Swiss industrial design is making its mark on the city streets around the world. From Zurich to Tokyo, millions of people have become even more mobile, thanks to a Swiss invention, the Micro Skate Scooter.
The scooter, which costs about SFr270, weighs only 2.7 kilogrammes and folds-up to the size of an umbrella. It is made from a 35-centimetre-long aluminium shaft, a pullout handlebar, and hard rubber wheels similar to those on inline skates. A rear mudguard also acts as a brake. The scooter can be unfolded and ready for riding in seconds.
"Micro-mobility will become increasingly important in the future", says Wim Ouboter (39) who invented and developed the Micro Scooter in a workshop in his native Zurich. "People want to move faster than they can by walking between the tram stop and their home or office."
The scooter can also reduce the time it takes employees to move around their workplaces, particularly in large buildings like hospitals and factories.
Ouboter says he has a childlike passion for making things, and that combined with a business degree put the Micro Scooter on the road to success. It took off last year when he hooked up with a Taiwanese partner, J.D.Cooperation, to produce it cheaply.
The bicycle manufacturer set aside one factory in Shenzen on mainland China and assigned 500 workers for the job. Four months later, the production facilities had to be enlarged, and the workforce increased to 3,000 to meet the demand. The Shenzen factory now has a production capacity of one million scooters a month.
The success story does not end there. Scooter converts in Zurich and Berne told swissinfo they love the trendy image as much as its qualities as a means of transport. "It's fun, and you don't have to change your footwear if you want to move quickly from A to B as you do with inline skates", said one 30-year-old business woman in Berne.
Ouboter has created the image of the Micro Scooter quite consciously. Instead of spending money on an advertising campaign, he gave away hundreds of scooters to boutiques and promoters of big music events, who in turn lent them to pop groups on European tours. They used them on-stage. Soon, the Micro Scooter appeared on the music channel MTV.
Ouboter is now planning a partnership with an American company to market the Micro Scooter in the United States by using the Internet.
But the success of the Micro Scooter owes as much to coincidence than to shrewd planning. Ouboter made his first Micro Scooter almost ten years ago when he was "too lazy to either walk or get my bicycle out of the basement just to grab some lunch half a kilometre from my house".
He soon forgot about his invention until he moved house. "A couple of neighbourhood kids found the scooter in a corner of my garage and played around with it", Ouboter says. He did not notice, but his wife did. "She said: 'There must be something about this scooter, you should look into it, or someone else will'."
Ouboter tries to out-source as much as he can of the "tedious work that comes with success", as he put it. Apart from marketing, this mainly concerns lawsuits over patenting. Over 50 copies of the Micro Scooter are marketed worldwide, according to Ouboter. Most of them are produced in China.
Ouboter is now developing other models. His unassuming office in Küsnacht, near Zurich, is full of prototypes of what he calls kickboards, or hybrids between a scooter and a skateboard. One such development is a kickboard that can be used conventionally, but can also be driven by a small removable electric motor.
Ouboter himself, remains a man on the move.
by Markus Haefliger