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China Has Electric Scooters. America Needs Them

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on December 6, 2009

I’ve been in China for about two weeks (one in Shanghai, the other in Beijing). I keep seeing totally electric two-wheel scooters everywhere. China has had all-electric scooters for years. You plug them in. Or you pull out the battery and take it inside to juice it up. It’s so obvious a solution, why doesn’t the US and Europe have them?

Yes, of course, China uses soft coal to generate most of its electricity so it’s cleaning up its cities at a cost. But it is also putting big efforts in solar, wind, nuclear and hydro. Combine clean generation of electricity with all-electric vehicles like the scooters and you have….Yep. the future.

I also see solar water heaters on house roofs—all over both cities. They are simple—they heat up enough water for a shower or to wash dishes—but people are using them. In huge numbers.

I’m impressed. We should all be impressed.

Reader Comments


December 6, 2009 2:24 PM

Electric scooters isn't new, seen in Thailand, Europe. Countries in the region with PTA/FTA trade agreements will certainly benefit with technology/trade from China. If information is sent for the companies which produce these scooters/motor cycles under quality criteria. eMail:

Greener China

December 6, 2009 2:51 PM


Glad you were impressed!

One thing to consider, and it is the same problem I think many see for eCars, is that the average city is just not ready for these.

Density is something the US does not have outside of a few cities...



December 6, 2009 3:31 PM

YEP! CHINA is the future. I have full confidence that CHINA will be developing more and more greener for the benefit of CHINA and its friends.

scooters and water heaters

December 6, 2009 4:43 PM

Have you looked at the temperature outside? Too cold for scooters in most of the country.

These scooters are more dangerous than motorcycles. At least a motorcycle can merge and flow with traffic.

Also, We have energy efficient tankless water heaters which are made in USA. :)

Stephen Reynolds

December 6, 2009 8:35 PM

Bruce, I wholeheartedly agree. Since I first laid eyes on one some years ago it seemed to fit a crucial part of human movement - longer than walking, shorter than driving. It is unsurprising that the most robust and technically advanced are made in California (well, Nevada technically) by family-owned enterprise Go Ped. The li-ion batteries come, naturally, from China, but the clever engineering and power train is all-American. It shows. Surely they are a model for the new century? their website is


December 6, 2009 9:22 PM

The fact that solar hot water, and clothes lines in backyards/tops of apartment buildings, don't happen is a real wasted opportunity and a waste of resources.


December 7, 2009 12:59 AM

Not only they (the scooters) are eco friendly, they are also cheap to buy and cheap to operate. You can get one for less the $1,000 in China. They are also quiet, sometimes too quiet you can not hear the coming. The only problems with the electric scooters is that the range is limited to about 30 miles and the speed is also limited.


December 7, 2009 1:09 AM

Well I'm not really surprised China is leading in green technology. There are really no incentives for America or the West to start rebuilding everything in green technology. America does not have the money anyhow. Green technology will make China look at America in the rear view mirror and America can't do anything about it.

Daniel Christadoss

December 7, 2009 1:52 AM

Why is it that electric scooters are not becoming popular in the US. What can we do to make them popular in the US. Would it have to be dedicated scooter ways for the riders? Or would it have to be a redesign of cities and our mass transportation models? I know scooters could be a boon for college campuses and smaller sustainable cities.
I have come up with a not so original concept for what Chris Bangle in Singapore called a Personal Emotional Mobile. I have christened it the pemmPOD. It is a hybrid of a PC, Media Station, Solar/Electric Mobile and an office work station. It is completely modular, can be assembled from components and possibly use a lot of renewable material. It can be open sourced and run on Google Wave as a virtual factory. At this point it is more of a dream. You can see it under the pemmPOD category at
A lot of these writings have been inspired by your editorials and by Tim Brown's recent book.
Do you think the peemPOD has any promise for the US or the world?

Walt Gurdak

December 7, 2009 3:54 AM

Feet. We all have them. Personal human emissions are quite low. The reason why I mention this is that China is building cities from scratch. If commercial and residential areas were integrated, motorized transport would not be necessary.

Also, the Chinese are transitioning from bicycles to electric scooters. Good luck getting people transitioned from SUVs and motorcycles to short distance, possibly slow scooters.

The 'green technologies' you are describing are more a means of survival than a choice to save the planet. If electricity or gasoline is too expensive or unavailable you do what you can to make do. Drive through any back-woods area in the U.S. and you'll find solar water heaters.


December 7, 2009 11:24 AM

Falconev has a good dual motor E scooter, check it out at

Dhaval Dhabliwala

December 7, 2009 1:02 PM

Great article. The Chinese are doing some basic, common sense things and it is all making sense. Their solar panel production is up there where it can make a difference. They are a lot cheaper now and getting cheaper everyday We shouldn't be waiting on Government incentives to change our ways. Once a few communities take the initiative, it will snowball into a movement.


December 7, 2009 2:12 PM

electric propultion is the way of the future, in fact, as the storage of power to drive these engines for now is not up to the advantages. for the moment, a hybrid of internal combustion and battery is the way to go.
also, for most buyers, the advantage of hybrid or all electric is not an economic option when you consider all the costs to make, run and maintain such a vehicle.
for the moment, lighter, smaller, more gas efficient, and lesser use of these vehicles makes more sense.
the cost to produce energy is going up and so will the price. change will come!


December 7, 2009 11:53 PM

What's wrong with the bicycles they have had for decades in China? Why do the Chinese need (coal fired)battery powered vehicles when human powered works just fine? I dont see the breakthrough...

Also, their trains in Hong Kong and Bejing are way better than ours here in the US.


