Vectrix at Last!
Interview with Vectrix Managing Director of Marketing Jeff Morrill about firm's all-electric MaxiScooter
By Bill Moore
It's finally arrived. Now how will it sell?
That's the question Vectrix, its investors and just about everyone else is asking -- or thinking -- as the Rhode Island-based company officially debuted their all-electric Maxi-Scooter at the Presidio on San Francisco last week.
To that question, only time will tell. Based sheerly on design aesthetics, the company has an unquestionable winner, but will it be the killer ap?
I recall first seeing the Vectrix all-electric motor scooter when it was just a clay design study at the 14th Electric Vehicle Symposium in Orlando, FL a decade ago. It was beautiful then.
It's nicer now and seems to have benefited for its longer-than-normal gestation period. In comparison, the Italian motorcycle company Aprilia typically takes around 24-months from concept to production for their new machines, but then they're dealing with technology that has been in production for nearly a century. So, while the Vectrix has been a long time coming, the conditions for its success couldn't be much better. With growing concerns over energy security, fossil fuel availability, global warming-induced climate change and the desire for a more sustainable way of life, the Rhode Island-based firm may have brought the right product to the market at precisely the right time.
Still, there are voices bemoaning the $11,000 price tag, which has steadily climbed over the decade from the initial target of around $7000. That's right around the sticker price of a new GEM neighborhood electric car, but in addition to being more fun to drive, the Vectrix is highway-capable. The GEM isn't.
It's this ability to get in there and mix it up on the streets, road and highways, that makes this EV-option so appealing. Where most electric scooters up until now have been little more than large toys, the Vectrix is a solid (462 lbs/209 kg) machine. I was taken for a spin on an early pre-production prototype in San Antonio back in 2004 [See When Fuel Cells Invaded Texas] and found that even with two hefty adults on board, it had plenty of zip.
Now that the company has finally launched its global sales efforts -- starting with the official debut in California at the Presidio, a marketing Ride & Drive event attended by Plug In America luminaries [photo below, left to right: Marc Keller, Chesley Sexton, Paul Scoot], as well as Charles Whalen, an investor in the company, and Victor Juarez G, for whom EV World thanks for the photos.
To get the company's perspective on its retail roll-out, I talked with the managing director of marketing, Jeff Morrill. I had planned to ask a number of financial questions, but because the Vectrix recently initiated an IPO on the London exchange, it is in an imposed "quiet period" that requires it to be largely mum about questions of sales and debt. It will emerge out of this information limbo at the end of the first quarter, 2008.
Still Morrill was willing to talk about the machine's performance and their plans to get it into the hands of potential customers. You can listen to the entire interivew using either of the two MP3 Players at the top of the page or by downloading the 5.1 MB MP3 file to your hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 playback device.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Interview
Vectrix and its local San Francisco Bay Area dealer, British Motor Cars, sponsored a Ride & Drive demonstration to show people the machine, most of whom after a brief spin or ride (you need a motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license to drive the bike) came back, says Morrill, with a big, wide grin on their faces.
Vectrix calls its motor scooter a "high performance, zero-emission, two-wheel vehicle". The company went "all the way" electric, rather than offering a hybrid compromise. It is considered an "urban commuting vehicle" with a range of 40-60 miles. It can be charged at home or work from a regular 110 volt electrical outlet. While not a cross-country machine, it can get across most towns and do so for about 2 cents a mile (based on 16 cents/kW electric power rate).
The range of the vehicle is determined largely by the rate of acceleration. Cruising at a constant speed on the highway will usually result in greater range then lots of stop-n-go driving in city traffic. To help drivers gauge their efficiency, the Vectrix includes a battery state-of-charge (SOC) indicator registered in bars and a miles-remaining indicator to tell you how far you should be able to drive based on the current battery SOC and your previous driving habits.
Besides the Presidio event, Vectrix has teams launching similar public awareness and marketing efforts in the following countries: UK, Italy, Spain, and Australia. The UK event was held at Spitalfields, a popular local market similar to Boston's Thaniel Hall. The result is people who are not considered traditional motorcycle are impressed by both the bike's performance and environmental credentials.
While the company's headquarters is in Middletown, Rhode Island -- the smallest of the 50 United States -- it's factory is in Poland, which offers labor cost savings and puts all of the major cities of Europe within a 500-mile distribution circle.
In response to my question of what took so long to get the bike to market, Morrill replied tactfully that Vectrix "wanted to do it right" and "wanted to make a statement." Its parts suppliers are respected, well known industry players, which assures potential customers that this is a quality machine that will meet their expectations
Morrill explained that the Vectrix currently doesn't have a close competitor. While there are smaller, less-performing scooters in the $2-5,000 price range and gasoline motorcycle that are from $8-20,000, there is no comparable zero emission bike in the Vectrix class. Whether Vectrix's $11,000 price tag presents a serious obstacle to sales is in the hands of the consumer, he noted, adding that the company believes it is deliver great value for the price
British Motor Cars, the San Francisco dealer who co-hosted the Presidio event, will also handle distribution and sales in California. Part of Vectrix's business model is to not only offer the typical "bricks and motor" retail sales and service paradigm, but to bring the machine to prospective buyers using vans and trucks sporting Vectrix livery. A prospective buyer can arrange to have a test machine brought to their home or place of work for a test ride. Owners can also expect the van and its trained technician to provide on-site service and repair. Two machines were delivered last week in San Diego via the Vectrix Tech van.
At the time of this interview, the company had lined up seven dealers covering nine states, with more in the pipeline. Current states where active marketing is taking place include: Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Pending is Alien Scooters in Austin, Texas.
The Vectrix comes with a two-year warranty on all components.
Morrill wouldn't directly respond to questions about the company's earlier development of a small fuel cell APU or what its plans were with respect to offering a lithium ion battery option, in addition to the NiMH battery in the present machine. He did, however, confirm that Vectrix is investigating all sorts of options to improve the rider experience.
Range remains the biggest concern for potential customers with long commutes. But nearly everyone, even over a short test drive, returns beaming from ear-to-ear, muttering "Wow"!