A new product has appeared on the transport scene proposing an alternative to conventional modes of city transport. The Urban Mobility Vehicle – or UMV – sits somewhere between a motorbike and a conventional car, offering the agility of a two-wheeler, but with the comfort and safety of the latter. It runs on electricity, has a much smaller footprint than a standard city car and is around 34% more energy efficient than your average electric vehicle. What’s more, the UMV is designed for desire – a premium product by the creatives behind Ferraris and Maseratis but with mass appeal.
Possibly more exciting than the UMV product is the brand behind it. “We are about creating various new innovations for mobility, with many shapes and uses,” says Adam Thomas by email as he introduces me to Komma, the Swiss start-up where he is head of brand. “All with the purpose of giving us better ways of moving around in cities other than cars and vans.” The company has a clear vision and the team, he continues, have the business and technical knowhow, as well as hands-on industry experience to make this vision happen. Komma will ultimately aim to influence urban policy making and help shape city futures. Always on the lookout for new urban solutions, I set up an e-interview with the team behind this new company.
The reality is simple. Despite a temporary exodus (or at least the dream of an exodus) from the city to suburbs and the countryside during the initial trauma of the coronavirus lockdown, the lure to metropolitan life is as strong as ever. It is in the urban environment and in megacities around the world where jobs and opportunities exist and most of us, despite this glitch, are hugely social animals. The temporary closure of bars and restaurants, galleries and theatres may have dimmed the allure, but once this crisis is behind us, city lights will shine bright. Urban mobility, though, requires a fundamental revision which goes way beyond the physical motor car.
Modern cities have been largely shaped by the evolution of movement – from the horse and carriage to the motor car. Komma’s objective is to change “the paradigm of how we shape mobility in society,” says company co-founder and chief designer Lowie Vermeersch. Rather than focus purely on making vehicles, the idea is to design the grid – the broader picture, the future urban landscape and its desired mobility experience – then decide on the mobility products. Vermeersch was Pininfarina’s design director from 2007 to 2010 before setting up Granstudio in Turin. He continues: “We can seamlessly put into relation the wider societal and infrastructural needs (together) with the smallest technical understandings”. Komma co-founder and chair, Petter Neby, adds that the team bring with them an “inclusive communal experience”. The tech entrepreneur and founder of the Swiss consumer electronics company Punkt says they will react to requirements with “proper, considered, engineered solutions, but with improved living at its heart.”
This practice means having the foresight to address the bigger landscape of urban transport to include all the infrastructural needs: the furniture, services and every touchpoint. “Good mobility solutions need to be designed as an eco-system,” offers Vermeersch. “This approach is leading to totally new mobility designs that blur the boundaries between the different archetypes as we know them. It’s the coherence and synergy within the system that is unleashing the biggest opportunities and value.”
The UMV is planned for production by 2022. I’m interested to see what sets this first product by Komma apart from others on the market. Vermeersch explains: “The UMV is a first concretization of our vision and approach. It’s a real vehicle that builds on our technical experience, but it’s also a mobility solution that has the positive capacity to be transformative for the urban environment.” Its petit size and light construction contribute to energy efficiency as does its aero design. Vermeersch, who has worked on Ferraris and Maseratis, used principles gained from designing performance cars for the UMV project. “Making cars that perform exceptionally well is all about designing them in the most efficient way.”
Asked how it differs from products such as the car/scooter hybrid Renault Twizy, he explains that it has a much narrower footprint to allow for a more agile behavior in the traffic. “There is no other vehicle in this category that offers the kind of passenger space and comfort, giving the UMV great potential also in the ride and vehicle sharing market.” While Neby adds: “It is certainly not about being cute and asking for too much sacrifice – too much compromise.”
Rather, Komma’s UMV is positioned as a premium vehicle so that the experience of the transition from conventional car to new modes of transport should be a positive one. “Even though it is essential to allow the emergence of new thoughts around such a required vehicle for the immediacy or near future,” says Neby, “it is important not to underestimate the necessity of overall intelligent design excellence, the materials and the emotional connection with the user, rather than a more soulless ubiquity.” Furthermore, the UMV users are expected to be in possession of a full driver’s license since the vehicle is also seen as a commuter for inter-urban travel. Thomas says, “while there is a pragmatism to this of course, it also goes back to the question of premium experience. This is not a vehicle to be used with abandon and left to litter the streets.”
The UMV is the physical manifestation of Komma, yet the marque’s vision is much grander. The launch vehicle will be followed by a host of mobility solutions aimed at mass adoption within urban environments. “We see Komma becoming a big player in the transformation of our urban mobility,” says Vermeersch. Neby agrees. “It is an exciting time for re-shaping mobility for good and we will help give cities back to people. We are not about 20th century solutions for 21st century problems – rather we will provide smarter and more relevant ways to move.”
Take a look at some other companies transforming how and why we travel electronically in cities, adventurously by sea, in supreme luxury and in re-purposed opulence. Also, see how the tech start-up Pix is using self-driving ideas to make flexible cities possible.