We Have the Best Batteries in the World - Exclusive Interview with Zero Motorcycles

With Brammo closing electric motorcycle manufacturing operations and being acquired by Polaris, and Mission Motors kicking the bucket, Zero Motorcycles has become the sole major e-bike producer in the world.
Scott Harden, Zero Motorcycles 1 photo
Photo: Florin Tibu
Sure, the market is still insignificant if compared to that of internal combustion motorcycles, but things are on the move. Zero VP Global Marketing Scott Harden is more than confident in the electric future and the exclusive interview below should be worthy of reading.

autoevolution: Good day, Scott. Please tell us something about your EICMA past.
Scott Harden: We are already well-acquainted with the Milan show, and actually this is my third visit to EICMA since I joined Zero. I came to this show every other year since I got involved with Zero.

ae: Cool to hear that. How's this year's edition compared to what you experienced previously?
SH: It's way different, most likely because the company has grown and the product line has also grown so much. Our display booth is bigger and more beautiful, but the best thing is the response we get from people.

Back in 2010, about half the people that came to see the bikes were only in the "forget about it" or "over my dead body" camp. Others even said things like "if it comes to riding electric motorcycles, I'll just stop." All in all, a lot of VERY NEGATIVE feedback.

It's awesome to see how things changed year by year and now people come by, very thoughtful, looking at the product, studying the product, they've read about it. They actually mention reading good reviews about the bikes, because we indeed had a lot of good reviews.

ae: So you believe that Zero Motorcycles is part of a trend that's going to change the world of motorcycling, at least the world us, older guys, have grown in?
SH: Oh, yeah, definitely. Let's face it, we now are the only ones with a solid production, at least until the major, older OEMs start putting their own electric bikes in production. And they will, believe me!

In a way, we are carrying all the weight right now, but we ARE changing the world. We changed a lot of attitudes towards electric bikes, about what they can be. We are the pioneers of our generation.

Building two prototypes does not make you a motorcycle manufacturer, things are far more complicated than this

ae: Lovely to see you being so confident, especially as Brammo is no more, and Mission Motors is also extinct. What do you think about such companies, that looked promising, but did not quite make it through?
SH: I believe we had a good strategy from the very start. We've always taken a stance that we wanted to be real, we wanted to talk about things we were REALLY doing.

We had a joke at the beginning of time, that if you could build one or two working prototypes and write a press release, you were an electric motorcycle manufacturer, but we always took it more seriously.

We only talked about the things we were PRODUCING, and we always had the strategy of building motorcycles, going to the market, continuing to improve them, and evolving them. Basically, building a real motorcycle that would be affordable and offer what the people needed.

Our studies show it, people are looking for the right balance of weight, range, performance, reliability, durability and cost. We wanted to be that company!

You know, Mission was a great motorcycle, but there is not much of a market for a $40,000 motorcycle. Brammo, they liked to write a lot of press releases about what they were going to do, and often nothing happened, and I don't think that people could ever trust what these were...

Also, our strategy included using our products as an opportunity to change the way we think about motorcycles. Our philosophy is built upon "sophisticated simplicity," that's why we don't have a gearbox. That's why we don't have liquid cooling, that's why we are down to the pure essentials a motorcycle needs and none of the things it doesn't need.

[QUOTE]It matters little how many bikes you want to manufacture, the R&D and the whole thing is equally expensive[/QUOTE]

ae: How do you see the startups? A lot of guys are making an entrance in this market and some of them have really interesting ideas, different approaches and different solutions to some of the issues in the business.
SH: We encourage and applaud them. We know there is so much creativity out there right now, and it's great to see so many people re-thinking what a motorcycle could be, no boundaries, no preconceptions.

BUT, in order to bring that idea to the market, you need a lot of money. A LOT OF MONEY!

ae: Ever thought about headhunting among startups?
SH: Well, we have, we've always looked for great talent. In key areas of Zero, we think we have some of the most talented people. Our CTO, Abe Askenazi with Buell background and great management capabilities, plus the guys in the battery and motor development departments.

In the end, let's face it, it's all about batteries, motors and controllers, and we have two of the sharpest guys in the business working for us right now. And I am not saying we wouldn't hire new talented guys if they show up, but we are already happy with the team we have.

ae: You have started making inroads in the European market, how are things going on the Old Continent?
SH: We are still in the beginning stage. You know, building a motorcycle company from zero (no pun intended) is a huge undertaking. The design, the technology, the production, the manufacturing, the sales channel, the distribution, the marketing and everything means A LOT to do.

We made good progress; we started targeting the major markets in Europe, Germany and France initially. We made progress there, we added the Benelux region and now, Italy, all direct markets that we are going for.

We are still relatively unknown, especially in Italy, where we just entered the market this past year. A little bit better in Germany - we are making good progress in Germany, but we had to build out everything. It's not enough having a great motorcycle: you have to have a dealer network, you have to meet all of the standards for the industry and markets.

There is so much to do to bring a product like this from the idea on the drawing board all the way through to the vendors. You can design all that you want, but if you can't find someone to build the parts, develop the supply chains, with good quality, at the price that you have to have it... And these are based, at this point, on low quantities, so this adds to the things you have to balance.
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