Yeah, we’ve all heard “the Tesla of _____” get tossed out. It’s usually hype, all hype. You know what? A scooter startup might actually resemble Tesla more, and not how most people would expect. Bear with me now.
Gogoro kept mum ’til CES. No one let on what was in progress, except to say energy. They raised $150 million in seed money somehow- way more than Rimac Motors of course, and into aerospace territory. Also, the founders are from Taiwan tech firm HTC (of phone fame); backer #1 is HTC’s Cher Wang. This is like Tesla’s Elon Musk coming from Paypal. So, some new kind of charger maybe? Boy, were we wrong; Gogoro revealed they are, at first glance, a scooter company, yet not- they happen to have a scooter, and something else in progress.
Sure, other people are building electric scooters, not the least of which is BMW- that’s right, the ultimate scootering machines. Gogoro’s ride is suitably phone-like; it has sleek, hard lines more like bizzaro furniture, and LEDs shimmering front and back. No, Gogoro’s trick is not some vehicle, but a platform, and not for your boots. Gogoro battery modules pull out of the chassis, and slot back to recharge in public kiosks. Kiosks that will rent batteries to Gogoro riders, plus other customers they don’t say yet. Who else do Gogoro plan on attracting? Let’s speculate:
-The original scooter riders
-Other electric 2-wheelers
-Other consumer electronics: Lawn care
-Other consumer electronics: Home hubs
-Grid backups and grid substitutes
-The original scooter riders. First, and for sure, Gogoro plans scootering as their gateway market. The kind of city that draws scooters will have the kiosks spread around; Gogoro claims one truck can drop off kiosks anywhere there’s a 240V outlet. By itself, this seems to be a killer app already. The number of scooters sold per year completely dwarfs motorcycles, and cars too. The fact that your one town is not swarming with scooters means you live in a privileged town, not a global frontier for the battleground markets of the 21st Century.
In particular, mega-cities with scooter traffic have apartments/condos with no EVSEs to charge vehicles. This is an obvious sell: don’t hunt around for a garage outlet, check your smartphone for a Gogoro kiosk during your day. You then open the seat, pop out a spent battery pack, and score a new one in seconds. The scooter input has been split into two half-packs, so each is 20 pounds, easily lifted. But this is also a way Gogoro has hamstrung the system. Packs are programmed for kiosks only; you can’t take them into your pad, to charge at night. That would, on reflection, reduce swapping and make the kiosks less viable. I guess Gogoro would rather have more kiosks than overnight rider convenience. Which is why we’re speculating on the need for all these kiosks. On the other hand, someone could defeat the pack protocols, and charge at home instead of swapping. This could bring the model down, where grid electricity’s less than Gogoro’s rates by enough of a margin.
-Other electric 2-wheelers. If the scooter can get around town with two 20-pound packs, how about… a motorcycle with four packs, or an e-bike with one pack? No stretch there, delivery bikes are going around today with removable packs this size. On the other hand, Zero Motorcycles now has a pull-out secondary pack (“Power Tank”) that’s bigger than this. Could you rework a Zero-like vehicle to use four or five packs, for longer rides at higher speeds than city scooters? Why not, particularly for the higher traffic and slower speeds of the cities that will get these kiosks in the first place. The best-selling motorcycles in the world (or “motorcycles,” to us Americans) are 125-250cc singles; this is well under what Zero’s making for us Americans. It’s obvious Gogoro is aiming for more than America, or even Canada and Mexico. That’s why HTC is backing them, and the very name “Gogoro” is pronounceable in all major Asian languages, plus Spanish, the Slavic languages, India, etc.
A killer app already exists here. Takeout restaurants and home delivery tend to cluster in, well, clusters- business districts of competing but mutually-interested companies. These restaurant districts tend to be just outside super-crowded business districts, where customers are still near but rents are lower. In other words, scooter central. You can then place kiosks here, still accessible to the business districts. Yet there’s more room for the kiosks themselves, and for customers pulling up.
