Go Green, On-Road and Off

Leading a green lifestyle is becoming increasingly important for consumers around the world. Although major powersports manufacturers have been slow to react — still only showing low emissions concept vehicles — there is a small contingent of companies that are dedicated solely to the creation of environmentally friendly motorcycles, scooters and ATVs.

Vectrix Corp., formed in 1996 to develop and commercialize zero emission vehicle (ZEV) technologies focused on two-wheel applications, is one of the better-known companies marketing such product in both Europe and the United States. The company owns six patents embodying over 100 claims, and has invested more than $25 million in research and development.

Vectrix USA is in Newport, R.I., and has an engineering and test facility in New Bedford, Mass. Vectrix Europe is based in Rome, Italy. The company's production facility is in Wroclaw, Poland. Carlo Di Biagio, the former CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, S.p.A., is a board member along with representatives of six other firms, including Fortune 500 company Parker Hannifin (NYSE:PH).

The first of a series of products designed and developed by Vectrix came in the form of the VXe, a battery-powered maxi-scooter that offers comparable performance to a 400cc gas-powered scoot — a top speed of 62 mph, a range of 68 miles, and a 0-50 mph time of 6.8 seconds. It carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $11,000.

While the VXe is outwardly similar to a gas scooter/motorcycle, the inner workings of the unit feature a brushless DC electric motor that is swing-arm mounted and puts out 26.8 hp and 47.9 lbs.-ft. of peak torque at 3,000 rpm. The NiMH battery pack has an estimated life of over 10 years, based on an annual mileage of 4,000 miles. Charging the Vectrix VXe is simple and takes only two hours. It can be plugged into any ordinary household electrical charging socket.

Vectrix Global Sales Director Scott Williams says the company's focus is to provide clean, efficient, reliable, and affordable inner-city transportation.

Williams says the low-emissions two-wheelers still are relatively rare in the U.S. (see sidebar), but says the units are becoming more popular throughout Europe, particularly with consumers in urban areas and with multi-vehicle fleet operators seeking cleaner, quieter and lower-cost alternatives. Even governments have taken notice. Charging facilities are increasingly available in public car parks, and authorities in a number of cities are encouraging the installation of public charging points. For instance, London already has more than 100 charging points.

Vectrix dealers in the U.S. are in San Francisco, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah and Kirkland, Wash. The company's flagship store is in Newport, R.I.

Electric ATV
Looking to ride trails and not disturb the flora and fauna? Need a silent, zero-emissions quad for utility purposes? Barefoot Motors LLC was founded on the conviction that electric ATVs can meet or exceed the performance characteristics of conventional all-terrain vehicles.

Barefoot's first product, the Model One ATV, is being designed to meet the performance requirements of existing gas-powered heavy-duty ATVs with the low noise and zero emissions benefits of an electric vehicle. The proof-of-concept vehicle is actually the skeleton of a Polaris ATV outfitted with a motor and lithium batteries that'll put out 35,000 watts of power. The unit features High/Low gears, all-wheel-drive and a towing capacity of 1,000 pounds.

Barefoot Motors was founded by Max Scheder-Bieschin and Melissa Brandao. Now CEO of Barefoot, Scheder-Bieschin most recently served as president of ZAP, a publicly listed manufacturer and distributor of electric cars in North America. He also served as Managing Director of Corporate Finance for Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, and led the mergers and acquisitions group at ING BHF Bank in Frankfurt and New York as managing director of Corporate Finance.

Brandao, COO of Barefoot, last served as acting general manager of ZAP, where she was brought on to resuscitate the Consumer Products division at the start of 2006. By year-end, she had revived the consumer products sales and marketing strategy, launched the new portable energy business and was overseeing operations for the automotive business. Her devotion to alternative, or green, vehicle solutions never ceased, however, and so she and Scheder-Bieschin came upon the idea of Barefoot.

"We chose the ATV concept partly because I felt this particular category was not being met by green vehicles," Brandao explains. "Nobody was out marketing earth-friendly utility vehicles, so I felt that going into the industrial segment first with a product that was heavy-duty, industrial and utility focused would help us prove that this vehicle can be a functional, pragmatic solution in a very specific application."

The remainder of Barefoot's main team comprises brand designer Michael Rutchik and industrial designer Adrian Sellers, who also is responsible for motorcycle design and advanced concept development at GK Design International in Lakewood, Calif.

Two other members of the company's extended team may also be of interest to you: Jamie Hyneman, co-host of Discovery Channel's Mythbusters TV show, and Michael Lock, CEO for Ducati North America.

Hyneman, owner of M5 Industries Inc., a leading fabricator of prototypes and props involving animatronics and robotics for top U.S. production companies, serves on Barefoot's advisory board as a specialist in prototyping and product development.

Lock, responsible for Ducati's North American subsidiary as well as coordinating operations with the company's 180 dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada, serves on Barefoot's advisory board as a specialist in distribution and marketing.

"They approached me six months ago and said they were a startup involved in zero-emissions vehicles, that ATVs were the product they chose to enter the market with, and that they just wanted to have a chat," Lock tells Dealernews. "So I had a couple of conversations with them that really went well and ended up with them inviting me to join them in an advisory capacity. They have a lot of expertise in regards to the technology and product, but the powersports market is a peculiar one for them, and so they were interested in the perspective that I could bring because A) we are reasonably successful now, and B) we operate in a premium end of the market, "which is where I feel they may be focusing initially."

Barefoot's Model One ATV is undergoing beta testing at various dairies, farms and vineyards. Brandao says Barefoot plans to begin retailing the unit later this year.

Lock has piloted the machine. "The bike looks big, but it actually weighs around 100 pounds less than a comparable gas-powered unit and moves off of the line surprisingly quick and has very good braking and handling," he says. "The first sensation you get is that it accelerates very quickly. The second thing is: It's whisper quiet, with the only noise coming from the transmission and the tires. So, between the handling and the quietness, I was quite impressed. It has exactly the characteristics you would be looking for in such a machine."

MX With Power
Finally, for off-road motorcyclists, Quantya SA, a Swiss manufacturer of electric off-road motorcycles, recently launched distribution of its product in the United States.

Quantya USA, the Syosset, N.Y.-based division of Quantya SA, is marketing the Quantya FMX, or what the company calls "the first competition-ready electric motocross motorcycle."

Quantya FMX motorcycles use lithium polymer battery technology with proprietary electronics to power a 14 Kw (18.7hp) motor with a 47V or 74V battery. A typical fully charged battery is predicted to power the bike to a governed 40 mph at a range of up to 2.5 hours.

"We are seeing many new, exiting technologies emerging and we will continue to utilize only the latest such technologies to deliver the absolute best quality and efficiency to our customers," says Quantya USA CEO Dario Trentini.

Quantya SA manufactures its product in Lugano, Switzerland. The company was formed in 2005 with the sole mission of creating a high-performance electric motorcycle, and the company recently obtained TUV certification to market a street-legal bike on roadways in Europe.

"We are extremely proud to be able to bring our innovation to the United States and contribute even on a small scale to save our planet from global warming," says Claudio Dick, CEO and founder of Quantya SA, Switzerland.