Oxygen Therapy - Part 2
By Bill Moore
It's one thing to design and build innovative electric two-wheelers, it's quite another to get them into the hands of prospective buyers, a Locatelli admits the company has not been agressive enough in this respect.
"We plan some aggressive action for the Spring . We just finalized a new re-capitalization of the company," he stated, "and we will put a long more resources into marketing. For right now, we have approximately ten dealers in the United States, basically all scattered around... By April we want to have all 50 states covered. We are planning our marketing strategy, as we speak.... It's a work in progress."
Part of that strategy means selling directly to dealers rather than through middlemen distributors.
"We don't want to sell a product for two high a price. We don't want to get too many layers and that's why Oxygen of the United States is 100% subsidiary of Italy, and we are direct in this market right now."
Rentals Prove Successful
According to Locatelli, one of the company's more successful programs has been the sale of their scooters to rental companies in popular tourist areas in Italy including the famous Island of Capri. He noted with obvious pride that there is a "war" currently taking place in Capri between non-electric scooter rental companies.
"It's a very strange situation there, but very successful. The customer choose(s) electric scooter rather than a gas scooter when he has the option," Locatelli explained, adding that on the Sicilian island of Lampedosa, the Oxygen electric scoooter rental program is doubling in size. "The mayor is talking about having the whole island electric and getting rid of the gas scooter."
As a result of program like that on Capri and Lampedusa, as well as other locations, including Rome, Locatelli estimates the company has sold between 600-700 scooters to rental agencies. When asked about how they were holding up in what is typically a pretty demanding operational environment, he replied that they were doing very well.
Best Markets Today?
While scooters are very popular in Italy and in Southeast Asia, Locatelli believes that for now the European and North American markets remain the most promising. "There are more early adapters and they have higher income and... strong environmental attitudes."
"Of course the Asian market has huge potential but we have to come out with probably a different product... a more inexpensive product, something more for the masses. But I feel there are many interesting markets in the United States usch as California, Hawaii, Florida. And also there is a lot less seasonality than in Europe."
He explained that Europe lends itself better to two-wheeled vehicles like the Lepton scooter because of urban congestion, where you're much more likely to get stuck in traffic jams than in North America.
"I feel the two markets are different, but both promising for different reasons. In is for the income and the attitude of the people and one for necessity."
Fuel Cells in the Future
For the moment, Oxygen is doing very little with fuel cell technology, for a very prosaic reason. "I think it's easier to find a plug than to find hydrogen on the street," Locatelli observed. While he sees fuel cells as a long term solution, he thinks battery electric power is fine for now when it comes to personal transportation. Instead, Oxygen plans to continue to improve its electronics, its transmissions and its batteries, giving customers the range they are calling for in this type of vehicle. "Maybe we leave the fuel cell to the big car manufacturers for now."
However, he also added that the company would continue to investigate promising technologies. "We are always going to have the best technology available," he stated.
More Vocal, Do Less
We asked Locatelli about European attitudes towards the environment, in particular Italian attitudes.
"The Europeans are more vocal about it, but I think they do a lot less," he replied. "The Americans are less vocal, but I think they are doing more."
From a regulatory perspective, Locatelli sees European governments taking a more active role in providing incentives for EVs while also passing laws that dis-incentivising traditional products, an approach he admitted he didn't always agree with.
By contrast, he sees America's "free choice" approach as encouraging buyers to "make a statement" when they buy an electric scooter. "It's a show-off, but a good show-off," he commented. In Europe, consumers have to buy an electric scooter because lawmakers have enacted regulations that often ban gasoline scooters from city centers. He said that consumers buy electric scooters out of necessity rather than for show.
"This is the difference. Cities in Europe are much more polluted. It's a very urgent problem to be resolved. We've been around for two years now and people have started recognizing now that our product works, our product is good and its better than traditional product. So we are getting our results now. We are really getting good feedback now."
Locatelli said that recognition, which has been two years in coming, is beginning to translate into accelerating sales.
A Radical Europe
Given the fact that the weekend before we spoke with Locatelli, anywhere from 300,000 to 1 million people matched through Florence in protest of American threats to invade and disarm Iraq, we asked Locatelli his views of the mood in Europe towards the United States.
"The mood in Italy, and probably most of Europe, is pretty radical. You either are in favor of American intervention or not." He estimated 55-60% favoring US intervention and "a pretty strong minority against."
"This is basically the same [anti-globalism] movement that began in Seattle. I think it is a worldwide movement, but probably the percentage would be lower in America." He sees much of the core of the anti-war movement coming from the old Italian communist party and thinks the peace movement has become too radical.
"There's not really an intelligent discussion in Italy, right now." He personally sees the possible war with Iraq as both about oil and disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. There are arguments both ways. Even if everything was electric, we'd still need oil, so we have to be practical.
We asked Locatelli what he saw as future trends in the EV market. He replied that he hoped more people would agree with them that you don't have to jump in a car everytime you need to go somewhere. He hoped that people would use public transportation more and come to realize that personal electric vehicles like the Lepton and Distance/Avenue are fun and will meet many of their transportation needs.
"Eventually, I think people are changing their mentality, little by little, and we are going to see more and more of these products. The market is huge." While he agrees that you'll still need a car to "go to your beach house three hours away," much of your day-to-day transportation can easily be done by electric two-wheeler.
"I think the future is also linked to battery technology." He see no future in personal transportation vehicles for lead acid. "We would like to migrate to more a innovative battery that is smaller, has a better range, more life, and once we get those batterie...for the right price, I think we'll see a huge expansion of this business. So, we're just at the beginning."
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