Askoll (founded by Elio Marioni in 1978) is famous for its pioneering work in applying synchronous technology to small electric motors in appliances like washing machines and aquarium pumps. Then in 2010 the company began researching the growing business of electric vehicles. The result was Askoll EVA, established in 2014 and one of 11 companies in the Askoll Group. Gianfranco Nanni was marketing director of Askoll Group from 2014 and CEO of Askoll EVA in 2019. Here he describes how Askoll became an important European EV producer.
I joined the company about 17 years ago, with no idea I would end up making e-scooters and e-bikes. But in 2010 we realised that Askoll (with its reputation for efficient and reliable small electric motors) was well-placed to join the e-mobility revolution, especially considering that minimising resource inputs was already key to our approach. The group took the plunge and sold one of its companies to fund our urban mobility ambitions.
After some serious R&D and some experimentation (we prototyped an electric microcar before deciding not to launch), in 2015 we entered the market with our first models.
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Key to our business plans was to focus on design and to honour a rich history of Italian iconic vehicles. It wasn’t clear at first what type of vehicle would become our standard. But with ours being an Italian company, I think it’s fitting that it was scooters…think Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck careering through the streets on a Vespa in Roman Holiday (1953).
We wanted to own the design and manufacture process and outsource as few of the components as possible. We wanted full control of the heart of the vehicle, such as the battery or the electric motor. The emphasis was on minimalist lightweight styling to reduce inputs and maximise resource efficiency. And we innovated a lot on the battery management system, looking for the right trade-offs between range, power availability and longevity, and charging convenience.
Our customers are urbanites and that’s why we decided on removable batteries. Many customers live in small apartments, with no garage to charge the vehicle. For similar reasons the motor is not attached to the back wheel but is under the seat, which helps to centre its gravity, ensure a smooth ride and minimise wear and tear from the bumps of urban riding. The wheels are also somewhat larger than other scooters, which also helps navigate uneven terrain.
Collaborating with Italian designers
In 2020 we launched our second model, the NGS, which is what I ride to work. And for this we collaborated with Italdesign Giugiaro, famous for their automobile design work, particularly on Volkswagen. The NGS was Italdesign’s first foray into electric scooters and we are very excited about the distinctly European feel to the design, with minimalist styling, the vintage colours and the very practical use case for the professional customer.
Besides Italdesign, we have collaborated with other well-known designers, e.g. Helmo Milano (who make helmets), Ynot? (boutique accessories), and Bragoon (apparel), which supports our quintessentially Italian image.
We have broken the business up into three areas: professional, personal and sharing. Our main sharing clients are Mimoto and Cooltra, who recently launched in Paris with 2,000 of our scooters. In total, Cooltra has over 7,500 of our vehicles.
We see our growth coming from sharing companies and from professional players, like city delivery companies. For example we have a collaboration with Pizza Hut in Paris. Also in France, we provide our e-scooters to an AirBnb concierge service for which electric vehicles are essential to reach all the apartments located in the city centre. We supply vehicles to the Austrian and Croatian postal services and we are in talks with other public authorities in Europe.
Most of our sales are for scooters but we’re equally excited about our e-bikes. After lots of discussion we took the step to mount the battery on the front of the frame. That’s because it weighs less than 3kg, is simple to move and recharge, and retains that iconic Italian bike feel.
Askoll began as an engineering company making motors, but now with Askoll EVA we are also a customer-facing brand. And therefore we need to create a compelling brand story for e-mobility. Till now mobility has been dominated by the combustion car; the luxury sedan is the ultimate symbol of status. If we’re going to challenge that paradigm, we need strong European e-mobility brands that are fun and practical to ride, but also cool and stylish. We will continue to collaborate with other European brands, with sharing companies, and with public decision-makers to change the way people move in our cities.
The Business of Mobility is a series of articles penned by business leaders in sustainable mobility.