Shared e-scooters aren’t just gaining popularity in the United States; they’re hitting the streets of China, too. Recognizing the possibility that some people just don’t want to pedal that last mile, China’s transportation startup Hellobike is setting up a 1 billion yuan ($145 million) joint venture with Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Financial and battery maker CATL to provide battery-swapping services for scooters.
That’s according to an announcement from Hellobike on Wednesday, though it did not specify individual shares of the three partners.
Hellobike, backed by Ant Financial, has evolved from a bike sharing service into a one-stop app to include ride-hailing and other transportation means. That puts it in competition with car-hailing leader Didi Chuxing and Mobike, the bike sharing service now owned by Meituan Dianping.
Three-year-old Hellobike claims it’s now serving more than 200 million users in some 360 cities around China. It has its eye set on electric bikes for some time, especially when it comes to capturing users in smaller cities where buildings are more spread out. Its existing battery-swapping service, according to the announcement, can fulfill the energy need of more than two million bikes daily, and the JV will potentially give its network a boost.
Contemporary Amperex Technology, or CATL, seems like a key partner for Hellobike as it’s China’s largest battery maker for electric vehicles and has years of experience supplying to local carmakers as well as more recently international players Volvo and Toyota.
“China is ‘a country on two wheels,” said Yang Lei, Hellobike’s co-founder and chief executive officer, adding that there are one billion trips that are completed on two-wheelers in China each day. For some context, the country has a population of about 1.4 billion.
Many people in China own electric scooters. Food delivery workers ride them to navigate through rush hour traffic. Grandparents send their grandchildren to school on sun and rain-proof e-bikes. The problem, Hellobike claims, is that private bikes and their batteries can get stolen and charging stations are hard to find. What’s more, most batteries for scooters on the market currently fail to meet international environmental standards.
The three-way joint venture hopes to solve these issues by putting up battery-swapping infrastructure across the country. Users will scan a bar code at one of the swapping stations, take out a fresh, charged battery to replace their drained one, and pay via Ant’s e-wallet, which claims to have one billion users so most people can access the service without downloading a new app.