December 8, 2009 2:41 AM

i would be really careful about mentioning china is the future. they re of course developing very fast, but only in terms of tech, economic.
europe has a very long history and their success came very slowly along the society and culture improvement and readiness, and i dont see this in china, i think the society is not ready yet for this pace of development. the government is really pushing the people too hard to achive what the government want. i hope, they re not overlooking it.


December 8, 2009 2:41 AM

i would be really careful about mentioning china is the future. they re of course developing very fast, but only in terms of tech, economic.
europe has a very long history and their success came very slowly along the society and culture improvement and readiness, and i dont see this in china, i think the society is not ready yet for this pace of development. the government is really pushing the people too hard to achive what the government want. i hope, they re not overlooking it.


December 9, 2009 1:16 AM

@scooters and water heaters,

The safety you mentioned isn't a problem in China, where there are wide bike lanes. These "scooters" are just motorised bicycles for those who don't want to do the work. They are only allowed where bicycles can go. That's why it doesn't require a driver's license.

Yes, it would be a problem to American cities where there are not enough bike lanes and parking. Cold isn't a problem, people over there will ride bikes and scooters even in snowy days, to my horror, without a helmet.

I remember renting one to go about sight-seeing. What a joy. Taxis are cheap, but this mode of transport gave me more freedom.


December 9, 2009 8:50 PM

"It’s so obvious a solution, why doesn’t the US and Europe have them?"

We DO have them, and that's how we know they're NOT a solution.

Only a very, very small minority of people can possibly use one of these. They would have to live and work in a relatively small, densely populated city...and have no need to transport a child, a spouse, or more than one bag of groceries. (And that's assuming that the weather will cooperate!)

And without a critical mass of the population willing to use them, cities will never have the leverage to make the infrastructure modifications to accomodate them safely.

We went through this before with the Segway.

Uncle B

December 10, 2009 12:51 PM

America about to face convulsive paradigm shifts not due to Climate change, bad money, oil shortages but due to Asin Fact! Asia now competes for the finite resources of the world - directly with America, and with a very strong Yuan, as well as more, better educated folk at the top, not so influenced by the demands of lobby groups ans more able to respond to the "Bigger Picture" where China is winning hands down on the economic front! For Americans to go to electric scooters is a step down from Mustangs, Casmeros, For Chinese to go to scooters is a step up from walking, bicycles! They are poor, evolving, America is rich, wilting into "Third World" resources spent! two different countries, to different situations! Communism in China gives a base to their version of Capitalism the U.S.A. doesn't have! Beware! they are not the same! America will follow the U.S.S.R. into the abyss in the next decade! China has been China for 6000. years!


December 12, 2009 5:20 AM

Taking off from Ben's comments, there is the PUMA collaboration between GM and Segway. The little electric seems capable of transporting a passenger, groceries, briefcase, etc. in good or bad weather. This is taking the Segway to the next level. It's in the experimental stage, but certainly demonstrates a possibility.


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January 21, 2010 9:49 PM

How about creating electricity everytime you turn the hot water on to shower or wash dishes.Its happening in Holland. With the use of a small generator powered by an external combustion or Sterling engine you make electricity everytime you turn the faucets on.

Charles Andrew

January 24, 2010 4:30 PM

Look under electric bike on ebay. They are about $1000.00 and up. You go to a judge and have him order the xDOT to issue a title and that is free. The plate in PA is $9.00 and liability insurance is $75.00 from Progressive.
Palm Springs California police has been using them for years. Penn State University just bought some $5000.00 units.


January 27, 2010 8:45 AM

I live in China. The reason for all the scooters, and bikes is because the poor.. and most Chinese are poor, cannot afford a car! It costs $5000 usd for a car license alone! Scooters are more "affordable" at only around $300. That's for the full size, electric scooter. Besides,can you imagine the money and taxes we'd all have to pay to make up laws, scooter lanes, and so forth? No Thank you. You should see the deaths on the roads I've seen Car V Scooter is not pretty.

Also on the water heater issue... THAT is because traditional houses/apt's do NOT have hot water! Getting the solar heater is the only way to have hot water in their home. A lot of sinks are on the outside of dwellings. The apt's, traditional Chinese ones, not the cushy expat ones, do not have piped in heated water.

After living here for 2 years... I am not impressed. No one should be impressed.

Doug Wilder

February 27, 2010 5:11 PM

Bruce, you should consider taking your family and moving to China to be a citizen. Why is it that morons like you keep wanting the US to be more like Europe, more like China? If these countries are so great, just relinquish your US citizenship and move there. We've got communists like Van Jones and yourself who say they hate the US system but are still here! Get out of the US!!!!


March 25, 2010 1:09 PM

Here in Tucson, the local Cost-Co was selling electric powered scooters. According to a co-worker who purchased one, they were street legal. However, the local officials change the law requiring that all vehicles had to have a longer range, which the scooters could not meet.

Ignore Doug W. One of the cool things about living in America is that even morons are tolerated.


March 30, 2010 7:58 AM

if you're talking now about electric scooters or any type of personal,individual transport median, you're missing the whole point of the sustainable development, in the future. The future really belongs to totally another aspect of what the Chinese are doing now; high speed mass rail system. Even that is not the key; the key will be redesigned mega city where there's only high speed mass rail system and high rises ( 2050 stories buildings) are the only form of dwellings. It is the only solution that will save the world from the immediate threat of the catastrophies made by us; individual transport systems, tools, and dwellings in the form of single homes which not only takes us too much space but only encourages our wasteful habits of scarce resources such as metals, fossil fuels and polutions of invaluable resources such as air and water.


April 4, 2010 9:25 PM

It's not China but Japan that leads in green technology.


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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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