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PHOTO CAPTION: ETRO Agila electric motorcycle and sidecar aims to fill the need for clean, quiet, affordable taxi service in the Philippines

ETRO Agila: The Philippine's Pre-Paid E-cycle

Like pre-paid cellphone services around the world, you will buy the Agila electric motorcycle and prepay for both for the rental of the lithium-ion battery and the electricity to charge it.

Published: 06-Feb-2015

Zero Motorcycles introduces 2015 Line-Up • Polaris Buys Brammo • Lightning Sells First Superbike • Harley Teases Livewire Electric Motocycle.

All exciting developments in our EV world for sure, but all really focused on a fairly narrow subset of the transportation market, which in the United States, at least, is pretty much recreationally-oriented. Only a small segment of motorcycle owners use their bikes to regularly commute.

In the rest of the world, motorbikes and motorcycles are pretty much the primary mode of transportation of not just individuals but often entire families. In the Philippines, they are also the key source of income for breadwinners who use them to transport passenger and produce in their sidecars. In the Philippines alone there's a estimated 2.8 million such vehicles, over third of them still equipped with banned 2-stroke engines.

An American-Filippino company called Phil Etro EV, Inc. with engineering offices in Vancouver, Washington, decided this was the market they wanted to address with an affordable electric motorcycle called the Agila. It would be a lithium-ion-powered machine that was powerful enough to pull a sidecar, opening up that huge commercial market in the Philippines.

To be sold at a starting price equivalent of around $2000USD for the bike alone, it was developed in the island archipelago for just 20% what it would have cost in the USA, claims a company 5-minute pitch.

This week the company, which was founded in 2010 by Jose “Jing” Montano and Noel Lim, announced that it plans to produce its first 2000 units in 2015 and will have the first 200 ready to roll off its assembly line before the end of March. Much of the bike is assembled from standard motorcycles parts available in the country, but its the brains and nervous system of the Agila that makes it a standout in the nascent e-cycle field.

To keep the price affordable, the company is following the Renault model of renting the battery to the bike owner. Integrated into the lithium-ion battery management system is a GSM wireless communications system that only allows the bike to start or be charged once the owner prepays for the service, just like most cellphone services in the developing world. Using pre-paid scratch-off cards with monetary values that can range as low as 'a few hours' worth of charging, Etro and its partner resellers, know they will be paid, otherwise the bike is useless.

While this is likely a difficult sales proposition to most Western minds, to a small, independent business owner who makes his living providing taxi services in congested megacities like Manila, with its 12 million population, it offers a way to differentiate his service from all the millions of competitors on the street. Customers get a quiet ride in a machine with no fuming engine or smoking tailpipe. The company estimates it can haul loads up to 350kg or as many as 5-7 passengers. Yes, that seems like a lot, but such overcrowding is pretty common in the developing world.

The battery rental/charge payment system works like this. The Agila owner buys a scratch card with a special code on it. Using a cellphone, he calls Etro who authorizes charging the bike at designated recharge locations where only as much energy in put into the battery as the customer paid for. What those battery rental rates and charging prices will be were not yet announced. The company estimates it will have a 23-30% margin on the sale of the Agila; and even more on the rentals and recharging revenue. The latter it will share with the card vendors, the charging station operators, which could be one and same, and the local electric utility.

It's an attractive bike with hints of Brammo and Honda styling in it. But more intriguing is its business mode, which is clearly designed for development world, especially in Asia. As such, it will bear watching.

ETRO Agila Sidecar; Remote Control Via GSM Network

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