Insights · November 13th, 2006
In our Ticking Time Bombs article, two issues among several stand out, climate crisis and end of easy oil. They are old stories to be sure, but are there solutions that address them, now?
The big news I got from the event I am currently attending in Milan is the debut of a new, all-electric, plug-in, high performance motorbike. It is the Vectrix. This is the story.
Today I spoke to a forum on the future at the ANCMA annual trade show, in Milan, Italy. This is the association of Italian motorcycle manufacturers, the ones with the great historic names such as Ducati and and MV Agusta.
The event was organized by Ambrosetti, the Milan-based consulting company with whom we’ve established a relationship in the past couple of years.
I spoke of global trends, including technology, energy, climate crisis, population and economics. The motorcycle and scooter industry is surprisingly small in comparison to the need in today’s mega-cities. And, in general they are traditionalists, emphasizing sexy design, speed and power. They are aware of the impending climate crisis and the next energy wave, as I outlined in “Ticking Time Bombs.â€ But they hope to stave off change for a while longer, except for change that strengthens the brand in question.
Ambrosetti had conducted a study of advertising and branding strategies, and concluded that a move to appeal to women, elders, and youth is necessary for the Italian industry. One possible metaphor is ‘think green.â€
And here in Milan we learned about a company that is not only thinking green, or marketing green, but manufacturing green. It may in fact be the company that leads the industry into the all electric, plug-in, high performance bike, the bike that changes the business. Their name is Vectrix, based in Newport, Rhode Island.
I had a chance to see and ride the bike. I am not a rider, but this machine looks like a high performance motorcycle, yet has features that allow them to qualify in Europe as a “scooter.â€ With a battery pack that recharges from a normal household outlet in a couple of hours, a range of some 60 miles, and a simple and durable design, it could be just the answer for in-city travel in today’s growing number of mega-cities.
In my talk, I suggested that the most significant population trend in the world is urbanization. In 1900 just 14% of people live in cities. In 2005 we crossed over to more than 50%, and by 2050 at least 75% of the global population will live in cities, many of them with tens of millions of people. Besides transit is there any flexible, environmentally friendly means of travel? Scooters and cycles are one potential answer, if they stop using fossil fuels. The Vectrix is the first step.
Yes, electricity must still be produced, but there are promising possibilities on the horizon for that, including wind, and vastly expanded nano-solar. And in the near term clean coal had better be a reality and not a marketing slogan. If it can be the former, than there is hope.
Postscript after returning home:
It could be, really looking at Vectrix, that they will be a case of mis-defining the business they are in, and thus creating a nice small business rather than changing the world. When I saw their bike, which they are very, very proud of, it was clear that they have defined themselves as being in the motorcycle business, and their core competitors as the traditional motorcycle manufacturers. Thus, they have produced a fabulous bike, exuding sex appeal and macho power – exactly what every other bike maker aims for. Their bike says, “I am exactly like every other motorcycle, the same fork, the same seat, the same wheels, the same look and feel, except that I have an electric motor that is way powerful.â€ (To be fair, the Vectrix also has many fewer component parts, a key advantage.)
The bottom line is that if they succeed they will take some market share from the gasoline boys.
But, will they miss the bigger picture? At the motorcycle brand event all the talk was of the limited size of the traditional male market, and the need for the industry to expand by selling to women, to teens, and to those over age 50. And, I pointed out the great need for reasonably priced and environmentally friendly transportation in the exploding mega-cities of the future.
If Vectrix were to define itself as in the “transportation businessâ€ or even in the “changing the world business,â€ they would see the market differently, forget macho sex appeal as the design standard (they could still sell this too), and think transportation of the future. Then, they would change the game.
Their slogan is “Cool people ride electric.â€ It could be, “Save the world. And have a blast doing it.â€
Maybe their entry bike is the camel’s nose under the tent, and from here they move toward the bigger picture. This is not a criticism of their bike, which is terrific. Think of it as free advice for the future.