thing in urban mobility?

Today’s micromobility landscape is primarily defined by electric bicycles, mopeds, and e-kickscooters. Below the surface, however, another mobility segment with similarly impressive growth rates has recently gained traction: three- and four-wheeled minimobility. This segment, which falls between cars and bicycles, includes three- or four-wheeled electric vehicles (EVs) that fit one to two persons. These vehicles have an average weight between 100 and 500 kilograms when unoccupied. Depending on the vehicle type and local regulations, their maximum speed varies from 25 to 90 kilometers per hour.

Because of their smaller size, minimobility vehicles are less expensive than standard EVs, consume less space, and have more parking options—characteristics that are especially beneficial in crowded urban areas. Other advantages include the following:

  1. Minimobility vehicles require fewer resources and energy during production; this is especially helpful considering that some resources, such as battery components, are already in short supply.
  2. Energy requirements for minimobility-vehicle operation are lower than those for standard EVs; this is important because many regions, including the European Union, will not be able to produce enough green energy at the local level for decades.
  3. Minimobility vehicles increase safety because they usually travel more slowly and are more visible to pedestrians and bikers.

Compared with other micromobility options, such as e-kickscooters, bicycles, and mopeds, minimobility vehicles offer greater convenience and comfort, including the ability to sit and better protection from the weather. Further, they offer extended storage space and a capacity of two passengers.

If interest in minimobility rises, and if regulators push this mobility option, this segment could reach a total addressable market of $100 billion annually across China, Europe, and North America by 2030.1 (For perspective, the two current leading manufacturers of two-wheeled EVs have generated a cumulative $300 million in global revenues from this segment since 2015.)

To gain more insight into this growing market, the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility surveyed 26,000 people in eight countries about their views on minimobility vehicles, including their willingness to purchase a vehicle in this class. The survey also assessed whether the growth of minimobility vehicles could affect car ownership rates or shift mobility preferences. The survey is part of the Mobility Consumer Insights survey series, which focuses on exploring future trends.

The micromobility wave

The growth of minimobility is in line with the uptick in micromobility options, including e-kickscooters, bicycles, and mopeds, over the past few years. Like minimobility vehicles, these small transport options provide a greener, less expensive mobility alternative, especially for short trips.

Today, most minimobility options are privately owned. Shared ownership is most common in the European Union, especially in France. Adoption rates for minimobility vehicles are highest in China, which has long been a hotbed of micromobility. In the United States, golf cart–like vehicles—some of which exceed our weight definition—are almost always privately owned and are often called neighborhood electric vehicles.

The minimobility market

More than 30 percent of respondents worldwide state that they are likely or very likely to consider using a minimobility vehicle as one of their future mobility options—but location had a big impact on opinions (exhibit). Respondents from Brazil and China are most likely to consider these vehicles (more than 50 percent) followed by those in Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United States (between 25 and 30 percent). Consideration rates are lowest in Australia and Germany (15 to 20 percent). These findings show that willingness to use minimobility is highest in countries, such as China, with a long tradition of small-sized vehicles. It is lowest in countries such as Australia and Germany, where large cars are popular.

More than 30% of global consumers would consider using a microcar in their future mobility mix.

While minimobility appealed to many different consumer segments, distinct patterns emerged. For instance, about 90 percent of the respondents who were willing to consider these vehicles live in urban and suburban areas, and only about 10 percent lived in rural areas. These findings may reflect the fact that urban and suburban residents tend to drive shorter distances that fit within the range of minimobility vehicles. They may also prefer vehicles that can fit in smaller parking spaces than traditional cars.

