Common Tread

The curious case of the Chinese-built electric scooter with a Ducati badge

May 09, 2019

Would you buy a Chinese-built electric scooter from an Australian company if it had a Ducati badge on the side?

That may sound like a strange question — and will remain a purely theoretical one here in the United States — but it's not just wacky speculation. A struggling Australian company whose stock was trading for pennies a share briefly became the biggest mover on the Australian stock exchange, for a day at least, when it announced it had reached a deal to build a "special Ducati edition" of one of its existing, inexpensive electric scooters.

The scooter will not be a new model, according to Vmoto, but will be a limited-edition issue of its CU-X scooter, which is sold in Asia and Europe, mostly under the Super SOCO brand. Vmoto says the CU-X's 2.8 kW motor produces 85 foot-pounds of torque. In Europe, top speed is limited to 28 mph, so this is going to be a very slow "Ducati." Range is about 50 miles. The scooter's lithium battery is easily removed for charging.

The surprise here is not Ducati's entry into the electric motorcycle market. CEO Claudio Domenicali has stated publicly that the company will soon have an electric motorcycle in production. The company has already shown an electric mountain bike developed in collaboration with the Italian company Thok Ebikes. The mountain bike is an interesting echo of Ducati's entry into two-wheelers with the Cucciolo after World War II. Meanwhile, the forthcoming sport bike is expected to be a performance motorcycle in keeping with Ducati's more recent traditions. Together, they would give the company something at both ends of the spectrum, from bicycle to superbike, to start.

The Vmoto scooter seems like a different deal, however, with Ducati supplying nothing but the name. Even the phrasing of the announcement by Vmoto Managing Director Charles Chen made it sound like this is a big deal for Vmoto, not Ducati.

"This is an exciting agreement for Vmoto and we are thrilled that Ducati — renowned for being a top-end manufacturer of Italian motorcycles — has agreed to associate its premium reputation and brand with our electric vehicles."

VMT stock chart
Vmoto stock jumped dramatically, on a percentage basis, on the Ducati news, but shares are still trading at around 11 cents Aus. In 2010, shares were selling for around $1.75 Aus. Australian Stock Exchange chart.

Is it just me, or does it almost sound like Australian penny-stock company Vmoto is surprised Ducati actually agreed to go along with this?

Either way, the real story will not be a deal for a rebadged scooter, but rather what Ducati produces on its own for its first electric sport bike. The high-end, electric sport bike niche poses some serious challenges. The high performance part is not that difficult, with an electric motor, but one of the top priorities of a sport bike — low weight — is directly at odds with providing greater range. More batteries for more range equals more weight (and expense).

Also, the electric superbike field looks crowded to me. Lightning has promised to start delivering its Strike this summer and Energica is better established in the electric motorcycle market. Plus, how many cash-heavy consumers are there who want a high-performance electric motorcycle? I never refer to my motorcycles as toys, because I rely on them for my personal transportation, not just as weekend playthings. But the use case for something like a $25,000 Energica with a 125-mile range is fairly limited — expensive for the commute to work and difficult to use for travel of any distance — which makes it seem more like an expensive toy.

I expect Ducati will build a flashy sport bike to attract attention and then fill in its electric lineup with more practical bikes in the future, similar to the path Harley-Davidson is taking. Meanwhile, those of you in Europe and parts of Asia will apparently have the chance to ride a "Ducati" electric scooter while we wait.