While much of the focus has been on electric cars, two-wheeled electric vehicles actually stand to gain much more from electrification. America already has a few top-notch electric motorcycle manufacturers, and a Japanese startup called Terra Motors hopes to bring an innovative electric scooter to market, using smartphones to serve as the vehicle’s dashboard and infotainment center.
It’s a clever way to cash in on the popularity of smartphones in developed countries, though the $4,500 Terra Motors A400i is actually aimed at the Southeast Asia market, where scooters are far more popular than cars. While $4,500 is more than the cost of the Tata Nano, Terra thinks it could be shipping as many as 100,000 of these electric scooters per year by the end of 2015.
Why? Because their goal is to hit buyers in the top 2% to 3% of the population, which represents hundreds of millions of potential buyers. Smartphones are the hot accessory among many of the growing Asian middle classes, and a $4,500 electric scooter is pretty much the ultimate accessory.
Using a Bluetooth connection, an iPhone can be placed in a special dock, where it displays things like battery level, and even GPS directions. A small LCD screen is included for info like speed, and while it only fits iPhones for now, Terra plans to expand offerings to include other kinds of smartphones.
But even better than the smartphone connectivity is an easily-replaceable battery system. Details are still being worked out, but it could allow users to drop off deplenished batteries, and then pick up a fully charged one, at store locations like 7-11. Each battery is good for about 40 miles, and recharges in 2 to 3 hours from a normal outlet. The A4000i has a top speed of 40 mph, so at full tilt you can get about an hour of driving out of this bad boy, more than enough for most local trps.
Could a similar vehicle catch on in the U.S? I don’t see why not; cars are increasingly uncool to young people, and unaffordable regardless, but a $4,500 scooter to fit your smart phone? Sounds like a bargain if you live in a place like New York City or San Francisco.