Builder of affordable, electric motorcycles Alta Motors recently partnered with Harley Davidson to drive scale and get their motorcycles into the hands of more customers around the world. The new partnership is already starting to bear fruit as the high-tech motocross company fleshes out the benefits of having an established, high-volume cruiser builder with arguably the strongest brand in the industry on their side as they look to take on the world.
The Potential of a New Partnership
Alta Motors sprouted out of a culture steeped in research and design, with products naturally growing out of the technologies being developed. The latest of its products, the Redshift MXR affordable electric motorcycle, makes use of the heart and soul of Alta’s tech — a battery that packs the highest energy density of any other lightweight electric vehicle.
We recently spoke with Marc Fenigstein about these topics. Marc’s LinkedIn bio has him down as Alta’s Rapidisto-in-Chief, which means he “plays at the intersection of design, business, and technology.” Marc shared more about how the company is thinking about its plans to drive scale and take its products to the next level. He shared that, “the hardest thing for a startup is the supply chain,” and with that in mind, they started looking for a partner that could help them level up the way Alta Motors sources its raw materials.
On the surface, the two companies couldn’t be more different. Harley Davidson is know for its cruisers, rolling down city streets in packs, hauling around an army of oversized men adorned in leather and blacker-than-night sunglasses. Alta Motors builds products for the younger crowd with energy drink–fueled guys and gals clad in mud-speckled glow-in-the-dark clothing designed to protect them from the inevitable attack of the elements.
Beneath the branding, the empty Red Bull cans, and the handlebar mustaches, they are both fundamentally motorcycle companies and there are strong cultural bonds between them. Motorcycle riders are rebels and the two-wheeled monsters they ride are fundamentally the same. Marc related that, “we viewed the world and the possibilities very similarly. “
Electric Vehicles Open Up New Possibilities
The differences stretch beyond culture and into the business realm, with significant potential to tap into the overlap in the companies to make the partnership more than just the sum of its parts. “As different as our products and market are, there are a ton of synergies.” The companies also see the potential to partner on products that don’t exist yet and, “to develop a segment where there isn’t one.”
Digging into what this could mean, Marc shared that they are exploring a broad segment of untapped market, including “everything larger than an e-bike and smaller than a passenger car,” because they feel that is the sweet spot for the technology Alta Motors has developed.
It would be easy to assume that a motorcycle company would remain focused on two-wheeled products but Marc shared that Alta views the lightweight, electrified transportation segment as one with significant potential. “We have a natural tail wind in scooters and motorcycles and we want that growth to happen in electric.” Alta is open to competing with a variety of vehicles types — “that could be two wheels, that could be four wheels.”
The explosive growth potential in lightweight electric vehicles like e-bikes isn’t just a pipe dream — all you have to do is look to China to see how fast this segment can not only be created, but become a significant segment of the market. Maybe it goes without saying, but it’s worth noting that Alta is laser focused on pushing electric vehicles. “In most developed markets, the numbers work out in favor of electrics,” Marc related.
Alta Motors currently does all of its design and manufacturing above the battery cell level in California. Pushing for clarity on the future of manufacturing, I asked if outsourcing to overseas suppliers or contract manufacturing was in the future for Alta Motors and found that this is something Alta Motors and Marc are passionate about. The answer might surprise you.
“For us, time is money. Not just for startups but any company that is competing on having superior products in the marketplace … if they’re competing on anything other than pure cost and a commodity, it actually is the sound business decision to have your development and manufacturing colocated because you can cycle and introduce product so much faster.
“Y0u can mature that product so much more quickly that ultimately, you’re saving money. You’re building a better product sooner which means that it’s much more valuable to the market and that value to the markets far outweighs the difference in labor cost.”
Taking on the World
Alta Motors was started to prove what was possible with electric vehicles and to really see what they were made of. “We stepped back and thought about what the most brutal environment would be to test electric vehicles … and off-road motorcycles were it.” That mindset of taking on the hardest challenges because they’re tough was the reason Alta threw its hand into the air for one of the most difficult motocross challenges in the world — the Erzberg Rodeo.
For the uninitiated, Erzberg is an epic off-road challenge that pits 500 motorcycle riders not so much against each other, but against nature in a course that seems to eat challengers for breakfast with only 25 finishers in 2017 … and only 9 in 2016.
The riders must squeeze every bit of power out of their bikes up insane dirt and rock mountains, down fast straightaways, and around tight turns. It’s the pinnacle of off-road endurance motocross races and, as such, felt like the perfect place to see what Alta’s bikes were made of.
Alta Motors will be the first electric motorcycle manufacturer to compete in the challenge, pushing its electric motorcycle tech to the limits to see if its vehicles are up to snuff. Marc shared that while electric motorcycles have a few advantages over their internal combustion counterparts, in that they don’t stall and allow for much more acute control of torque, they are heading into the unknown.
The mountains, rocks, dirt, and hours upon hours of brutality have a way of breaking welds, draining lines, and pushing both bikes and riders to their limits. That’s why Alta Motors has entered — it wants to see how the bikes it has birthed hold up in the most challenging conditions in the world.
Looking Around the Corner
“What’s particularly exciting for me — we’ve been at this for 8 years: 2018 is proving to be a major inflection point for the electric vehicle industry as a whole. We’ve had a product on the market for long enough to prove that it’s the real deal and that the technology does what we said it can do.
“Now we’re able to attract a partnership and the investment we need to really go broad and go global and mature as a company. … We are in the middle of that next transition where we go from a single product startup to setting our sights on being a global vehicle manufacturer that is going head to head with the big guys.” — Marc Fenigstein, Alta Motors.
