Zero Motorcycles Could Teach Tesla, Elio a Thing Or Two

Zero Motorcycles

Recently, the guys at Auto Evolution sat down with Scott Harden, Zero’s director of marketing, for an extensive chat about electric vehicles, making it as a start up, battery technology, and what Zero sees as the road ahead in the world of mobility. Harden had some interesting things to say — and some of those things could apply to Tesla and Elio Motors as well.

First off, Harden says starting a new motorcycle company is hard. Like, really hard. It also takes lots and lots of money, and there’s a lot more to it than penning an interesting design or 3-D printing a prototype. “In order to bring that idea to the market, you need a lot of money. A LOT OF MONEY! I can tell you that starting a motorcycle business is not for the faint of heart. It needs a very, very high level of capital investment, whether you produce 100 or 10,000 units. You have to have the R&D, the engineering, the production capabilities …”

“You’d be surprised how quickly you burn through 5 million dollars, or 10 million dollars,” he adds. “Or, even 20 million dollars. It may sound like a lot, but this is not that much money. You need a lot more than that if you want to be a motorcycle producer.” That should sound familiar to followers of both Tesla and Elio Motors, both which have burned through millions of dollars so far, with little sign of slowing down.

Harden is also proud of the people he works with. He thinks Zero has the best batteries in the business — even better than Tesla’s — thanks to its creative engineers.

“I don’t have a cut section battery here, but if you look inside one of our designs, you’ll see the cells stacked like a deck cards, with just enough space between them for expansion and contraction under temperature. That’s the meaning of a ‘compact design.’ Try to do that with a bunch of baseballs and see what you get.

“They [Tesla] are still using cylindrical cells, which,volumetrically, is very inefficient. We are way more efficient in terms of space. We can even teach them a thing or two when it comes to packaging a battery. Taking a bunch of flashlight batteries and taping them together just doesn’t cut it.”

The conversation turned to mobility in general, whether on two wheels, three wheels, or four. Harden showed he had a very firm grasp of how changing attitudes will affect the market for all types of vehicles in the future.

“Young people today are into a world of computers and internet, smartphones and social networks. They aren’t like we were when we were young. They aren’t any longer so eager to get out there and drive a car or ride. In the US, for example, young people are waiting longer and longer to get their driver license. It’s just no longer a big issue for them. When I was young, the very first day I was old enough to drive I was at the DMV office to have my license. I had to have a car! … Nowadays it’s different. Young people are becoming more urban, living in cities, they are tuned more into computers, and there’s a big problem for the motorcycle industry. We are having some success attracting young people to our new technology because if there’s one thing young people are looking for, it’s new ideas and new ways of doing things. I think we may have better chances to bring in new people with electric vehicles than with internal combustion ones, possibly because of what the ICE  represents in their mindset. This is a big challenge and not just for Zero, but for all.”

Zero Motorcycles cost more than conventional bikes, just as Teslas cost more than ordinary cars. So how does Zero plan to appeal to new buyers? The same way Tesla does — by getting people to try them so they can convince themselves.

“We sell a product based on the experience it offers. It’s not here to save the planet, it’s not a low-cost, no-maintenance thing. When you ride our bike, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s got a great feeling about it, it accelerates really hard. You twist the throttle, there’s no sound. You’re just flying along, with the wind in your hair — a magic carpet ride experience.”

That’s a feeling any Tesla Roadster owners out there can relate to, I’m sure!


Source | Images: Zero Motorcycles, via Auto Evolution.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.