Gogoro: An Electric Scooter with a Plan
From what we know at this moment, Horace Luke didn't set out to create another, albeit pretty stylish electric motorscooter. He and his co-founder Matt Taylor decided to start a revolution and their Gogoro sounds like it's just the first phase of a far grander vision to change the urban ecosystem. To quote Luke:
"Gogoro is more than a startup. This is the start of an industry. Our products and business model will impact a variety of consumer areas to create a metropolitan ecosystem with better connectivity, easier access to energy, and a more enjoyable urban living experience.”
Now to be frank, what they are proposing and have thus far developed, isn't all that new a concept. An electric scooter and canister dispenser system has been proposed before: a firm in Taiwan created one where instead of batteries they planned to use swappable cylinders of compressed hydrogen. A fuel cell onboard the scooter would generate electricity from the flow of ions across the PEM membrane.
Perhaps what makes Gogoro unique is the fact they raised $50 million and are in negotiations for another $100 million. That kind of money buys clout and credibility, which shows up in their slick, state-of-the-art website, the viideo below, and in their initial prototypes, which went on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas today. It also brought into the project Panasonic, the same giant battery maker who supplies Tesla with its 18650 lithium-ion cells. The same cells are in Gogoro's hot swap packs.
On paper, the project sounds fantastic. The scooter certainly looks great and clearly has been well thought out, boosting a lot of interesting innovations from turn-signals that turn themselves off after the driver completes the turn, to the sensor network that tracks how and where you ride and adapts so you can get more driving range: supposed as much as 12% more. The company also has integrated a lot of customization functions, from its display and chime system, to letting you place custom vinyl stickers on the front panel.
Besides talking to the Gogoro cellphone app via Bluetooth, the escooters near field communications (NTC) system also talks to the battery charge stations. Unlike virtually all other escooters on the market at the moment, the Gogoro isn't designed to plug into the grid. You swap its two lithium battery packs at neighborhood exchange stations.
In effect, it appears that what you are buying into is a transportation system and not a scooter per se. In one respect, that's a good thing: you never have to worry about replacing your battery pack as they slow degrade over time. Gogoro owns all those batteries, so keeping them freshly charged is their responsibility. You, essentially, rent them as part of the service, though pricing models hasn't been announced yet.
Combined, the twin batteries, which can be swapped out in under a minute, provide up to 100km (62 mi.) range. Top speed is 95 km/hr, while 0-50 km/h is a quick, Tesla-like 4.2 seconds.
From comments on Gogoro's website like, "It’s an exciting time for us to radically rethink and reshape our world…" and "Gogoro is helping to create a more intelligent and adaptive system for today’s most dynamic cities…" it seems pretty clear that those battery swap stations and the underlying technology have a larger mission. Because they are said to be scalable, it's easy to imagine that the company sees the stations being used to not only power its scooters and possibly other light electric vehicles, but also for grid buffering and frequency regulation services on a building or even neighborhood grid basis.
In some respects, Gogoro's business model isn't all that different from Better Place, which planned to do something similar with electric cars only to blow through more than $800 million and file for bankruptcy. Hopefully, Luke and Taylor, as well as their deep-pocket investors, have learned the most obvious lessons from the Better Place debacle: focus, focus, focus. Grand dreams are great, but success is measured not in your burn rate, but in how profitable you become in 'runway' you're investors have given you.
As for the rent-the-battery model: sure, it won't appeal to everyone, but then the goal here isn't to emulate everyone else in the market, but to get more people moving sustainably and responsibly. If Gogoro can do that, more power to them. The company plans to launch the Smartscooter in 2015.
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