Tropos Technologies Has Built A Fleet Of Highly Functional Low-Speed Electric Utility Vehicles (#CleanTechnica Exclusive)
May 13th, 2018 by Kyle Field
Low-speed electric vehicle manufacturer and distributor Tropos Motors was founded out of decades of experience working across all levels of electric vehicle design.
We sat down with Tropos Motors CEO John Bautista and Sales and Marketing Director, Scot Harden for a chat about where the company came from and, more importantly, where the company is headed in the years ahead.
Having spent years building electric race cars at Clean Speed, and even faster electric motorcycles at Zero Motorcycles, John Bautista finally decided to kick things into high gear with a move into the low-speed electric vehicle (LSV) market by launching Tropos Motors.
Tropos started off with a small LSV truck that began its life on the back of a napkin. It wouldn’t stay on the page for long though, with the team developing the first two prototypes in a mere 9 months. The prototypes were toured around the trade show circuit to gauge customer interest and to solicit feedback from real customers. The team took all the learnings from the road show and tweaked the product to get it to line up better with the needs of the customers.
Somewhere along the way, John saw a modular electric vehicle concept that was designed to allow for modular flatbeds to be bolted and unbolted to compact LSVs and an LED light went off somewhere in his complex brain. Bringing together an extremely functional, low-speed electric vehicle with the modular flatbed concept just resonated with him.
The ABLE Platform
Fast forwarding a few years and John and team are touring around the Tropos ABLE line of vehicles that John says, “fall between a golf cart and a small pickup truck.” Make no mistake about these vehicles, though — they are anything but glorified golf carts. The Tropos ABLE specs tell the tale with a payload capacity of 2,000 pounds (1 ton | 900 kilograms) and a towing capacity of 3,000 pounds (1.5 tons | 1,350 kilograms) that speak to its automotive-grade components.
Rolling pickup components and specs together with its diminutive footprint pay out in spades with functionality. These narrow vehicles are able to get into places full-size vehicles can only dream about. “Our 12.5′ turning radius allows us to get around tight corners without making multiple turns,” John shared. The compact form factor and electric powertrain allow them to drive between buildings on a large corporate campus or hospital and even right into buildings for quick point-of-need service.
The Tropos ABLE can climb over 30% grade in the heaviest vehicle package and can start and stop on the hill, not just climbing it with a running start, thanks to its “torquey” electric motor. Power comes from “maintenance-free, sealed, gel lead-acid batteries.” The 72 volt system and standard batteries result in a range of 40–50 miles per charge, with the base vehicle package having an optional longer range battery that allows for 50–60 miles per charge. That might not sound like a lot, but for a maintenance cart, campus fire service vehicle, emergency services vehicle, or Tropos’ new Sweeper package, they won’t be spending much time on city streets buzzing around town.
Scot Harden reinforced just how sturdy the ABLE line is, “We are using automotive-grade components whereas some players in this space are repurposing other components for their vehicles.”
John shared that while the lead-acid batteries currently being used work well for the current use cases, they are actively working towards a lithium alternative. “We do have lithium batteries that are in development that get us to 80 miles of range in the base package or 100 miles nominal with the larger battery.” In addition to the extra range, upgrading to a lithium-based battery chemistry also allows the vehicle to handle heavier loads.
A Flexible Platform
The value equation for Tropos’s vehicles hinges on the compact form factor, the electric powertrain, and their flexibility. To maximize the utility of the vehicles, Tropos developed several “upfit packages” that can be unbolted and within an hour, swapped for another modular package that allows a fire response kit to be swapped out for a utility truck or even a full street sweeper package.
For smaller campuses, this means facility managers and first responders can use a single base vehicle for a multitude of functions that previously didn’t make financial sense.
John put it very simply, stating that, “all these great ideas can be mounted onto the vehicle.” There are currently four primary upfit offerings for fire response, emergency services, utility trucks, and the street sweeper package — with more on the way in addition to less mission-critical niceties, like an air conditioner option.
To swap from one Easy Swap package to another, the operator just needs to loosen a few nuts and bolts and lift it off or snap on a set of camper jacks. The kit can then be jacked up off the chassis, allowing the now naked vehicle to pull out from under it, just like trucks do with campers. There are currently easy swap packages for a cargo box truck, flatbed, pickup bed with fold-down sides, and a street sweeper.
An Eye to the Future
The Tropos team is excited about the early interest with strong traction from the agricultural sector. Scot Harden jumped in to share that the team is seeing interest from market segments the team and Tropos hadn’t imagined, noting that, “It’s a very functional vehicle that fits into a very interesting niche.”
Tropos is also seeing demand from closed-campus private enterprise and municipalities looking to add functionality and flexibility to their fire response teams. With over 32,000 fire districts in the US, the market for fire response vehicles has the potential to be anything but niche.
In addition, many facilities in the US are required by OSHA to have firefighting capability on-site, where the Tropos ABLE Fire Response Vehicle brings a surprising amount of functionality to the fight in a compact package.
As Tropos ramps up sales, it is also putting an equal amount of effort into establishing a robust dealership and service network. “We’re building out our dealer network and pursuing a lot of opportunities with the platform. … We are focused on customer service and customer support which we see as critical for our customers. We are not interested in just selling vehicles, we want our customers to use them and use them well.”
At present, Tropos Technologies has a handful of low-speed electric vehicles that can be purchased today to cut fleet emissions, including vehicles that add firefighting and emergency services capabilities to campuses and indoor areas. Does your city have a Tropos vehicle yet?
Learn more about Tropos Motors at www.TroposTech.com