September 7th, 2020 by Jo Borrás
Have you heard of NIU electric scooters yet? I’ll be honest in saying that while I’d heard of NIU, I hadn’t spent much time looking into them. I’d assumed they were yet another vaporware scooter company. Or, at best, some south Asian off-brand offering low build-quality mechanical clones of Hondas and Yamahas and that NIU’s bikes really weren’t worth taking seriously — and that was my loss. When I finally did take a look, what I found was a for-real company with hundreds of thousands of units sold and thousands of connected, “smart scooters” already on the road. I also found NIU’s people to be remarkably accessible, especially Joe Constantly.
“We’re the market leader in Europe,” explained Constantly, Director of International (?) for NIU scooters in the Huangpu District of Shanghai, China, in an online chat. “Our battery and powertrain technology is outpacing the competition because of our scale … (compared to the Vespa Elettrica), I think our NQI GTS is a far superior bike in terms of performance and range.”
“Fair enough,” I thought. I’d specifically reached out to NIU to get more information about how its bikes compared to the Vespa, as I was hoping someone out there was building electric scooters that could “un-seat” it as my choice for best electric scooter in this year’s annual “Best Motorcycles” list (annual at Gas2, anyway). It made sense then that Constantly’s response would call out the Vespa specifically. Looking at both bikes’ claimed performance figures, both NIU’s NQI GTS and the Vespa Elettrica each have a 43 MPH (70 km/h) top speed and 62 miles (100 km) of range, but where the Vespa carries a $7499 price tag, the NIU is just $3799 in the US.
That’s right, kids: the NIU is just half the price of the Vespa it most directly competes with — and there’s nothing else electric coming to the US from Honda, Yamaha, Kymco, or Genuine any time soon. The BMW C Evolution still isn’t available Stateside, either, which means that my “best” scooter choices are really down to just 2, you know?
Constantly, though, didn’t agree with me. “The UQi GT,” he says, “is a great, entry-level moped that provides excellent range, and that’s power purpose-built for cruising around the city.”
To my eye, the UQi GT is the most moped-y of the modern scooters, but definitely has an upright, Honda Ruckus/Genuine Rattler type of vibe to it. With just one NIU battery pack instead of the NQI GTS’ two, the little bike offers a 30-35 MPH top speed and nearly 50 miles of range. That’s not going to set the world on fire, obviously, but its performance is right in line with its 50cc Ruckus/Rattler competition … even if the Rattler’s 2 stroke engine and CVT drive train do give it a slight acceleration edge (and, despite electric motors’ high TQ off the line, there’s no reason to believe the Rattler doesn’t have the edge from 0-30 MPH).
Even in this group, the NIU is price-competitive, trading for about $2000 in Europe. You can expect something like a $2499 price tag when it does arrive in the US, too, compared to $2749 from Honda’s heavier Ruckus and $2399 from the Rattler (which was discontinued after the 2019 model year, anyway).
The NIU UQi, while fun and light, may be too moped-y for buyers who, at that price, may be shopping it against an e-bike. Again, Constantly has something for me. “NIU will offer the EUB-01 electric bike that will hit the market in November. It (will be) an electric bike re-imagined, with a 1kwh battery pack, 250watt and 500watt motor options available for class 1 and class 3 in the US. It will come fully connected with an app, and will be priced between $2000-$3000 in the USA (final prices will be announced in October, 2020).”
So, it seems like NIU is for real. In a 2018 SEC filing, the company reported having more than 430,000 electric scooters already on the road — each of them connected to the company, and each other, through an app. That’s quite a bit more electric scooters than Vespa has sold. And that by an order of magnitude. As such, I think they’re probably worth taking seriously, if not worth a serious look by anyone shopping for an e-scooter.
What do you guys think? Is NIU a big player that’s managed to stay under the radar, or will it always play second fiddle to the likes of Honda and Vespa in the West? Scroll on down to the comments section and let us know what you think.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.