-Electric cars. Let’s go further- how about a small car? The aerodynamics would be better, but now you’re dragging around a cage. Battery requirements go up to eight to twelve modules, and that’s still a city car, not in what we in America would accept for a family car. And yet ten packs might work. I could see four or five in the trunk, the rest under the hood. Changing them out would obviously be longer than for a scooter, but so is gassing a car versus a scooter. Twenty, though, I don’t see. Now that’s work. So this small car would have to be a really small car. That said, Asia has millions of these really small cars today.
However, I could see a decent-sized car with a twenty-module equivalent. The capacity of ten packs would be built in, and ten more would swap out of sockets. Now you’d need an onboard charger for the onboard cells. Still, charging them would be faster. Like the Prius Plug-In, with a standard charger but small pack, topping up the pack would be fast enough to do in a mall trip, or even a sit-down dinner- not at home. This is the all-battery counterpart to plug-in hybrids. But instead of a gasser to handle your bad days, you would use the onboard battery to do your commute, and swap out to go long.
Conversely, imagine a non-plug-in hybrid. A small piston engine also has a small, built-in battery pack to do its hybridization. For short errands only, though, you have the option of inserting Gogoro packs, reducing your fuel consumption. I don’t really see this happening. Pack swapping (and therefore the kiosk business) will swing wildly with fuel prices. This is not how you’d deliberately start a business if you could choose. It’s not how you’d deliberately put $150 million on the line.
-Other consumer electronics: Lawn care. Similarly, what about existing battery devices, such as HTC’s own stuff? At first glance, no. The Gogoro packs are huge for this; no laptop takes a 20-pound battery, even if that’s what your shoulder feels like after a long day. Certainly no phone either, not even those old bricks from the Eighties.
But wait, there’s more- more options, in more places, for more people. In North America, many people have lawns, and thus lawn equipment. Could you use Gogoro packs from a kiosk to run stuff? Two packs would easily power a push lawnmower, and possibly a riding mower. One would do a trimmer or leaf blower. We have a swap analogy running now, and for backyard use too: propane tanks. However, I don’t see lawn equipment as a killer app, just a side business. Not enough people do lawn work, enough times, for this alone to drive their network deployment. And if they did, it would make more sense for them to charge packs at home, in the significant time between lawn tasks.
-Other consumer electronics: Home hubs. Instead, imagine multiple electronics powered by Gogoro packs… and Gogoro packs alone. I just weighed the UPS for my computer, and it’s well under 20 pounds. But then again, it only runs that computer for an hour or so. If we switch from lead acid to modern lithium cells, 20 pounds’ worth would run a work setup far longer, particularly with more-efficient computers than mine. Their pack looks equivalent to, oh, 25-30 laptop batteries… which are getting more powerful every six months.
Where would this appeal? The Third World, where the power grid is nonexistent, or more marketably, present but just unreliable. The grid would run your fan, some lights, a water well or pump, and other intermittent needs you could take or leave at any one time. But your computer and internet router- the things that put you into 21st Century society- and one light, are running off a Gogoro pack you pick up every two days or so. You’d need a home “dock,” of course, the interface that adapts the battery into two to five power sockets. But then you’d continue happily as a 21st Century citizen, blackouts or no blackouts.
In the developed world, grid power rates don’t make this competitive, except as a UPS for high-value computers. But in the developing world, a blackout means power (in the short term) isn’t available at any price; if blackouts are common, electricity module rental is then a viable business. Consider them generators that don’t smell, and far smaller and lighter too.
-Grid backups and grid substitutes. Looking further, consider societies that don’t have power at all… right now. In the very near future, or perhaps under way right now, solar power and wind turbines arrive. However, that society hasn’t wired their towns and all their buildings with a heavy gauge copper network. Even if they did, initial solar and wind deployments in the Third World are not sophisticated enough to avoid blackouts. However, a crude solar or wind installation then routes electricity to major infrastructure, like a well, plus Gogoro kiosks. Townsfolk then use Gogoro’s packs to enable modern communications, clinics, and other high-level functions. Packs still in the kiosks would soak up intermittent power whenever available. Places that agree to host kiosks would be first in line for power without cutouts or spikes, speeding the deployment of those kiosks.
