It’s a cold day, time for news on the upcoming season. Brammo announced their 2014s, “the World’s Fastest Electric Motorcycle in Serial Production.” However, what’s more interesting than the ad copy itself is reading between the lines.
First off, Brammo explicitly says “…in Serial Production.” That’s because at least one Lightning and at least one Mission are known to be on public roads. Throw in the MotoCzysz, and Mugen Shinden. All would spank the Brammo Empulse, and by an embarrassing factor. However, their respective companies aren’t at the level of final production and public delivery at this moment. (Mission had already sold out much of its 2014 Mission RS run, via preorders in 2013.) Thus, Brammo has to qualify itself, and hasn’t lied… yet.
Brammo claims “its unique water cooled motor.” Unique… to Parker Hannifin customers, as this too is a bit of a dodge. I’ll give that Brammo engineered their own motor housing, for mounting and liquid cooling. Still, that’s hardly unique- every gasser sportbike worthy of the term “sportbike” has its own water cooling solution (and stressed mounts), as well as every gasser cage that can be sold in Western, developed nations. Meanwhile Zero and Mission openly boast of their in-house powertrain solutions, offering them to other OEMs.
Other sources in the moto business have picked up on this. The recurring theme in reporting on Brammo’s press release is “10 pounds.” A measly ten pounds, lost versus the 2013 Empulse. In particular, the press release brags about redesigned battery clips. Battery clips. Yep, there’s damning with faint praise. This, while the Empulse was portly compared to the competition. Watching the Empulse bulk out from 2011… to 2012… to 2013… to actual deliveries in late 2013, ten pounds is the least they could’ve done. And what they didn’t do is actually deliver their promised Empulse. I’m waiting for 50 pounds lost, guys.
Part of that bulk is that Brammo was backed into a corner, and into multispeed drive. The press release boasts of a “ground-breaking IET integrated 6-speed transmission,” “to relegate direct-drive competitors to the rear view mirrors.” Again, every other competitor in e-bikes dropped multispeed transmissions… including Brammo’s own Empulse RR. Hmmm, when actually racing, Brammo drops the gear ratios for direct drive. Hypocrisy much, Brammo? Also note that dropping a big metal box improves air around the motor, which may allow dropping (or just shrinking) the heavy, expensive liquid cooling system.
And yes, Brammo was backed into a corner. SMRE, the Italian company that actually makes Brammo’s transmissions, sold them a 6-speed, when 4-, 3-, or possibly even 2-speed transmissions would have worked. Brammo, though initially offering a direct-drive Empulse, went for it; in at least one sense, they literally were not strong enough.
- A better electric drivetrain would broaden the powerband; Zero, Lightning, and Mission all increased pack voltage to eliminate a need to shift. For whatever reason, Brammo didn’t.
- A better leadership would have fought for electric drives’ advantages, and not caved in to marketing and focus groups. And contractor’s sales pitches.
All told, when Brammo went to SMRE, they almost certainly didn’t have the strength to get a better deal. They don’t sell enough units to win terms, and would have to swallow what SMRE gave them- a box SMRE could turn around and offer to other (gasser) companies, in the same sense as Parker Hannifin. The Empulse was then behind schedule, overweight, and many thousands of dollars more than claimed. To this day, Brammo is offering SMRE components in its non-racing units, likely to amortize and rationalize that old deal. Brammo’s head Craig Bramscher wants to be “the Tesla of electric motorcycles.” Apparently, Bramscher is unaware of Tesla dropping gearshifts on its Roadster. Or, he thinks you’re unaware.
In their defense, Brammo’s biggest investor is Polaris, and Polaris’ biggest business is ATVs. Although Polaris owns the Victory and Indian brands, which are heavyweight motorcycles, ATVs outsell “chrome queens” by a big margin, especially when you include more docile workplace vehicles. Polaris, then, is interested in technologies it can cross-sell over its multiple holdings. Any electrified “chrome queens” would weigh >600 pounds, and thus have at least two or more speeds. ATVs, ridden in unprepared terrain, might not weigh as much but would want ultralow gearing anyway. Workplace vehicles would be someplace in the middle, depending on duty- a forklift might want multispeed transmissions, where a stadium car wouldn’t. Polaris may, then, have been the final veto for any direct-drive Empulse.
Overall, the press release sounds like marketing spin and “Mad Men” maneuvering. Those of us familiar with e-bikes (and marketing) can spot that. Too bad Brammo put more craftsmanship into the presser than into the 2014 power pack. CEO Craig Bramscher states “Today’s announcement underlines our commitment to listen to our customers and continually improve our products.” Orwellian language there, Craig?
I had just said “electrics are just beginning to fight. 2014 is shaping up, and I expect a lot more later.” I expect a lot more… from Mission, Lightning, etc.