Estrima S.p.A is an Italian-based company that offers urban mobility solutions. Its speciality is its Birò quadricycle electric vehicle (a two-seater minicar). The company was founded by Matteo Maestri in 2008, who spun it off from the family business (Brieda) which makes cabins for tractors and earth-moving equipment. Estrima is headquartered in Pordenone, Italy.
The Business of Mobility is a series of articles featuring business leaders in sustainable mobility.
Q&A with Matteo Maestri, President and Founder of Estrima
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Autonomy: Why did you decide to move from making cabins for tractors, to minicars?
Matteo: The cabin business is essentially B2B; you don’t interface with ordinary consumers. I was interested in doing something for consumers; in B2C. Something that’s exciting and fun and that’s part of a new and growing market, i.e. ecomobility, or urban mobility.
Autonomy: What is your marketing strategy for the Birò; how do you plan to compete against incumbents who can easily outspend you?
Matteo: We’re not here to win a marketing war; our aim is to inspire and excite customers with a fun, practical solution to the challenges of urban travel. Through social media and the like, we’re very keyed into what customers tell us. We take their ideas and their concerns seriously and innovate accordingly. For example, did you know that Birò is made from recycled plastic.
Autonomy: The Birò is the smallest four-wheel EV on the market. In fact, it has been described as “…not a small car, more like a scooter with four wheels and a steering wheel.”
Matteo: That’s one way of putting it. The scooter, or motorbike, is really the ideal way of navigating a European city. You can nip between the traffic, and park right in front of your destination. Plus, there’s the romance of a two-wheeler, as any movie about Italy attests.
Autonomy: But it can be dangerous…
Matteo: Precisely. Not everyone wants to risk their life—or get wet—while commuting to work. The Birò, with its tubular frame steel alloy chassis, and specialised seatbelts, is the safe, weatherproof way to scoot around your city.
Autonomy: And essentially you can park anywhere a scooter can?
Matteo: Yes, the footprint of the vehicle is less than 2m2, which means you can use two-wheeler parking and lanes. And in fact, it’s only marginally bigger (1%) than the Piaggio three-wheeler.
Autonomy: You can’t talk about electric vehicles without mentioning Tesla, who are brand leaders in the category. What parallels can we draw between Tesla and Estrima?
Matteo: Tesla cars are an interesting case study in the way they disrupted the car market; as the legend goes, they were a software company that started making cars. Similarly, we are not an automotive company that tries to compress its cars. We started with a steel framed cabin, ideally designed for protection and ergonomics for the occupant. From there we had a blank page to see how that could translate into a better driving experience.
Autonomy: Not just better for the driver…
Matteo: No, better for everyone. Our aim was to deliver the best possible driving experience, with minimal materials. No disrespect to Tesla, but theirs is not really ecomobility. The Birò consumes a fifth the energy of the most efficient Tesla; it’s also made with a fraction of the resources, which of course also causes environmental strain. As Antoine de St Exupéry put it, “Perfection is reached, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.”
Autonomy: Not even the doors.
Matteo: Exactly. The Birò is not designed with sheet metal (like most cars) but with plexiglass and plastic. It only weighs 350kg, or 286kg without the battery (which is removeable). But that’s all you need to safely own the streets in Europe’s beautiful cities.
Autonomy: So, where are you setting your focus now in the next 5 years?
Matteo: Over the next five or so years we are focussing on Europe’s biggest 25 cities, which account for seven million vehicle sales a year. At the moment, we can produce around 30,000 vehicles a year, so there is plenty of opportunity on our doorstep. But over the long-term, as we develop economies of scale and brand presence, Asia and the Americas could become important markets.
Autonomy: Your vehicles are very popular in Amsterdam for example. I saw that when the Citroën Ami came out, some newspapers ran the headline: “Citroën releases its Birò”. It must be gratifying to capture that minicar category in the minds of the consumer.
Matteo: Yes, it is. But let’s remember that Estrima is not only about the Birò. We are primarily in the business of mobility services. In 2020 Ludovico Maggiore (Estrima’s CEO) invested in the company, bringing with him thirty years’ experience in sharing and renting platforms. Our vehicles are built with the IoT that encourages sharing; and in April 2022, we launched the first Birò sharing service in Procida, a beautiful island off the coast of Naples. We don’t want people to collect yet another asset to worry about, we want to improve their lives and their lifestyles.
Autonomy: Sounds good. Are you achieving this?
Matteo: Our latest customer surveys report 83% of Birò users saying it has changed their lives…for the better. And that’s not only about the convenience, it’s also the feel of the vehicle. The advantage of electric—besides it being non-polluting—is that you have great acceleration and nippiness and you also have a low center of gravity. Driving a Birò feels like go-karting…and you get to your destination on the power it takes to run the AC on a luxury vehicle.
Autonomy: Birò’s slogan is I’m easy. Does that sum up the ethos of your company?
Matteo: (laughs) It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to guarantee an easy ride for the customer. But there’s a great feeling among our 170 staff, who are galvanised by the vision to wow customers with a sustainable mobility solution.
Success never comes easy; but it’s exciting and energising to be part of a positive story.