In the developed world, this has some appeal, but like lawn care not enough for a viable business. Individual Gogoro kiosks cannot store and release enough power to dent grid power schedules. However, a kiosk could decide to stop charging at peak times, easing strain on the network. This “peak shaving” or “demand shaping” generates no revenue itself, but may earn a break on electricity rates, making pack rental cheaper. In a slightly more complex setup, Gogoro networks all its kiosks in a city. In the aggregate, the whole network might make a dent, assuming their packs appealed enough for a citywide deployment. Slightly more complex than that, future kiosks are installed under solar-panel shades, like bus shelters today but as photovoltaic generators. The network, in conjunction with the grid, then steers panel power to either Gogoro storage or grid support as needed. This would then be a second revenue stream for the company. Power is sold back at times when the spot rate is much more than the long-term average rate listed on your monthly bill.
Again, this may not seem like a serious business to you. You’re reading this on the internet, which means you’re a nominally educated person, in a nominally developed society. However, you are in the minority. The population with no grid, or an unreliable grid, is billions of people across the globe. The company that can tap this market will have a foothold of enormous potential. If nothing else, Gogoro can put advertizing on their kiosks, as some of the first sustained, high-tech ventures in these towns… towns where scootering is practical and logical! Co-founder Horace Luke said that Gogoro would be ‘for the rest of us.’
Where did I get this idea? Tesla. Not only are electric cars in general proposed for grid backup (“V2G,” for Vehicle to Grid), but Tesla’s infrastructure is suspected of having this goal in the future. Some Tesla Supercharger sites have solar canopies now, to ease their grid demand. A Gogoro kiosk would need a far smaller canopy, of course, but draw far less power, too. Meanwhile, Tesla has already experimented with installing “worn” Tesla packs as stationary grid buffers… as have GM, Nissan, and Coda Motors. In the near future, Tesla Motor’s Gigafactory, while building new packs in the desert outside Reno, would harness that Nevada sun. Solar panels had already reached parity, with Reno sunlight levels matching its utility rate a little while ago, and continuing to fall. At some point from now, Tesla installs more solar panels and old car batteries, and becomes an independent power seller.
An investment firm, Morgan Stanley, has forecast that the Tesla Gigafactory will make a viable side business selling brand new batteries for stationary power. At Gigafactory economies of scale, and supported by car sales to pay the overhead, the batteries coming out would be cheap enough for even developed countries to supplement their grids. That factory is set to produce a certain cell standard, the 18650 size, originally designed for laptops but chosen by Tesla. Each Tesla contains a few thousand 18650s.
The price of 18650s will fall as more factories (including Tesla’s) produce them, for more applications. Even if you hate electric cars, the computer industry has been moving from desktops to laptops for, oh, this entire century. And the cell size in Gogoro’s modules? Why, 18650 of course! Gogoro is not stupid, and seeks to install enough battery capacity to become meaningful in the greater power industry… which will in turn lower the price of Gogoro batteries, making them more meaningful, like Tesla’s.
Gogoro appears meaningful, Better Place isn’t. Battery-swap startup Better Place went bankrupt, because (among other things) they built full “stores,” not automated kiosks.
Speaking of meaningful, I reserve the right to be totally off. It is not only possible, but likely, that Gogoro has something in mind that never occurred to me, you, or anyone else we know. Wireless hotspots, maybe. There is some reason Gogoro is concealing their further plans. For all we know, they’re powering their aquarium.
You may not like scooters. You may not like Teslas. You may not like fish. You do like having the lights on, at least one computer, etc. just like seven billion other people. Gogoro may have bet on your tastes better than you have. There’s $150 million worth of financing- so far- betting that they’re doing something right.