“We are still in the early stages of the whole micromobility game.” - Industry Insiders #11

Timo Buetefisch, CEO of Cooltra, discusses how moped-sharing fits into different cities’ mobility cultures, and why Cooltra decided to branch out into new modes and verticals.

“We are still in the early stages of the whole micromobility game.” - Industry Insiders #11

Timo co-founded Cooltra in 2006, and has grown the business for almost 18 years, leading the way for shared mobility as an industry.

Fluctuo: Cooltra is Europe’s first free-floating moped provider. How did this business idea come about?

Timo: We initially started out with a traditional vacation hire business, renting out motorbikes to tourists. After this, we pivoted to long term B2C rentals and subscription models, offering leasing services (today called 'subscriptions') long before anyone else in the industry, including car rental companies. This is a move we’re really proud of.

As one of the oldest players in the industry, we’ve had the opportunity to commit a lot of errors and grow our company before most other operators appeared in the market, with the privilege of branching out to different business models and expanding our fleet. Diversifying from our initial B2C long-term rental business, in 2010 we began to add B2B rentals to our offer. Following this, in 2016 we began to offer B2C rental-by-minute moped-sharing.

"Eight years on, we are the leading European company with the highest number of rentals, with more than 2 million users in 9 cities."

Currently, Cooltra operates free float service in 4 different countries: Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. Do you notice major differences between these markets?

Beyond just these 4 countries, you can really segment the markets into individual cities - they’re all so different. For example, in Barcelona and Madrid, both of which are mature markets, the shared mobility landscapes are very distinct despite being in the same country.

Another key difference is the regulatory situation in each city. Barcelona and Paris have much stricter rules: in Barcelona, Cooltra has a fleet cap of only 632 mopeds, which limits our development. In Paris, we entered the market in 2021, later than other operators, and won a 5-year permit in the summer of 2023 to continue providing our service. We have only around a quarter of the market share, and as we weren’t one of the first operators to enter the market, the city monitors our activity closely to ensure we provide a good quality - and sustainable - service for users.

There are many different factors overall, and whilst we are mature in the overall industry, our expertise varies city-to-city. The shared mobility market is dynamic, and there’s no predicting what could change in the future.

What characteristics does a city need for shared mopeds to be successful?

A key factor is the quality of the existing public transport network: in cities with good public transport networks, citizens are not obliged to have private vehicles to make their journeys, meaning moped and bike-sharing are regularly used transport alternatives. We are a comfortable, agile and last-mile complement to traditional public transport.

Customer profiles are also key. When customers are already quite used to mobility applications and diverse modes of transport, they feel ready to adopt new ways of moving around as part of their daily routines. Our experience with Italian users has always been very positive, as they tend to be very accustomed to sharing cultures and technology; Italy has seen many advances with car sharing and scooters, so citizens have a more progressive attitude towards adopting new modes such as moped sharing.

Source: Cooltra

What is your opinion on tenders and fleet caps? Do you think they’re healthy for the market?

Over the last year, you can clearly see that there’s a real trend taking place with cities opting to introduce tenders. These tenders are also seeing a progression themselves - they are becoming increasingly professional, and as time goes on, city councils are beginning to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

For a tender to work, it needs to make good business sense for operators, offering
something that is beneficial to both citizens and the city. Cities generally find that it’s beneficial to limit the number of providers. In 2020 Barcelona had its first public moped-sharing tender, where 21 companies were pre-selected. This number subsequently dropped to 11 once operations began, and later to 9. We currently operate in the city of Barcelona with 5 operators. Introducing a cap per operator initially consolidated the offer in the city, but has now unfortunately led to a shrinking market.

I definitely think that in the future, more and more micromobility services and operators will be determined on a tender basis. With these transitions ahead of us in the mobility landscape, we decided to branch away from the traditional way of being a moped provider, providing a totally new mode. We now provide B2C bike-sharing, as well as public bike sharing schemes. We are absolutely committed to this mode, and we believe it has great growth potential.

Have you faced any operational challenges when introducing bikes?

There are obviously some challenges - however, on the whole, operating an e-bike scheme is very similar to a moped-sharing business. The business model itself is largely the same: on the customer side, it’s still all on the same app, with the same payment details and the same loyalty programs on offer. The only difference is the additional choice between an e-bikes or a shared moped.

On the operational side, elements such as the IOT are different, however the service team remains the same. It’s generally not too different - there are many synergies between running a moped and bike-sharing business.

