Zero Motorcycles CEO: 'Blown away' by level of passion

Publish Date: 
Apr 17, 2013
By Mike Vaughan

RICHARD WALKER was appointed CEO of Zero Motorcycles in July 2012, after spending more than 30 years in the technology sector, including tenures with Hewlett-Packard (HP), and most recently Control14, where he served as executive vice president of the Products Group.

At HP he was responsible for the HP Pavilion, Compaq Presario and HP Touchsmart product lines.

He brings a unique background to the motorcycle business, and one that may be well-suited for an electric motorcycle company, according to Mike Vaughan, who spoke with Walker earlier this spring.

Dealernews: What drew you to Zero?
Walker: The company is full of people with extensive motorcycle experience. So my combination of skills to build a consumer business combined with their knowledge and depth of understanding of the motorcycle industry is a good match.

How has it gone so far?
The thing that I’ve learned so far is just how passionate people are around motorcycles. In the tech industry you certainly get people who are passionate, but I’ve just been blown away with the level of passion, not just within my own company around motorcycles but as I meet dealers, and customers — it’s just a joy. We’ve revamped our website from being product- and technology-centric to being customer-centric, and when you click on the video testimonials of our customers and listen to them talk about the experience they get from riding our vehicles, it’s a real pleasure.

We know we’ve got something that people feel is valuable, the experience is very different, and that’s why we’re excited about the chance to build a new business because we need to do that, and that’s where the dealer channel becomes very important to us.

How does the Zero experience differ from an internal combustion motorcycle?
Part of our value proposition to consumers has been that you’re not going to be needing parts. The powertrain’s got a battery, a motor, a controller and the battery management system wrapped around it, so one of the few moving parts is the shaft of the motor to drive the bike. When you get on an electric motorcycle you don’t have the noise, vibration, the emissions; there’s no complexity, no transmission, no liquid cooling — our bike is passively air-cooled. Our whole belief system is driven around simplistic sophistication, which means we can hide the complexity of that in the powertrain and focus entirely on the experience of riding.

One of the advantages of an electric motorcycle is that we can put it on the network, so with model year ’13 we have a Bluetooth capability. You can have two driving modes: Echo mode and sport mode. Sport mode is dialed into the bike; [and] in Echo mode you can restrict the top speed, dial back the torque or up the regenerative braking.

Ultimately, we’ll start to build out community-based portions of the application so you can figure out if there are other Zero bikers in the area, and you can share your ride routes.

What criteria must dealers meet?
Our issue is choosing the right dealers. We’ve been trying to build out the dealer channel in North America for about a year and a half. We have 57 dealers. (Continued)