Current Motors expands in Scio as electric scooter sales start by mid-August
A Scio Township manufacturing startup is ramping up capacity this summer to build and sell electric scooters.
Current Motor Company founders say they expect to deliver their first completed units by mid-August.
Final assembly is proceeding for the first examples of the company’s yet-to-be-named two-wheeler, which the company is calling “The Bike.”
Initial buyers are Ann Arbor enthusiasts of electric vehicles (EVs) and some around the country who heard about Current Motor online through the V Is for Voltage forums.
The idea, said Current Motor president John Harding, is “starting smaller than small.”
The company’s development facility at 240B Parkland Plaza is a single garage bay with one assembly point. Development and production tooling is shared with other enterprises of Harding’s partner, chief engineer Erik Kauppi.
Because they’ve seen the failure of capital-intensive and vertically integrated ventures, they intend to avoid the mistakes of various predecessors in the EV industry.
“We want to do a soft rollout,” Harding says.
This month, the Scio Township Board of Trustees granted the self-funded company a conditional use permit for expanded operations in a second facility at 6241 Jackson Road. Current Motor has signed a two-year lease on an 11,000-square-foot building that will be used for final assembly of up to 5,000 scooters per year. About 1,300 square feet will be reserved for a sales showroom and office.
“We’re going to sell locally and by the Internet,” Harding says. “We’ll build a dealership network slowly. We’re in it for the long term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Electric scooters represented less than one percent of the 222,000-unit electric scooter market in 2008, according to industry experts. Sales have softened in 2009, along with gas prices - which, when high, can drive interest in scooters.
Still, manufacturing interest is starting to take hold in developing more scooters, such as Honda’s announcement that it plans electric and alternate-fuel products. The federal government is offering a 10-percent tax credit on electrically powered motorcycles.
“There are certainly manufacturers who are trying to take a swing at successfully marketing electric two-wheelers in the U.S.,” said Ty Van Hooydonk, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council. “It's not yet been done."
Based on a so-called “knockdown” kit imported from China, each of Current Motors' scooters is adapted to accommodate an electric motor and related components, with light assembly required for installation of the wheels and bodywork.
Battery packs to supply the power are put together by Current Motor’s small team of engineers and technicians. The electronic battery-management system - which is the key to extracting maximum efficiency from the power source - is designed in-house.
About 10 people are working on the project in various capacities.
Harding and Kauppi, who are Ann Arbor residents and former employees of Ford Motor Co., have prior partnership experience through an alternative energy venture. Harding, a software developer, holds a part-time position at Creative Solutions, in Dexter. Mechanical engineer Kauppi is president of Corsa Instruments, which supplies data-acquisition electronics to auto racing teams.
Kauppi and Harding united about a year ago to create their electric scooter, which Harding sees as the “fastest way to EVs.” Compared to an electric car, for example, he likens the scooter to “working down the food chain.”
A somewhat smaller scooter and a three-wheeled vehicle are projected as future models for the company.
Priced from $5,499 to $6,799, the scooter has a top speed of 60 mph and a range of around 50 miles. Recharging the batteries by plugging into a standard electrical outlet takes four hours and costs one cent per mile, according to Current Motor’s product literature.
Marketing plans continue to be developed. But Harding says, “We want people to have a good experience.”
Ronald Ahrens is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Our news desk can be reached at 734-623-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.