Is there a market in the United States for a high-priced electric superbike?
Italian e-moto company Energica thinks so and the maker of the 150 mph Ego sport bike and the supplier of motorcycles for the FIM Moto-e World Cup that launches in 2019 on the MotoGP circuit is expanding marketing and distribution to capture it. Despite Mission Motorcycles’ collapse and Brammo sputtering out, Energica CEO Livia Cevolini believes some tried-and-new can attract Americans to performance e-bikes.
“We offer the best combination of two valleys. The design and performance characteristics of the Italian motor valley and technology of Silicon Valley. We think there’s a U.S. market for that,” she said.
The company, bikes, and tech
Energica began as a family affair. The venture grew out of CRP Group — an Italian engineering and technology company founded by Cevolini’s grandfather and later run by her father.
Cevolini, who has an engineering degree, got the idea to produce e-bikes while working as a CRP product manager. “We’d been supporting Formula One and aerospace industries and decided to develop our own product. We went for the electric racing motorcycle first, then moved the technology to the street,” she said.
Energica launched in 2010, first developing the eCRP race bike, then its commercial models. Initial financing came from CRP. Akin to the Silicon Valley startup model, in 2016 Energica went public on the Milan Stock Exchange based largely on potential, rather than actual sales and revenue.
On the product side, the company offers three models in the United States: the top-of-the-line Ego at $24,900, the Eva at $23,400 and the Eva EsseEsse9 at $23,400. The 150 mph Ego’s electric motor produces 145 horsepower and gets to 60 mph in three seconds. The e-bike weighs 617 pounds, has a 20-minute (fast) charge time, no gearbox, and a reported 125-mile battery range.
For some market comparison, California-based Zero Motorcycles' Zero SR has 70 horsepower and 120-mile average range at a cost of $16,495. Lightning Motorcyles’ 495-pound American e-superbike delivers 200 horsepower and 200 mph for $38,888.
Energica’s CEO described the Ego as the company’s “supersport,” the Eva as their “streetfighter, with more or less the same power train… but ergonomically… easier to ride.” The Eva EsseEsse9 “combines old-school design with the modern powertrain,” she said.
As for notable tech, all three Energicas share some innovative features. Through a patented design, the electric motor is oil-cooled. “It keeps the magnets inside cool, which keeps the performance and the efficiency of the high-powered motor optimized,” said Cevolini.
Energicas also sport a proprietary Vehicle Control Unit, or VCU, located under the tank. “It’s the brain of the motorcycle. Everything centralizes to the VCU — the motor output, batteries, ride-by-wire, ABS, tires, eABS. It reports to the rider on the digital dash and then allows the rider to adjust certain things,” said Cevolini.
Energicas have four preset riding modes, for different combinations of power and handling. The VCU can be programmed for 16 additional custom configurations.
The MYEnergica app syncs with the VCU and tracks key functions, the closest charging stations, and lets riders interact with the bike from devices.
Energica also joined the Chargepoint EV network, and integrated the group’s DC Fast Charging tech. This opens up 20-minute charges at 400 express spots in the United States and globally. Fast-charging is an extra-cost option on other electric motorcycles and currently only Energica offers it standard. Of course the bikes can also be charged at home using regular AC electrical service, but at a slower rate.
Energizing an American e-superbike market
In a bid to capture (or perhaps create) a U.S. market for its bikes, Energica is expanding its stateside marketing and dealer network. Energica opened a flagship showroom in San Francisco, has California dealers in Santa Monica and Mountain View, and another in North Carolina. The company presented at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in New York and last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“We plan to expand [dealers] in California, Florida, and New York,” said Cevolini. The company will do a series of 2018 U.S. “Rider Days” where people can test all their bikes at dealer locations.
Energica’s CEO believes the company's potential U.S. customer “is a rider that is not satisfied with engines from last century…who wants new technology and performance that is not the future, but the present.”
On disrupting existing superbike makers such as Ducati or the Japanese manufacturers, “Of course we want to do that,” said Cevolini. “Finding new riders is possible for us, but we want to get customers that are already riding other petrol motorcycles who want something newer and innovative.”
So why can Energica succeed where Mission Motorcycles went bankrupt in 2015? “Mission was a great motorcycle but it came too early, was more expensive, and the market was different then,” said Cevolini.
She points to shifting e-auto preferences as a leading indicator. “Global EV market growth was over 50 percent last year…This is cars, not motorcycles, but sooner or later they will follow the same path.”
On Energica’s $20,000-plus cost compared to gas superbike options — i.e., a Ducati Panigale 959 for $15,000, to name one example — Cevolini said, “price could be an obstacle to some, but not to others who can afford it and want the latest technology. Like every new technology, the cost is higher when it’s new, and can come down when we achieve some economies of scale.”
The bottom line for Energica’s CEO on electric superbike potential in the United States: “E-bikes are closing the performance gaps with petrol bikes in speed, weight, price, recharge times, and riding range” she said. “As that gap closes, more elite riders (and millennials who grew up with tech) will want different things from high-performance motorcycles and switch to e-motorcycles.”
The proof will be in Energica’s U.S. sales and overall profitability. Given they’re already a publicly traded company — with financial reporting requirements — that will be easier to track. An investor analyst report projected the company could become profitable by 2019 by selling 2,000 motorcycles a year. We’ll see if Energica hits that mark and, if it does, how many of those Italian e-motorcyles are sold in the United States.