Without question, Tesla changed the way the world looks at electric vehicles. The original Tesla Roadster was a bit of a false start, but the Model S proved that EVs don’t have to be boring or void of character. It may not be nearly as ubiquitous as internal combustion-power, but EV awareness and popularity are undoubtedly growing and that rising tide is raising the ships in the motorcycle industry as well. It’s a much smaller market but in the past few years, the two-wheeled electric industry has notably mirrored its four-wheeled counterpart. And, just as Tesla leads the way for the automotive industry, Zero is taking up a similar role for motorcycles.
Zero Motorcycles CEO, Sam Paschel is by no means a traditionalist, but he understands the importance of motorcycle culture and its history in the United States and around the world. At the same time, he sees the increase in the popularity of electric motorcycles as a certainty, a natural progression for the industry. “Three years ago when I took the job, the automobile market had just hit a place where it had a sense of inevitability in the transition to electric. And [electric] motorcycles felt more like a niche. But today, electric motorcycles have that same sense of inevitability.” Paschel continued, “We’re seeing a lot more investments in infrastructure and that’s a leading indicator of demand. We’re on a ramp that’ll continue in the same way the car industry has progressed.”
In the past few months alone, brands like Audi, Mercedes and Porsche all launched their own all-electric cars. Something Elon Musk famously welcomed, saying the competition would drive innovation. Like Tesla, Zero was one of the first brands in the space and similarly to Tesla, Zero’s only vehicles are electric. “We’re following very similar curves to what Tesla saw three years ago, as far as how the conversations are going, what the response is and competitors entering the space,” said Paschel. What he’s referring to is long-standing brands like Harley-Davidson, Ducati and Vespa either recently launched an electric model or announced intentions of doing so.
In a similar sentiment to Musk’s, Paschel is keen to see the electric motorcycle industry flourish on the shoulders of innovation driven by competition. “The team at Zero has known for a very long time, as the transition happened and momentum picked up in the electric motorcycle space, we wouldn’t be left all alone to dominate the market as a single player. That doesn’t happen in mature markets.” Paschel went on, “There’s always the emergence of competition. I think it’s validating for the category and I think it brings a lot of attention.” As the CEO of the company, Paschel is obviously concerned about keeping Zero on top in the category, but there’s a clear indication he has a passion for the industry as a whole.
However, even with titans of the industry, like Ducati and H-D joining the fray, Paschel is still confident Zero has an upper hand as electric motorcycles progress and evolve. “The lessons that we’ve learned over 13 years about everything from training and service requirements for our dealers, how to articulate the story of an electric motorcycle, how to answer key questions consumers have about the bike and how those are evolving, to solving all the technical problems.” Paschel continued, “It’s not an easy thing to do. It took us around $250 million and 13 years of putting bikes into the real world to find these corner cases.” Only so much knowledge is gained from preliminary testing and development. Zero’s true edge comes from real-world experience and hundreds of thousands of miles worth of feedback from riders.
Refinement, especially with electric motorcycles, is more than just about the fit and finish. When you’re talking about a vehicle with as much torque as what Zero motorcycles produce, and can go 125 MPH, you want a mature operating system as well. “Electric bikes, as opposed to the gas bikes a lot of these competitors have been making for a long time, have a central nervous system. It’s as much a consumer electronic as it is a motorcycle,” said Paschel. And while he said he can’t speak on behalf of the other manufacturers and where they are development wise, Paschel did say, “We have an operating system that’s mature, like it has the brain of an adult, and if you just launched you’re more likely to have the brain of a toddler.”
Finally, Paschel gave a few words of warning to his incoming competitors, saying “I know the problems we’ve had to solve and the technical challenges we’ve faced, it took us a long time to sort it out, so even if they’re investing a lot more and they’re a more mature company on the gas side, it’s a very steep learning curve.” As the electric motorcycle hits this tipping where the market phases out of simply accepting electric power and into full-on adoption of electric power and larger, more traditional manufactures enter the ring, Paschel is confident Zero is and will be the main protagonist, leading the way, but admits “only time will tell.”
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