Polaris Invests $13 Million in EV Motorcycle Manufacturer Brammo
5-year-old Oregon startup gets cash infusion from power-sport powerhouse.
After the recent launch of its 100-plus-mph, 100-mile-range Empulse electric sport bike, Oregon-based electric-motorcycle manufacturer Brammo recently announced the close of the first $13 million tranche of a $45 million funding round. That would be great news for any startup, but it's especially noteworthy because the investment comes from Polaris, maker of ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles and low-emission vehicles, and a household name in the power-sports world. In fact, earlier this week Cleantech nominated the investment for its EV Deal of the Year Award in 2012.
I recently spoke with Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher about what the partnership means to the company, Brammo's direction in the future and the difference between the power-sports community and the mainstream car-buying public when it comes to attitudes toward electric powertrains.
Exhaust Notes: Coming off the success of the Empulse launch, you've now announced this new funding from Polaris. What does this investment allow you to do that you couldn't before? What changes can we expect to see?
Craig Bramscher: With products like the Empulse, with what we're able to achieve in that bike and how we can push the capabilities of what can be done on an electric bike, obviously bring visibility to the company, but we always need to be developing new products, always moving into the future -- and with a company like ours, the future is always what's coming next year.
The investment also changes how we can produce the Empulse, of course, but we're also looking at more than just motorcycles going forward. It's still in the kicking-ideas-around stage, but we're looking to apply Brammo battery tech to other vehicles, like with what Polaris offers. They're a great company, very well-run with a good vision for the future, and our lightweight, high-energy-density batteries lend themselves nicely to a range of uses.
Practically speaking, we've also just bought a Walmart big-box facility (Editors note: in Talent, Ore.) so we can move out of our current cramped space. The investment affects this indirectly as it will allow us to get the new facility up and running more quickly -- maybe even by January.
EN: You mentioned the rollout of the Empulse -- what does the new timeline look like?
CB: Well, we haven't publicly announced the production run yet, but 2013 will overall be a better ramp-up than previously expected. Let's just say (about the production run) that it gets better.
EN: What does it mean to have a name like Polaris investing in the company?
CB: It's a validation of the last five years of hard work. It's also a validation of where we want to go. We're believers in the industry, we know what everyone in power sports is planning. We expect the electric market to get better and better, and teaming with Polaris brings validation in consumers' eyes.
EN: Speaking of consumers, in covering electric cars I notice there's often downright hostility to the very notion of an all-electric powertrain by a very vocal group of car enthusiasts -- but this doesn't seem to be the case with motorcycles or power sports. Any idea why the difference?
CB: It's true that we don't see the polarization on the power-sports side. Maybe since this community's involvement is more closely linked to passion -- it's not primarily about commuting. Of course, there have been one-off electric motorcycle since motorcycles existed, and people look and say, "Not much has happened in this space in the last 100 years, what's new?" So maybe there's a drive for all sorts of innovation, and the primary concern is what works for your passion.
EN: And how do you attract that type of consumer?
CB: One of the things that will always be key to us and to this industry is the next generation of batteries. Batteries are really the crux of the market -- it's what lets the consumers feel comfortable with the product. It's a continuous treadmill. Every time we increase the energy density, even by 10 percent, it opens up a broader market for us. We'll get to a point soon where we can start approaching the cruiser market, riders who obviously go on much longer rides that right now require a huge battery. Plus, every time cost comes down and the technology becomes more reliable, then the consumers believe in the tech more.
Of course, that's just the battery side. Core to our business is also satisfying machine lust.
EN: And what makes a lustful machine?
CB: It's really about your reaction to it, the way you interact with the machine. If it's something that's just so, let's say utilitarian, where you don't know every single detail of it, every bolt ... if you're not washing it and then just sitting there, looking at it, if you're not making excuses to go out to the garage and just stare at it, it's not a lustful machine.
And, really, that's the type of motorcycle we make. Our goal is not to be the best electric option out there -- it's to be one of the best options, period.
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