Mobility Showdown: Bird Scooter vs. Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG in Santa Monica
Los Angeles traffic is the great equalizer.
There is no good reason to compare an electric Bird Scooter to a $200,000 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, but there is a fundamental one: both move people from A to B.
That they do it differently doesn't make a comparison less relevant. It makes it more relevant.
Welcome to mobility. Forget the shills, consultants and experts. Mobility has and always will mean the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. Mobility began with sandals, greatly improved with the advent of the wheel, and now extends all the way to commercial aviation. If it helps you get from A to B faster than walking barefoot, it's a mobility solution.
But there's a catch.
Modern American society was created by, for, and around cars. The more cars on the road, the worse the traffic, and the worse cars become as a mobility solution. In cities like LA, where public transit sucks, your alternatives are motorcycles, biking, and walking. Each bring their own set of pros and cons.
Enter Bird, a dockless electric scooter rental startup that seemed to come out of nowhere and has raised $400 million at a valuation of $2B, to the consternation of anyone who didn't invest in the friends and family round. Bird launched earlier this year in Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Yadda, yadda. If you don't know the details, you already missed your chance to get in on the latest bubble to come out of Silicon Valley. I'd love to discuss it, but we're here to answer a much more fun question: Is a Bird scooter rental better than a Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG when it comes to getting around Santa Monica?
In order to find out, I took a 2018 S63 AMG Coupe to Bird's native habitat and spent the weekend comparing LA's favorite German lease to something I wanted to hate.
You won't believe what happened next.
A 2018 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe is an expensive car. We could talk about value, but if that word means anything to you, you wouldn't be looking at anything with an AMG badge. The one I tested was $208,295 with options. Base examples start at $167,700, but that's irrelevant because no one has them in stock. If you want one, you'll have to special order it. Which no one does, because the kind of person who wants an S63 AMG isn't going to wait. Because they're not actually car-shopping, they're badge-shopping. Because they don't actually like cars. Or driving—if they like driving, they own something else.
A Bird scooter has no price, because you can't put a price on happiness. Well, you can, but it's not a 1-to-1 correlation to an actual Bird scooter. If you wanted to buy the example I used—a Xiaomi m365—it would cost you approximately $499 on Amazon. But then you'd have to chain it up every time you stopped, or carry it inside with you, which is annoying. If that made sense, Xioami wouldn't have any excess product to sell to Bird.
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe: If you have to ask, stop reading now.
Bird Scooter: $0.15
An S63 AMG Coupe is almost always available at Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills, which requires an Uber or Lyft to take you there. After initial delivery, it's always available if you're willing to wait for the restaurant valet, which will cost at least 15 bucks, every time. Or $20 if you tip them to leave it in front of the restaurant, assuming no one showed up with a cooler car, which is always a possibility in LA. (AMG? No. One. Cares.) Or you can just walk to the parking lot where you put it. Not a lot of lots in Santa Monica.
Bird Scooter availability is very good. Open the app. Find Bird. They're usually close. If not, take an Uber. No need to walk anywhere or tip anyone. Womp. Womp.
Onboarding with Mercedes-Benz sucks, because you have to go to a car dealer, but it sucks even more because you will likely meet other Benz shoppers. And at least two people who work at Mercedes-Benz of Beverly Hills. At least you only have to do it once every 24-36 months, depending on the length of your lease. You could buy your AMG, but that would be insane because of Kelley Blue Book and Tavarish's work on Youtube. The day after a lease ends, the only thing more worthless than an AMG is any Maserati ever made.
Another hassle of onboarding a Benz? Insurance. You have to call someone. If there's a crash, you have to call someone else—probably a few people. Driving a Benz (or really any car) in Santa Monica is nothing but a hassle. You're always in fear of having to call people you don't want to, none of whom want to talk to you, either.
