Mission Motors is working on the next big status symbol: the electric motorcycle.
The company, formerly known as Hum Cycles, is concocting an expensive, fast and all-electric motorcycle for enthusiasts called the Mission One (see Hum Cycles Raises Angel Funding). The first 50 bikes, due in early 2010, will be limited editions, followed by 250 others that are similar, said CEO Forrest North in an interview. The expected price is $68,999. Five have already been sold.
North will show off a prototype this week at TED, the spring-break-for-bigwigs conference taking place this week in Long Beach, Calif. North will not be giving test rides. The bike is particularly fast and is the kind of thing that needs to be handled by more experienced riders. Having Bono stack it up on Highway 1 might bring a damper to the proceedings.
Like electric cars, electric motorcycles will beat out most of their gas-burning counterparts in acceleration. The bike, which will top out at 150 miles per hour and go 150 miles on a charge, will rank high on the zero to 100 miles per hour ratings, even compared to bikes with two to three times the horsepower. That's because electric motors inherently can access power rapidly from an engine.
Electric bikes will also provide a new, unusual and "aesthetic" driving experience, he said. Because they don't have gas motors, electric motorcycles are essentially silent. The loudest sound is the chain and the wind. (I test drove an all electric Zero Motorcycles and can confirm this). Electrics also don't jiggle and vibrate like gas burners.
"There's a connectedness to the road. You get into a zone. A [gas] motor sort of disconnects you," he said, adding, "it will be blazingly fast."
Unfortunately, lithium-ion batteries still cost quite a bit, so the company will start at the high end and try to trickle its technology down. It is a similar strategy to one employed by Tesla Motors.
"We didn't feel battery technology was cheap enough yet to make a mainstream commuter that would be palatable," North said.
Making electric motorcycles is, however, arguably easier than getting into the car business. For one thing, crash testing is far less rigorous, according to motorcycle executives. It is also less concentrated. The world's car market is dominated by a few big brands. By contrast, there are roughly 200 motorcycle makers in the U.S. alone, he said. (Many are custom builders.) Factories are far cheaper and motorcycles require smaller batteries, the big sticking point for electric vehicles.
High-end buyers also won't likely blanch at the price. Some custom sport bikes from high-end makers like Ducati can cost $70,000 or so, he said. Execs and engineers from the company, in fact, have worked at both Ducati and Tesla Motors.
Other companies, meanwhile, are taking an opposite tack. Zero (see hilarious video here), Vectrix and Brammo have all developed electric rides for the mass market. These bikes all cost more than gas equivalents. Zero has a dirt bike while Vectrix has a street scooter.
Will these be popular? Like electric cars, potential consumers are already intrigued. When North drives the prototype around, motorcyclists often come up and ask questions. That is, after it gets quiet enough to speak.
"The first thing they do is turn off their motorcycle to talk to me," he said.