E-Trike Takes Bite Out of Moscow’s Fast Food Delivery Market

Moscow restaurants are trying a new ‘ideal delivery vehicle’ in the effort to speed up deliveries in the congested city.

Digitalization of restaurant ordering has sent Russia’s food delivery sector on a growth cycle in the last ten years. Couriers carrying awkward square backpacks are now a common sight in public transport, a popular subject for jokes, and a new profitable shop front for many businesses. The sector’s 19% growth in 2018 seems impressive but not for those who witnessed 60% explosion a year before. This trend is now running out of gas with many customers dissatisfied by lengthy delivery times. E-commerce managers say that many customers find it inconvenient to wait more than half an hour.

“When you click ‘I want to eat’ button, you mean it,” says Denis Netaliev, CEO at Robot2b engineering agency, in an interview for TU-Automotive. In a year or so, keeping to a 30-minute timeframe will be a survival factor because “people will demand it”.

Meanwhile, most food retailers in Moscow, the country’s biggest food delivery market, struggle to guarantee a 45 to 60 minutes range. None of the existing transport modalities can supercharge the couriers with Moscow regulators putting tight restrictions on automobiles making them unattractive. Walking couriers move slowly and depend on the quality of public transport. Exhaustion in the end of a shift further compromises their speed. Bikes and motor scooters prove to be too dangerous in bad weather and put cargo load in a high risk of damage.

Food chain Dodo Pizza even tried canopy scooters instead of cars but did not see any advantage. “They’re vulnerable to traffic jams just like cars and cause problems in extreme frost,” reads the chain’s social media account. Besides, “staff turnover is high in Moscow so we need a vehicle easy to learn driving”.

So, enter the concept of a light electric trike from Robot2b which looked at what would constitute an ideal delivery vehicle based on its clients’ requirements, recalls Netaliev. The first company’s model Trike2b weighs 40kgs (88lbs) and carries 50kgs (110lbs) of load on a front cargo bed at a speed electronically limited to 25kph (15.5mph) with a range of 90km (56 miles). Its main advantage is being able to traverse pedestrian walk-ways and so avoiding the congested city roads.

The company hired automotive engineers to work on the project using many auto components including suspension parts and anti-theft systems. The machine maintains a bicycle look and feel while boasting the robustness of an LCV. “Bike parts is the weakest point of most cargo trikes in the market,” says Netaliev. “Cargo trikes are heavy-duty equipment that must resist to snow, frost, de-icing chemicals and aggressive riding.”

The machines were was rolled out in the autumn of 2018 and Netaliev is obviously inspired by its first months of sales and clients’ results. One of the best use cases came from food chain Kukhnya Na Rayone. It reported delivery time improvement by 30% and shifted its marketing strategy, putting emphasis on customers’ shorter waiting. With better efficiency, the chain “can afford more competent staff with positive impact on client service,” according to the chain co-owner Anton Buterbrodov.

Netaliev hopes to sell a complete sharing system comprised of a software platform, vehicles and rental/charging stations. He believes that the delivery sector will inevitably come to the sharing model because of its attractiveness for small retailers. The fact that many of Moscow’s car-sharing operators and the town’s bike-sharing company hardly make ends meet seems not to concern him.

In general, sharing operators loose money on poor predictability of trip time and destination, he explains, forcing them to redistribute inventory from areas with lower demand to higher demand. On the contrary, couriers always return the vehicle to the same base and make short trips, allowing a B2B-focused operator to run on smaller fleet.

Netaliev envisions that trike-sharing stations located near shopping centers will reveal convenience of fast delivery to non-food retailers, namely pharmacies, cosmetic and baby products shops,and then consumer electronics. “People will ask why they have to wait for iPhone longer than for diapers,” says he.

Netaliev’s only concern is to find an investor to upscale production and respond to the demand exceeding 4,000 units in 2019. Some side effects of their future popularity can be foreseen though – a vehicle with a $3,500 sticker will, inevitably, tempt Moscow’s serial hijackers. Crowds of heavy and fast vehicles in pedestrian areas may raise people’s safety concerns and force the trikes onto the crowded road infrastructure losing their main advantage. A European-style bike lane system would help but it as yet does not exist.

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