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Cars were supposed to simplify our lives. They were intended to make Earth smaller, and travel more brief and efficient. And they did, for a time. Now, most cities have some level of gridlock, its corresponding pollution and frustration, and driving has devolved into commuting. Yet many people are still reticent to embrace public transit in all but a few North American cities.

Car Stories – Grant Delgatty and Sven Etzelsberger

At its root, this is the Last Mile Problem. This basically means that you can travel the bulk of your journey on a train, bus, or subway but the last mile (or first mile) requires walking. Not a terrible fate, but no one wants to arrive at work sweating or, if necessary, carry any cargo with them over long distances.

Enter Grant Delgatty and Sven Etzelsberger. They are the designer and engineer, respectively, who devised the URB-E, a very small and sophisticated electric scooter.

“The [URB-E] is really designed to the same standards and engineering principles as you would design a super-sports car,” says Etzelsberger. All non-loadbearing, unnecessary material was removed and it’s actually the lightest vehicle in its class at roughly 35lbs (16kg). Additionally, it’s capable of traveling up to 20 miles per charge, folds, and can be pulled onto public transportation.

It isn’t too surprising to learn that Delgatty, who originally conceived the idea, couldn’t decide if he wanted to become a transportation or product designer before graduating from Art Center College of Design in 1995. Upon gradation, he applied for a footwear design position and was surprised to get it. Eventually he became Vans’ head of design and later left to start his own shoe company. The company’s main selling point was that you could customize shoes’ uppers and soles “kind of like Build-a-Bear, but with shoes,” according to Delgatty.

“That experience taught me so much about being able to educate the consumer. In fact, that’s almost the same challenge that we face today with our product, with the URB-E, is that when people see it… we so often get this reaction of ‘What is it?’”

Then “…you can kind of almost see this light bulb go off… it all of a sudden becomes this kind of a-ha moment.” Last mile, or last 20 mile, problem solved. But despite its diminutive size and comparisons to older motorized scooters, “it’s definitely designed as a tool for adults.”

Etzelsberger’s involvement was almost co-incidental. Through his career he had worked for Porsche, Ford, and Fisker, where he was the first engineer. Probably the last too. A few weeks after Fisker’s operations closed in 2013, a mutual acquaintance connected Etzelsberger with Delgatty and upon seeing a prototype, Etzelsberger realized that this was a viable solution to the Last Mile Problem. He joined in. For Delgatty, it was Eztelsberger’s custom KTM-based bobber that he built in his garage, which sealed the deal.

From there they launched into CAD design, digital modeling, engineering analyses, and then a completely functional prototype. The whole process took about two-and-a-half years. They joke that it’s a mini-Tesla, and the primary battery tube, which is also the main structural member, is made from 6061 T-6 aluminum. As much as they love the accolades heaped on them, Delgatty alludes to the solution’s ease, the difficult part, he says, was identifying the true root problem: the last mile issue and a lack of compact, actually useful solutions.

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Podcast Interview by A.J. Gordon / Article Written by Yoav Gilad