Electric Motorcycle Industry Gains Momentum as Covid-19 Reshapes People’s Thinking About Green Travel

(Evoke Motorcycles is a Beijing-based startup that designs, manufactures and develops electric propulsion motorcycles and other EV applications with safer, faster charging batteries. Source: Evoke)

The coronavirus outbreak this year has restricted, stagnated, and destructed various industries, but some remain unscathed and have even gained momentum.

Nathan Siy, founder and CEO at Evoke Motorcycles, a high-end, e-motorbike startup, said the company is getting more orders now on the uptick despite market speculations about an overall bump that the whole motorcycle industry might encounter due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What we’re finding now is that we’re getting an influx of new orders based on people who want to self-isolate. Normally, when someone would have been driving a car or taking public transit, I believe now is where they’re seeing maybe motorcycling or electric motorcycling as a better option,” Siy said.

In contemporary society where unsustainable resources are gradually depleted, electrification has become one of the most competitive alternatives in the trend of sustainable development. Only companies that have a firm foothold in new energy can win the future.

Siy said the development of the motorcycle industry is five to ten years behind the car industry when it comes to gas motorcycles.

“When you take a look at actual overall carbon emissions from a motorcycle versus a car, they’re quite comparable,” Siy said. “Because of the standardization of emission standards in a car, and the installation of toxic gases and pollutants reduction components such as catalytic converters, cars can reduce tons of carbon emissions. But the motorcycle industry’s standards have stagnated.”

China is saturated with low-end electronic motorcycles with approximately 30 million models sold every year. Evoke is targeting the premium market to contend with motorcycle brands using inefficient gasoline engines. Siy believes that the development of electric propulsion motorcycles is of greater significance to environmental protection because most motorcycles emit higher carbon content in recent years.

“I think the effect is much stronger than changing cars because if you own something like a Corolla and switch to a Tesla, you can reduce emissions,” Siy said. “But Corolla is already pretty good for the task standard and doesn’t produce much pollution. An Indian 125 CC engine used on scooters spews oil and gas right out of the cylinders. That in itself is putting out tons of carbon emissions. So we can replace those guys.” 

Siy’s company Evoke is the first company to develop technologies that tie onto the car charging network, enabling owners to charge their motorcycles with car charging infrastructure. Siy said this approach takes into account the popularity of car charging piles in Beijing.

Chinese media Stdaily reported in May this year that the number of various charging piles in Beijing has totaled 205,100, making it the city with the largest number of charging piles in China.

(Source: Evoke)

Evoke also developed high-speed charging technology and focuses on safely jamming in as much power into the pack as possible. Evoke has two models, Urban Classic and Urban S, on the market and one prototype about to debut. The sporty version, Urban Classic, can be topped up within 90 minutes, and the heavier version, the prototype, takes around 15 minutes to fully charge.

Although based in Beijing, Evoke has the smallest market share in China as government policies regarding two-wheel electric vehicles are not clear. Siy said e-bikes are not subsidized as cars in China. The government subsidy is given to electric cars with starting prices less than 30,000 yuan. 

“Ironically, lots of places that we’re selling in have pretty big subsidies abroad. Regardless of the type of vehicle, they base it off of the power level. They go by percentage of the price. China, however, hasn’t stepped up yet. So we don’t know which direction to take our businesses. I wish the government subsidy and clearer policies would reach the motorcycling segment,” Siy said.

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Ten years ago, Siy and his other co-founders from various industries met up and spent a few years modifying bikes and cars, and then gradually turned into modifying electric scooters and started developing batteries and control circuity to make scooters faster and safer. In 2014, the group put their heads together and thought it could potentially be a good business and set up the company in Beijing.

“In hindsight, this is the only place that we would have actually been able to succeed,” Siy said. “The supply chain is all here. If you take a look at any electric vehicle manufacturer in the world, 9 out of 10 times, most of the supply chain is here in China.”

Evoke shares its supply chain with other motorcycle competitors who have raised billions of venture capital funding, and even though the company raised much less money, it has been able to create three models, according to Siy.

“I think only because we’re in China, we have quick access to prototypes. If we need a motor part or something done on control circuitry, we could literally get it done in five days. We can send companies a design file and receive the circuit board the next day. When it comes to supply chain, China has the speed and accessibility,” Siy said.

Although the establishment of Evoke in Beijing has provided it with many opportunities, as a foreign company, it still faces a series of challenges brought by social, cultural and political differences. Siy said the company needs to constantly be on the move, look for backup suppliers and maintain good relations with existing suppliers to guarantee stable supplies of every component and delivery of hundreds of bikes per year.

One of the issues that foreign startups face when developing businesses in China is how to nurture good relationships with investors. Siy said that mutual trust is hard to establish between domestic VC investors and foreign entrepreneurs because investors want to secure their funds for their investment and make sure they have local mobilized assets to either collect or repossess if something happens.

To help non-mainland-Chinese entrepreneurs quickly adapt to the Chinese market and stimulate market vitality, the Beijing Chaoyang Talents Association holds Overseas Talent Entrepreneurship Conference (OTEC) every year with an entrepreneurial reward of 1 million yuan, qualification for CEO training through Phoenix School enrollment, a policy consultation on talent introduction, one-on-one meetups with VC investors to win over financing and other consulting services concerning working permits and visa status, the event website stated.

As an active participant of the event since 2017, Siy said the event has helped him become familiar with the publicity, resources and connections that the company is looking for.

“They’re able to get us into the one-on-one investor meetings. For the past three years, they’ve given us a free booth space and we were able to meet different founders and get some good knowledge,” Siy said.

This year’s OTEC will hold a one-week event, the Global Innovation Week (http://www.china-otec.com/GIW.shtml) (GIW), from Sept. 14 to Sept.20 for any pre-series A and series A, non-mainland-Chinese startups with less-than-three-year history to showcase their business. Shortlisted entrepreneurs have opportunities to participate in the GIW Masterclass to gain a comprehensive understanding of cross-cultural leadership, IP protection, talent management, and Winning Chinese Customers in the Age of New Media, according to OTEC’s website.