Source: Cooltra

Are you planning to continue expanding into other modes as well?

For the moment, we plan to stick with just the current offer. We strongly believe in these two modes, and we want to continue to invest in their development. We’re certain that expanding to e-bikes was a good decision, as they have long lifespans and charging lifecycles, with fewer obstacles such as driving licenses and insurance.

We don’t really plan to go upwind to 4 wheels, nor down to scooters. Although we do offer other models, such as delivery bikes, in our B2B service, we believe that Cooltra has a secure understanding of its place in the market now.

"Having ran a moped-sharing business for 18 years, we have solid operational know-how and want to concentrate on this when developing our fleets."

In November 2023, Cityscoot declared insolvency and withdrew its vehicles from Italy. There are a lot of concerns about the industry’s profitability - how do you see these worries playing out with Cooltra?

At Cooltra, we want to have an equal focus on both B2B and B2C - we want to be a full service provider. One of our key value propositions is to provide the customer with the full spectrum of usage: customers should be able to go to us for vehicle rentals whatever the case, whether it’s just for one minute or five years. Regarding profitability, our mechanics and operations work well for each of our business lines, so the financial success really comes down to which cities we choose to operate in. Cooltra has had a strong positive EBITDA since 2019.

How does Cooltra go about selecting cities to operate in?

I think Cooltra has done a good job with city selection. Climate is a highly important factor - in countries like Germany, there will be many months when driving a moped isn’t really feasible, because of the cold weather. It’s also a lot to do with the mobility culture - when comparing Germany and the Netherlands for example, even though both countries have a similar mild climate, the moped culture exists and people are generally more used to transporting in this manner. 

Generally speaking, the further south you go in Europe, the more opportunities there are. It’s all in the culture - we have so many more people who drive mopeds in Southern Europe than in Germany, so there’s a guaranteed user base in these markets if we want to launch our moped sharing schemes. 

Infrastructure and licensing rules also really matter. In Spain, for example, anyone with a driver's license can use mopeds, whereas in London specific authorization is required. With all this considered, it’s clear to see that the cities we’ve chosen really do work.

Source: Cooltra

Not all the mopeds in your fleet are currently electric. Are you hoping to achieve 100% electrification? 

Our fleet is currently more than 85% electrified. There are many reasons as to why we still provide combustion vehicles. Firstly, many of our vehicles were purchased in the past, and haven’t yet come to the end of their life cycle. We are slowly starting to change our fleet, and our free-floating sharing vehicles are 100% electric. However, we do still need to provide some combustion vehicles, to meet the customer demand for this. For example, we rent out police vehicles, which are all combustion to minimise the concern that charge will run out on duty. Moreover, our customer base in islands such as Mallorca also prefer combustion vehicles, as the EV charging infrastructure isn’t as developed.

Therefore, it’s not so much that Cooltra is promoting combustion vehicles, rather that there are certain customer groups who request this. On our end, we always initially offer electric vehicles when going into meetings with new customers, as it aligns with our sustainability vision and electric is generally cheaper than combustion for us. 

How do you envision the future of the shared mobility market?

Whilst it’s true that many operators are reducing their fleets, this isn’t necessarily because the demand doesn’t exist.

"It's because we are still in the early stages of the whole micromobility game."

For me, the future is full of multimodality, however this will take a longer time than we expect to achieve. 

For operators, it’s important to maintain a clear vision and know how quickly to get behind the transition towards multimodality. Cooltra has always seen ourselves as part of the wider micromobility and shared mobility movement. The trajectory that we are going in right now is that people will increasingly abandon their private cars to use different services, which is why we really believe in the future of Cooltra.

It’s all about waiting for the right moment. We can see that micromobility is increasing in popularity as people tend to favour lighter vehicles and electrification. Cities no longer prefer cars, and consumers are becoming oriented towards sustainability. On the whole, we have underestimated the life cycles of private vehicles: people are still using the cars that they bought years ago, however soon these will reach the end of their life spans and be phased out. Younger generations will renounce cars and take up shared mobility as they lean towards pay-per-use models rather than committing to car ownership.

I don’t think private and combustion vehicles will disappear forever - it’s just that it’s a different use case. People would rather spend €20 on Cooltra than hundreds on a private vehicle, petrol and parking, which is why I’m confident that car sharing and moped sharing are here to stay.

Fluctuo's European Market Report tracks the evolution of the market over 5 years, with estimations for where it's is headed in 2024.

Read our shared mobility market predictions in our European Market Report. 👇

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