September 17, 2020

Jimmy Pattison, The Environment & the E-bike Revolution

Sometimes change happens when you least expect it~as Natalie Obiko Pearson  and Divya Balji write in the Vancouver Sun Jimmy Pattison who built a multi-billion dollar  “empire from a single, loss-making Vancouver car dealership” acquired in 1961 has done the impossible.

Looking at how to invest and protect money in the post-Covid world, this billionaire is now focussing on the environment. As Mr. Pattison stated “We have got to focus on the environment, the environment, the environment. Anything that is negative, in my opinion, to do with the environment is going out of business sooner or later.”

To back that claim, Mr. Pattison took a hydrogen fuelled car around southwestern British Columbia on a weekend and declared that he was surprised at the experience.
“All I’ve driven is engines all my life and so when you get something that’s this smooth and fast and goes like a dart and quiet. Boy, I never drove anything nicer.”

For someone that invested (and still acquires) car sales lots across the country, these are remarkable statements about a major change in business acumen and investment in post Covid industries.

Mr Pattison’s change of view is echoed in the success of VanMoof, which is the “Tesla of electric bikes”. These E-bikes automatically gear shift, have frames that illuminate for light, and clamp the wheel should anyone try to pilfer them.

Expecting to raise 25 million American dollars, VanMoof’s latest funding round produced $40 million from venture capitalists.

And E-bikes are right on trend in Covid and post-Covid times. With price tags in the 2,000 to 3,000 American dollar range VanMoof is aiming at selling volume on a fairly affordable cost.

As CNN’s Matt McFarland writes  “Electric bikes have become the latest hot investment in transportation as consumers seek active, outdoor activities and personal modes of transportation during the pandemic. Sales of bikes and used cars are growing. The trend of cities closing streets to car traffic amid a decline in commuting has also aided companies like Van Moof.”

I have already written about the fact studies show that e-bike users quadruple the distance they travel with an e-bike, and once you own an e-bike it replaces many short car trips. As the Covid pandemic has meant more people get out to walk and bike, e-bikes have become a purchase of choice.

You know there’s a major trend towards cycling when the government of the Yukon announces a $750 rebate for an e-bike or a $1,500 rebate for a cargo e-bike. 

Change that was expected to take five years or a decade has become concentrated and faster during the Covid pandemic. Tie in climate change, the devastation from the forest fires along the western coastal states, and it is quite clear that Mr. Pattison is right about where the focus for the economy needs and will be: “ the environment, the environment, the environment.”

This VanMoof YouTube video below of a vehicle morphing into a VanMoof E-bike has had over two million views.




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  1. EVs still have a ways to go in lowering their manufacturing footprint and becoming a more profound environmental improvement for those who really need a car. And we’ve often been disappointed in their relatively slow uptake in sales. So far. But we forget that it isn’t really the goal to get more EVs on the road but to get more ICE vehicles off. And I think we also forget that EVs include bikes, transit, transport and delivery vehicles and all of those are poised to grow radically and will probably make a much bigger dent in emissions than electrification of individual cars – at least in the near term.

    E-bikes may well be a bigger driver of separated bike lanes than bikes have been.

    And larger EVs really shine for fleet use. That’s where the economics already work today, without subsidies. The latest developments are quite fascinating: turning the entire EV fleet into grid stabilization tools that make renewable energy even more cost effective than it has become in recent years. When utilities faced the enormous cost of electrical storage to make renewabes a viable part of the grid the entire exercise seemed absolutely daunting. But with the latest battery technology EVs can play that role and save the utility the cost and hassle. Already pilot projects throughout the world are having homeowners and car owners store cheap excess electricity and sell it back at a profit when demand is high. This saves the utility the upfront cost of storage and and also saves them the high cost of running expensive peaker plants to meet short term demand.

    When smart grids have evolved more fully and this becomes the norm it’s going to make owning an EV or a fleet of them an awfully attractive proposition. ICE vehicles are doomed.