Onboarding with Bird is amazing. You download the app, you open it, and—voila! Birds are available. Also, if you have a crash, drop it, run two blocks away, call 911 and tell them someone stole the Bird from you ten minutes earlier. We'll cover this in great detail in my upcoming article, Offboarding.
The exterior of the S63 AMG is gorgeous, but it has a major problem, in that it exists. So much busy bodywork for no purpose except to excite teenage boys, other owners, and the guy holding the tip bucket at the local car wash. The only time you want an exterior in Santa Monica is if it rains, in which case no one is looking at your car anyway, and you might as well take an Uber.
Bird scooters don't have or need an exterior, which would only get in the way of slicing through traffic, parking, and ditching it once you're done with it.
The Bird scooter has no interior because it doesn't need one.
The S63 AMG's interior is both comfortable and stunning. It's also stunningly irrelevant if you consider whether you'd rather be comfortable, or already at your destination. It's a beautiful bow on a failed mobility solution; in LA traffic, being in an S63 AMG is like being stuck on the runway in a private plane. If the goal is driving for pleasure, buy an AMG-GT for Sunday morning drives to Malibu, and use a Bird the rest of the time.
Want to go out with a friend at night? Neither work if you're drinking, which you probably are, in which case it's back to Uber or Lyft.
The S63's ride quality is excellent, especially when stopped, which you will be much of the time because you are at a red light or in LA traffic, which is basically the same thing.
The Bird scooter's ride quality is terrible, encouraging one to exploit its small size and agility to reach your destination as quickly and efficiently as possible, fulfilling the goal of mobility.
The S63 AMG's handling is as good as a 4,586-pound car's will ever be. Actually, that's not true, because there several cars of similar weight that handle better, and many cheaper cars that do, too—none of which matters, because if you're pushing the handling limit of any car on the West Side of LA, you're an idiot.
The Bird scooter's handling is only as good as your abilities, fulfilling Neitzsche's desire for each and every one of us to reach our full potential—or die trying—on the glorious road to mobility.
The S63 AMG has tons. The Bird, none.
Winner: Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
If the S63 AMG's stock sound system is an embarrassment, the $6,400 Burmester upgrade is pure criminality. I own a high-end home audio showroom in NYC, and can confirm that 1) Burmester looks cool; 2) Burmester is overpriced; 3) Burmester in-car systems don't sound as good as their home gear; 4) no one buys it for the sound quality, anyway; and 5) nothing that says "high end" on it actually is high-end. All it does is remind me that luxury cars are rarely equipped with sound systems anywhere as good as the best home audio, at any price.
The Bird doesn't have a sound system, which is good because you shouldn't be listening to music while riding one.
The S63 AMG's visibility is terrible. With its high belt line, hardtop, and the sun reflecting harshly off the windows, no one can see you in it, which is the whole point.
The Bird scooter? Total visibility. You can see everything, and everyone can see that you had the good judgment to use a scooter to get where you want to go. Quickly, and on time.
SOCIAL LIFE IMPROVEMENT FACTOR
The likelihood of running into friends in Santa Monica is high. In the S63 AMG, you can't stop to talk to them. You could, but you'd have to double park and/or stop traffic. In SoCal, this will likely lead to someone throwing their smoothie at you. If you're on a Bird, you can simply stop, profoundly increasing the likelihood of maxing out your social calendar and improving your social life.
The S63 AMG's aircon is terrific, which is good, because you're basically riding around in a gilded sarcophagus with wheels. If you roll the windows down you barely get enough airflow to keep you alive during three out of four seasons. Switch to A/C and you look like the jerk who couldn't wait for the convertible version to show up at the dealer. Impatience is unattractive.
The Bird scooter has the world's best HVAC, provided by mother nature. You're in Santa Monica. Enjoy it.
The S63 AMG's nav/GPS systems sucks, at any price. You're better off using Waze or Google Maps. Buy a good phone mount, because there's nowhere good to put your phone in the center console area.
