MUNICH -- Germany has become the latest nation to approve the use of stand-up e-scooters on roads and bicycle paths, paving the way for U.S. startups Bird Rides and Lime to enter Europe's biggest economy. Automakers such as Volkswagen are also eyeing the market.
The upper house of parliament on Friday voted to allow e-scooters with a maximum speed of 20 kph (12 mph) to be used by anyone age 14 and older. Steffen Bilger, a deputy Transport Minister, said last week the government is aiming for the legislation to take effect next month.
While Bird and Lime have each raised hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, European competitors are moving fast to beat them in a race to roll out products.
Swedish mobility startup Voi Technology said this week it would begin operations in Germany as soon as June. Rival Flash, the company created by Delivery Hero co-founder Lukasz Gadowski, has signed a partnership agreement with Herne, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, to offer e-scooters for rent.
Volkswagen showed the Cityskater and Steetmate electric scooter concepts at the Geneva auto show in March. VW said the Cityskater will go on sale by the end of the year. It has a 15-km (9-mile) range.
Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm said Germany "has been the toughest market so far on the regulation side."
"They have taken a very German approach, focusing on the vehicle, and things like the angle between the back light and the ground," he said, adding that the company had to build a new model to specifically comply with local requirements.
Voi is one of the largest of a swelling number of European players in the e-scooter market, which collectively has attracted more than $150 million of investment from venture-capital firms over the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
But U.S. rivals such as Lime and Bird have raised hundreds of millions more and generated billion-dollar valuations in the process. That fueled a rapid international expansion, which caused the abundance of competitors active in Europe to seek consolidation and mergers to remain competitive and attract funding.
A spokeswoman for Bird told Bloomberg Friday that the company is "looking forward" to bringing its scooters to German cities.
Opponents such as the German cycling association lobbied for speed restrictions for the scooters, as well as the requirement that prevents them being used on sidewalks.
"We embrace this well-thought out legislation," Flash's Gadowski told Bloomberg Friday when asked about the new German rules. "Our purpose-built scooters are already enjoyed by people in seven countries and will be in Germany plus another seven more soon."
Some of Europe's other leading economies still don't have laws that permit the use of e-scooters. In the UK, the lack of guidelines prompted the British government to open "the biggest regulatory review in a generation" of current legislation, some of which dates back to 1835.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report