When we divided the share of respondents who are willing to consider a minimobility option by income, we found that a majority—about 58 percent—have a low to medium salary (less than $50,000 annually). These respondents may be more receptive to minimobility because of their lower price point compared with traditional cars. The relatively low cost of minimobility may increase EV ownership rates among people who might otherwise purchase traditional combustion vehicles, which generally cost less than EVs. Other trends noted in the survey among respondents who are willing to consider a minimobility vehicle include the following:

  1. About 35 percent currently own a premium car; 31 percent own a car in the entry and volume segment.
  2. More than 60 percent live in a single-car household, 29 percent in a multicar household, and 10 percent in households without cars.
  3. Willingness to consider a minimobility vehicle varies by age group; it is 20 percent for respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, 46 percent for those between 30 and 49, 24 percent for those between 50 and 64, and only about 10 percent for those aged 65 and older.
  4. Consumers enthusiastic about electromobility are also more likely to consider minimobility vehicles. In our survey, EV owners are almost twice as likely to consider a purchase compared to non-EV owners, and consumers with a concrete plan to purchase an EV are twice as likely to consider a minimobility option.

The survey asked respondents specifically if they would consider replacing their private vehicle with a minimobility vehicle over the long term. Overall, 35 percent of those who were willing to consider a minimobility vehicle are willing to take that step. A higher percentage (more than 50 percent) are willing to purchase a minimobility vehicle and use it in addition to their current vehicles—in other words, an extension of their current transportation options rather than a complete replacement.

Man riding an ebike

Why micromobility is here to stay

As with any transportation option, minimobility vehicles can serve multiple purposes. When we asked respondents about their main use for these vehicles, most say grocery shopping (48 percent), followed by leisure activities (36 percent) and commuting (31 percent). Again, results vary by location. For example, American and Chinese respondents are less likely than other respondents to cite grocery shopping as the main use case (both about 12 percent below the global average).

Implications for mobility stakeholders

Based on the survey results, we believe that minimobility vehicles are a viable extension to the current light-micromobility-vehicle landscape. Their growing popularity will raise important issues for different stakeholders, however, including the following:

  1. City leaders: In urban areas, minimobility may emerge as a viable alternative, bringing the added benefits of decreased congestion, reduced space requirements, and lower emissions. Their advantages over other micromobility offerings, especially greater safety and weather protection, could be a major draw, as could their lower price, compared with standard vehicles. To increase the number of people who can benefit from minimobility vehicles, municipalities might deploy them as white-label car-sharing solutions, in which they obtain vehicles from private manufacturers or providers but brand them as their own. The offerings could be available for rent across the city and benefit a diverse population.
  2. Micromobility service providers: Overall, minimobility options could be an important extension to the current vehicle portfolio at service providers because they allow riders to take trips or run errands that might be difficult with e-kickscooters, bicycles, or mopeds—shopping for large items, for instance, or traveling during heavy rain. Furthermore, given their lower price points, minimobility options may represent profitable alternatives to today’s car-sharing vehicles. They might be especially important in small and medium-size cities, which are often unattractive markets for established micromobility players.
  3. Vehicle manufacturers: In many cases, minimobility vehicles could become an important extension of a manufacturer’s brand, regardless of whether it is a car OEM or micromobility OEM, providing a new growth area. The contribution of minimobility vehicles to overall revenues may become more significant in the future as more cities begin to ban traditional cars in favor of smaller electric-mobility options.
  4. New players: With a fast-growing market and limited technologic complexity, minimobility solutions may provide an entry opportunity for new players.

The interest in minimobility options is rising, and industry stakeholders can help encourage market growth through greater collaboration and joint commitments. Some city leaders might consider implementing regulations that promote the uptake of minimobility, for instance, or they might think about launching marketing campaigns that increase awareness. Likewise, OEMs could help by committing to increased production of minimobility vehicles to ensure that supply meets demand. For their part, mobility service providers could consider adding significant numbers of minimobility options to their fleets. With such cross-industry efforts, minimobility vehicles could provide greater convenience for urban residents, as well as a greener transport option to help in the battle against climate change.

1. Total available market based on trip distance addressability from private vehicles, assuming no supply constraints.

Alexander Grausam is a consultant in McKinsey’s Munich office, where Darius Scurtu is a solution associate; Kersten Heineke is a partner in the Frankfurt office, where Benedikt Kloss is an associate partner; and Timo Möller is a partner in the Cologne office.

McKinsey Center for Future Mobility