Visionaries Dedicate Efforts to Electric Scooter Technology
Having served six years on the Harwich Board of Selectmen, Dana DeCosta is accustomed to the corridors of power. But it was a new experience for him to drive a prototype of his company's new electric-powered scooter right down the main hall of the Rayburn Senate Office Building in Washington for a symposium on alternative energy sponsored by Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"We brought it right up the elevator and drove it right through the hall," said DeCosta. "It's really a unique experience ... you just get this odd look from people."
DeCosta is the project manager for Vectrix, a multi-million dollar venture that, for the past eight years, has been developing a revolutionary, high-powered, emission-free scooter slated to go into production later this year. It's called the Vectrix VXe
After joining Vectrix in August 2003, DeCosta was sent on a three-day motorcycle course, so he would be qualified to give rides to potential investors. Since then, when he's not at the office, he's been crisscrossing the nation with a trailer and a Vectrix VXe prototype. He's put the Vectrix through its paces at test tracks in New Jersey, fixed flat tires on the Cross Bronx Expressway, and given rides to the inventor of Cheerios. Overall, he's visited 33 states and driven more than 60,000 miles.
He's traveled to four countries, including England and Italy, where the scooter will be initially marketed. And he's been turning quite a few heads, from millionaire venture capitalists to stunned bellhops, as he shows off the prototype by motoring through the lobbies of some of the best hotels in Europe. In April, he travels to Monaco to demonstrate the scooter at a show where it will make its European consumer debut.
How it all started
DeCosta was hired by Harwich resident and former Selectman Peter Hughes, the company's vice president of technology. Hughes presides over a high-tech New Bedford "skunk works," or engineering and development facility, located in a turn-of-the-century red brick mill building, whose previous tenant was Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway.
Vectrix has 20 employees, including 12 in New Bedford, almost all of whom are engineers, including one who worked on the Space Shuttle. About a year and a half ago, Hughes, busy with design and engineering work, realized he needed help with administration, trade shows and fund-raising. He turned to De Costa, his friend and former colleague on the board of selectmen. DeCosta jumped at the chance.
"Dana brought a lot of enthusiasm that's contagious," said Hughes.
Every morning, Hughes makes the drive to New Bedford, accompanied by DeCosta and his son, Billman. "Every morning we have a one-hour meeting and every night we have a one-hour meeting," DeCosta quipped.
Hughes was recruited as vice president of technology by entrepreneur Andrew MacGowan, who is the chief executive officer of Vectrix. The two knew each other from Hughes's work developing wind turbine technology. MacGowan was looking into uses for technology developed by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force. Eventually, they settled on an aluminum framed "maxi-class" electric scooter with patented fuel cell technology.
About the scooter
With $32 million invested, the company recently partnered with Parker Hannifin Corp., which is manufacturing some of the key components to the scooter.
The scooter has better performance than other electric bikes, and is intended to stand up in comparison with the maxi class of scooters used in Europe.
It touts a speed of up to 62 mph, and range of 68 miles. It's virtually maintenance free and costs less than 50 cents to charge, said DeCosta. It's hoped those characteristics will appeal to European commuters. But the real appeal is the ride, said Hughes. "You gotta get people to sit on the bike and ride it. Once they do, the light goes on."
The bike is estimated to retail at around $6,500 to $7,000.
It's an operation involving complex high technology and complicated logistics. Executives of the company, including the chief executive and the chief financial officer, are based in Newport, R.I. Hughes and about a dozen others work at a facility in New Bedford, chosen for its proximity to Cape Cod and Newport, while components of the scooter are manufactured in Italy, Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere.
A cautious rollout
Work is under way now to build a production line in the New Bedford facility. After any bugs are worked out, the production line will be duplicated in Poland. The company plans to build 50 pilot bikes in New Bedford this summer. Full production in Poland will follow early next year. A total of about 6,000 scooters will be produced the first year, said Hughes, adding that he wants to take his time, and do it right before ramping up production.
When full production begins, it is estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 scooters per year will be produced in New Bedford, for the domestic market, and about 25,000 scooters will be made in Poland.
The company plans to begin offering the scooters on the European market, specifically in Italy and Britain where scooters are very popular. Eventually, scooters produced in New Bedford will be supplied to the domestic market, and Polish-made machines will be marketed in Europe. Hughes explained that the U.S. market will mainly be in warmer southern cities, as well as possibly some niche markets such as Nantucket.
"We're going to sell this thing," said a determined DeCosta.
The Vectrix VXe
Speed: 62 mph
Range: 68 miles
Battery charge cost: 50 cents
Estimated retail: $7,000
Manufacture locations: New Bedford and Poland
Consumer markets: U.S. and Europe
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Frost & Sullivan recently recognized Vectrix Corporation with the 2006 Technology Innovation & Leadership of the Year Award in alternative vehicles
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