The Bird scooter doesn't have a built-in nav/GPS, but there's one available to you, anyway. Just yell at anyone you see and ask for directions. They'll be happy to help, because they don't want you dumping your Bird in front of their house.
The S63 AMG's performance is incredible—as a symbol. As a mobility solution, it's terrible. Specs won't get you to your destination any faster anywhere in LA, and certainly not in Santa Monica.
The Bird's performance is off the charts, and improves relative to how bad is the surrounding traffic.
Also, an AMG spec racing series would be incredibly boring. A Bird series? Awesome.
WARRANTY, SERVICE & SUPPORT
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: has a warranty, which requires going to the dealer. Dealers suck.
Bird Scooter: if it breaks, ditch it and get another one.
FIT & FINISH
The S63 AMG is built like a tank.
The Bird/Xiaomi is a toy. Unless you find a new one, expect them to be in rough shape. The good news? You can always ditch it and find another one with almost zero hassle. Try that with an S63 AMG.
The S63 AMG's ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) includes Mercedes-Benz's excellent Distronic radar cruise control. The rest of it is junk. I'm not joking. Their storied history of safety and technology may lead you to believe you're using the state-of-the-art. That would be a mistake. If and when you crash, your life may be saved not because of the system, but despite it.
Technically, the Bird offers no assistance of any kind. Practically, every Bird comes with the world's most advanced ADAS, which is you. At current levels of technology, the human eye is a more reliable sensor than anything mounted in any car. In conjunction with the human mind—still the most intelligent computer available—it is possible to achieve safety levels far beyond that of any ADAS system. You just have to turn it on. Also, it's free.
The S63 AMG is a very safe car. Probably one of the safest ever made, especially at the average speeds you will experience in Santa Monica.
Bird scooters are dangerous at any speed. Although the app suggests you wear a helmet, no one does. You better make your trip a quick one, because every minute on a Bird is life on the edge.
Winner: Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe: Make enemies wherever/whenever you drive.
Bird Scooter: Like jazz—if you have to ask...
RANGE & INFRASTRUCTURE
I know what you're thinking. The S63 AMG has to win because gas stations are everywhere and its range is anywhere from 200 to 567 miles, depending on your maturity. You're wrong, of course, because no trip on the West Side of LA is more than a mile or two long.
A Bird Scooter always has enough range in its native habitat, because Bird users don't have to worry about infrastructure. Charging is Bird's problem, outsourced to people who get paid weekend money to do it. If only fueling up your car was so easy.
GLOBAL MOBILITY SCORE
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG: 2
Xiaomi/Bird Electric Scooter: 17
If you're lucky enough to live and work in Santa Monica, Bird is the clear winner. If it rains, you're drunk, or you want to bring friends, get an Uber/Lyft and skip the parking hassle.
If you work more than a mile from home, or want to leave Santa Monica for any reason, you need a car. Whether or not you need to own one depends on something for which the Mobility propagandists have no answer—but Mercedes-Benz does.
It's not cost, it's agency. It's freedom. Not the freedom to use an app to summon a car; the freedom not to need an app, to do something Bird, Lyft, and Uber can never offer, which is guarantee that you can get from A to B, whenever you choose, without relying on external factors like an app, connectivity, a human driver, or available inventory.
What's the ideal solution? Unless you want to be confined to the West Side of LA, you need to own a car. The good news? Uber's partnership with Lime — Bird's competitor — means there are more such deals coming. If only Uber would partner with Turo, then you could book cool cars on weekends, use Lime and hailing the rest of the time, and you'd have everything you need.
Unless there's an earthquake or tsunami, in which case you're really going to regret not having your own car in the driveway.
I can't wait to see whom Bird partners up with next.
[CORRECTION: Uber partnered with Lime and acquired Jump. It's hard to remember all the acquisitions in this space sometimes.]
Alex Roy—founder of the Human Driving Association, editor-at-large at The Drive, host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, and author of The Driver—has set numerous endurance-driving records, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.