Following the launch of two ‘fundamentally different’ new Pure Electric e-scooters, BikeBiz and MMB editor Alex Ballinger spoke with company founder Adam Norris about the transport challenges the world currently faces
This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
‘Hey! I’ve just seen one of my scooters go past,” said an excited Adam Norris, speaking to me
over the phone from a street in Paris. “I’m still so proud, happy to see it,” he added, describing the middle-aged man in a suit who had just passed him on a Pure Electric branded scooter in a “posh part of town”.
Norris was filled with enthusiasm during our 20-minute call, which took place just a day after the company he founded launched two unique new e-scooter models, designed to shake up the existing technology on the market.
The emerging e-scooter sector, still in its infancy in the UK but far more developed around the world, is the subject of much debate amongst those with a vested interest in urban transport.
With the legalisation of private e-scooters still months away (at least) in the UK, BikeBiz caught up with Norris, entrepreneur, Pure Electric founder, and father of British Formula One driver Lando Norris.
A new project
The Pure story dates back to 2018, when Lando, a rising star in the highest level of motorsport, signed with the McLaren Formula 1 team, realising a dream for the young driver, supported by his father Adam.
With Lando securely in a seat for the foreseeable future of his motorsport career, Adam turned his attention to a new project – reducing the environmental impact of our transport habits.
“So my vision is to make the planet a better place,” said Norris. “I think pollution is the biggest problem facing our species. I looked at it and thought, my background was direct consumer marketing and sales, so what product can I do? And I genuinely think that the electrification of products is going to make a massive difference.”
Having amassed a multi-million pound fortune early in his career through the pensions wing of Hargreaves Lansdown asset management, then helping support start-up businesses as CEO of Horatio Investments, Norris then switched to the micromobility industry in 2018, by founding Pure Scooters.
Starting out with its own brand of electric scooter, Pure then moved into retail, opening high street stores in key locations, including Bristol, London, and Paris, and broadening its focus to include the sale of third party scooter brands and e-bikes.
But earlier this year, operating under a new brand name Pure Electric, Norris and the team opted to shift away from retail, resulting in the closure of a majority of its stores, dropping the e-bike aspect of the business, and instead focusing on third-party partnerships with outside retailers.
On the changing of the tide, Norris said: “We started off selling electric scooters, the company I set up was called Pure Scooters. We realised that people want to touch and feel the product so at that point, I was selling Xiaomi and Segway so that worked. We set up one store and that worked really well. A few people who came to work for me came from the bicycle industry.
“The bicycle industry people were saying don’t you think scooters will be bigger than bikes one day? One particular gentleman internally decided we wanted to sell bikes. I got it, understood it. It fits in with my ethos of decarbonisation, but what I realised was, we’re right in the infancy, we have a position to really accelerate the use of scooters across the globe.
“And we’re leading that, there’s a lot of very good bicycle companies – like Brompton or Specialised or Cube – there’s a lot of very good companies out there and it’s a very mature market. So filling a hole that wasn’t being done by any good scooter manufacturer felt like it would have a bigger impact than selling e-bikes.
“We made a decision: we should focus on one thing, we should focus on electric scooters.” As his example, Norris looked at the Pure retail business in France, where e-scooters are legal, and where his stores were not making money.
The brand then entered into a partnership with the French electronics retailer Fnac, and immediately business was transformed overnight, as the third-party sales far outstripped the sales from the Pure Electric stores in France.
Following the closure of the Pure Electric stores in the UK, the brand has now entered into a similar partnership with British high street electronics retailer Currys.
Anyone familiar with British transport legislation will notice a significant hiccup for a British business selling privately-owned e-scooters: they’re not actually legal on UK roads.
The UK lags behind its European counterparts in many respects when it comes to urban transport, from safe infrastructure to e-bike sales, but the Government has also dragged its heels in legislating for e-scooters, despite the low-cost, zero-emission vehicles being an obvious alternative to the car and the soaring associated costs.
It is currently illegal to ride privately-owned electric scooters on public roads in the UK. There are currently more than 30 trial scooter rental schemes in the country, which the Government is using to collect safety data to inform any updated legislation.
In May, the Government announced plans for a new vehicle category that would pave the way for the legalisation of private-use e-scooters, as the upcoming Transport Bill would introduce a classification of low-speed, zero-emission vehicles, but despite this positive step it’s still not clear when e-scooters will be legal on the roads. The current indication is that it may not be until June 2023.
“It’s frustrating,” said Norris. “The last couple of days I’ve been asked a lot of questions about this. So I think it’s really frustrating for us as a manufacturer that we can’t sell the products, which are legal across the whole of Europe, we can’t ride on the roads and test them in the UK. It just seems antiquated. I think that I feel disappointed that the country I was born in seems to be the slowest getting basic things sorted out.
“We did some surveys about a year and a half ago, where we found that 80% of the people leaving our shop without the products said the reason they didn’t buy is because they’re illegal – and that was a nurse, a doctor, a carer, normal people but who just felt they don’t want to ride it after we told them it was illegal. They decided not to ride it, which I respect. But so I think the figure would go up fourfold once they’re legalised.
“But British people are quite progressive. We’re trying new things. We’re innovative as a country. It’s just the Government letting us down at the moment.”
The cycle industry
Debate about e-scooters also continues to rage in the cycle industry, as the new technology does present an opportunity to generate sales for bike retailers, but the question of legality may deter many business owners from selling the vehicles.
Meanwhile high street chain Evans Cycles has begun to offer e-scooter products, as more and more cycling distributors are adding e-scooter brands to their portfolios. But does the bike industry need to welcome this new mode of transport?
“I don’t really care,” said Norris. “It doesn’t really affect me whether the bike industry does or doesn’t. The answer is: progressive people will. Do they need to? I think there’s still going to be lots of people who enjoy cycling, but fundamentally for a lot of people in an urban environment, scooters are better than a bicycle.”
Norris and I were speaking just a day after the launch of Pure’s latest innovation in the e-scooter market – two new models with some unique design features.
The new Pure Advance scooters both feature lower foot plates offering the rider a forward facing position, a patent-pending steering system offering greater control and, in the higher-end Advance Flex model, folding handlebars and chassis making the scooter easier to store than other versions.
Further developments in the company include planned expansion to the Nordics, the UAE, increasing its footprint in Germany, and Italy along with further discussions in Israel in the USA.
Following the announcement of the Currys partnership, Norris said the brand is always in discussions with new potential partners: “We’re always speaking with people. We’ve been speaking to people for the last few months to try and do the right deals.
“We want to make sure that the people can explain the products properly. We could go into 100 retailers tomorrow, but it’s about having quality retailers.”