When EGO Gets In The Way
The eGO electric scooter is a limited production product that was, according to its principals, designed in an iterative fashion, by a talented engineer/hobbyist. This basic proof of concept was further refined by technical management hired on to 'venturize' the product, production, and channel build out.
As such, we have striking dichotomy of form and function embodied in the product. Functionally, and in regard to specifications, we have a product that is superior to most other PEV products in the non-folding category. It is in regard to the form of the product - in its ergonomic, operational, and configuration for produce-ability, that the deficiencies are noted. Also, the intangible 'look', a byproduct nowadays of professional industrial design, seems in the mind of this retailer, to be lacking in finished appearance.
All of the foregone is attributable to a common form of startup malady known in the venture capitalist lexicon as 'inventor's myopia' (IM).
IM is a condition in which the technological birth parent of the invention is so bound with the initial design and problem solving of the original product prototypes. The inventor can no longer retain sufficient objectivity when placed in the position of having to ready the product plans for final manufacturing in all its various facets.
Therefore, in terms of application, the eGo meets and exceeds the market expectations for performance, while missing several important marks from the perspective of the retail and distributor channels. These same deficiencies are co-related to the aforementioned issues of produce-ability, delivery configuration, and perhaps also issues of serviceability.
Fitness for intended purpose; ergonomics and delivery configuration.
The eGo configuration as a bicycle running frame, monocoque hybrid harbors no inherent ergonomic flaws. The present control, seat, and handlebar geometry is less then ideal when considered in terms of related products, i.e., the competing PEV products and lower cost gasoline road scooters from the big four1. Here are some points summarized:
The current eGo configuration of controls is canted too far forward, with an unnatural wrist bend, placing weight-bearing regions hard forward on the saddle.
Foot position is another issue. Those long of leg find no repose for their feet, other than the center platform, causing leg splaying. There is a lack of vertical adjustment in the handlebars. In addition, they should be set back for a more upright riding posture, and adjustable for tilt so as to match the user's arm bend.
Perhaps the most distressing ergonomic issue of fitness for intended purpose is the lack of a throttle dead band for coasting.
The author acknowledges that the regen/dynamic braking configuration is clever and controllable, but it is so far from the prospective buyer's normative experience and apriori expectations, that a very serious negative perception is more than likely to be generated. Retailers have one chance in the test ride phase of the sale process. Any major obstacle or perceived operational inconsistency can sabotage a sale. This is particularly true when the higher end vehicle is juxtaposed with lower end products that meet more favorably with the user's expectations.
There have also been comments from other dealers about the potential safety issues in regard to this lack of throttle dead band, and a word is sufficient for the initiated. This aforementioned deficiency is remedied by switching to a center detent throttle and using the wiper terminal as input to the MC ADC, or in the case of analog input stage, biasing the input stage to center detent voltage. The dead band should be created in software, within the MC.
Issues of concern to the retailer; packaging, assembly, service and support:
Realizing that the manufacturer is bound by shipping constraints of size and weight, there are yet obvious anomalies in the present shipping configuration.
The eGo is heavy by PEV standards; near the TEA21 weight limit for electric assisted bicycles and scooters. In its present configuration, shipping the unit with the steering stem and front wheel disassembled is unwise. Furthermore, using tie-wraps to secure the detached handlebar and front wheel creates stress on cables and connectors where precious little slack exists.
Briefly, the unit must either ship with sufficient blocking and weight relief if the wheel and stem are to remain detached, or the stem and wheel should be assembled and the unit shipped with the handlebar detached. In this configuration, the sturdy wheels and chassis support the weight of the vehicle, providing that the carton is labeled with orientation arrows.
Assembly seems otherwise straightforward, although the lack of a frame cross tube (and weight) obviates the use of a bicycle service stand. The front wheel assembly and tie wrapped handlebar, coupled with the need to lay the vehicle on its side is conducive to the creation of cosmetic blemishes unless great care is taken. Serviceability could be enhanced by the addition of a diagnostic port brought out of the MC. This could be serial, USB, or more creatively, IRDA.
Produce-ability and Retailer Net Margins:
The configuration for manufacture and the resulting net margins for retailers are 'joined at the hip'. While the current eGo is domestically manufactured, there is no doubt that some consideration must be given to offshore fabrication. To this end, the following issues need to be considered:
Transition from Aluminum monocoque to tubular frame:
Elimination of the heliarc-welded, load-bearing aluminum carrier member will save hundreds of dollars per unit compared to a tubular, oval frame utilizing a brake formed battery/electrical utility carrier member of non-load bearing mien. Issues related to the outsourcing of fabricated components are key here; heliarc-welded frame members lie outside of the standard repertoire of procurable components used by the contract bicycle manufacturers in Thailand and Taiwan. Although it would be possible to specify such a component, it would need to be third party-sourced. Staying within the bounds of 'normality' for these manufacturers is important to keeping manufacturing costs down.
The current spaghetti bowl must be eschewed for a more modular and robust harness. There is a great risk of pinching wires during re-assembly. This item incurs negligible cost.
The existing configuration may be a good performer and a source of pride, but a more reasonable solution might be sought in an integrated PM/brushless motor w/ controller ala' Kollmorgen. While this solution may be slightly more costly, it is superior in regards to reliability and serviceability. The elimination of the above mentioned frame member and outboard MC would likely offset these costs.
The current Deltran unit is under-specified. The collateral states a 5 hr. Charge to 80% capacity - numerically, the measured 2.5 amp output is insufficient to achieve this. Also, the charge curve seems mismatched for the 'optimal' finishing charge (when compared to a Soniel 24-12). The charging system is one area where an increase in expenditures is warranted; customers paying 1500+ for a PEV want to use it often, and 5-8 hr. Down time per 12 hr. Use period is unacceptable. Bell? While the mirror and lights are befitting a vehicle of this caliber, the bell is out of place on a semi road vehicle. Rather, either a low-cost air horn with mini-compressor or 24v electrical unit should be specified. All of these issues (and those not listed) affecting margins should be addressed. The retailer will not tolerate 200-300 margin when lower to midrange products bring in nearly double the revenues. Bottom line: eGo wholesale price qty one = <1k USD shipping inclusive.
The author feels that the principals at eGo know in their hearts the foregoing is true, and more besides. The PEV (personal electric vehicle) market is entering a period of growth, with next year's riding season poised to be an explosive event. Concomitant with this is the increasing downward price pressure of offshore brands, distribution shakeouts, and an increasing tendency for mail order vendors to cut margins to the bone while forgetting fundamentals of customer service.
In order to compete, even as a domestic manufacturer, eGo must ruthlessly cut costs, support the dealer channel, and evolve the product forward without the blinding influence of 'Inventor's Myopia".
Alan Wilensky is a former technical analysis who now operates The Scooter Shack, a retail scooter store in Easthampton, MA.
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