An experiment with electric scooters, and a new way to power them, will hit an important early milestone tomorrow. Startup Gogoro says the company plans to ship its first run of 400 pre-ordered scooters to customers in Taipei this weekend.
The company, which launched early this year, has also installed 65 of its battery stations around Taipei for customers. The kiosks — called battery swapping stations — enable customers to quickly swap out the scooter’s empty and low charged batteries with charged ones.
The news is a big deal for the startup, and kicks off the first commercial use of the company’s scooters and infrastructure. Gogoro needs this first testbed to work well if it’s going to expand to other cities. The startup will also be able to use this first deployment to work out any kinks it encounters.
The company is the brainchild of entrepreneur Horace Luke, the co-founder, CEO, and major designer of the scooter. Luke was formerly the chief innovation officer at HTC and also worked for almost a decade at Microsoft, helping deliver products like Xbox. His partner is co-founder and CTO Matt Taylor, who Luke worked with at both HTC and Microsoft.
While Gogoro emerged publicly earlier this year, the company was founded in 2011 and is funded by $150 million from some of Asia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs including Sam Yin, from Ruentex Group, and Cher Wang, the co-founder and chairwoman of HTC. Gogoro premiered first in a crowded Asian city that has already embraced driving on two-wheels.
Luke and his team worked intensely to design a scooter with new technology, computing, and connectivity in hopes that it would appeal to customers. The scooter can go 0 to 31 mph in 4.2 seconds — it maxes out at 60 mph — and can lean left and right at 45 degrees. It can also do quick and tight turns and abrupt stops and starts.
The connectivity and mobile app lets drivers see which batteries are available at charging stations so they know better where to go. The scooters have a range of 60 miles, and have two portable batteries that can be removed. Panasonic worked with Gogoro to provide customized batteries for the scooters.
Last month Gogoro said the scooters would cost $4,100 for a basic version and $5,100 for a higher performance version. That’s at the higher end of the scooter market in Taipei.
The battery swapping kiosks might seem like a mundane idea, but they are actually one of the most daring strategies on Gogoro’s part. Companies have tried to make battery swapping systems for electric vehicles sucessful for years, mostly to no avail.
Years ago a company called Better Place introduced an electric car network with battery swapping systems in Israel, which fell totally flat and lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Tesla (TSLA) has also dabbled with battery swap stations, but CEO Elon Musk recently said that very few of its customers wanted to use the test swap station it built in Central California.
Because Gogoro is building an electric scooter swapping system, it has far lower costs than Better Place did. And scooter drivers remove their own batteries and replace them, which makes the system relatively easy and quick. In contrast, electric cars have to park above an automated battery swapping system and have their batteries removed from below.
Gogoro is also trying to avoid the mistakes of Better Place by getting its customers excited about the scooter, as a product, regardless of the swapping infrastructure.