Gogoro’s electric scooter to debut in Taiwan

30 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Environment-friendly scooter of Taiwan uses batteries that can be swapped at company kiosks.

Gogoro, the startup whose battery-powered scooters were one of the highlights of CES in January, announced today that the bikes will go on sale for the first time this summer starting in Taiwan, where it is based.

The electric scooter company that thinks it can transform urban mobility and the way we store and manage electricity, is opening for business in Taipei.Gogoro, the Taiwan-based company founded by ex-HTC staffers and funded in part by HTC co-founder Cher Wang, drummed up a lot of buzz at CES this January with its futuristic all-electric Smartscooter — but the company hadn’t announced when or where the bike would launch. The company, which generated buzz by raising $150 million during three years in stealth mode, will also open its first retail store in Taipei this week and launch a pilot program in the city to test Smartscooters, its first vehicle. It’s a sleek looking ride with impressive stats, but the real innovation is the system that lets customers swap depleted batteries for fresh ones at ATM-sized stations. Before that summer launch, Gogoro is opening a retail store this week in Taipei that’s designed to educate potential customers on what the product is all about.

Gogoro has partnered with Panasonic, which makes the swappable battery packs used by the scooters. “Deploying the Gogoro Energy Network in Taipei City and incentivizing our citizens to retire traditional gas-powered scooters will help shape a healthier, more sophisticated and smart Taipei,” Mayor Wen-Je Ko said in a statement. That’ll be particularly important here because you can’t just plug the Smartscooter in — you have to subscribe to a plan that lets you swap batteries in and out of kiosks placed throughout the city as you need them.

In a blog post, Gogoro said that most of the inquiries it received after its scooters were unveiled at CES came from India, China, Brazil, and Thailand, countries where scooters are a popular form of transportation. The company had said it planned to launch the scooters in at least one city this year and scooter-heavy Taipei was high on the list of possible locations. Though it is based there and is arguably a quintessential Taiwanese startup with its focus on hardware and connections with HTC (several of its engineers are HTC alum and it also received financial backing from chairwoman Cher Wang), Gogoro still took pains to explain why it decided to launch in Taiwan first. With just 23 million people, the country is often overlooked by other companies. “Many people have said the Taiwan market is small and, in fact, even some Taiwanese brands are reluctant to focus on the Taiwanese market, but Gogoro has a different point of view.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but Gogoro had previously stated that it expected the Smartscooter to sell for roughly the same as a competing gas scooter because the very expensive batteries aren’t included — you get them on a subscription plan in lieu of gasoline. The pilot program will be open to 100 riders, about half of whom will be selected from the general public (and who’ll get to ride the scooter for free).

The goal is to log 100,000 hours of riding time, “to start stress-testing the infrastructure and stress-testing the vehicle itself,” CEO Horace Luke says. The infrastructure bit is especially important: If a rider can’t easily get to a swap station, or does get there only to find no fully charged batteries, the whole idea is kaput. “So we’re taking the beta program to the street to really work those kinks out.” Based on that data, in a few months Gogoro will start a “very aggressive deployment” of swapping stations, going for “critical mass” right away, Luke says. Gogoro’s retail store will be in Xinyi, one of Taipei City’s busiest shopping and business districts, and it is also inviting 100 people to participate in its pilot program, during which each rider will log about 1,000 hours on a Smartscooter.

He won’t say how many stations will be hitting the street, but given their small size and relatively low cost—less than $10,000—you can count on seeing a whole lot. The Taipei metropolitan area, which includes Taipei and New Tapei City, covers 105 square miles, about twice the size of San Francisco, but still manageable. The company chose to start its work in Taipei largely because of the city’s enthusiasm for becoming a “smart city”—New Taipei City has installed more than 10,000 WiFi hot spots and more than 90 percent of households have internet.

It also helps that the city’s working with Gogoro to offer “a very comprehensive subsidy program,” similar to the tax benefits US drivers receive for buying an electric vehicle.

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