By Bill Moore
Who would have thought that pizza delivery in Holland and parking enforcement in Italy would provide the opening for a new generation of sophisticated and performance-competitive electric motor scooters and motorcycles. But that's exactly what's happening and the company that is forcing open that wedge is Oxygen World S.p.A., based out of Padova (Padua), Italy.
EV World has been following the progress of the company over the last several years, interviewing Raffaello Locatelli back in November of 2002, and previous to that, publishing a couple articles about the company.
In fact, we've probably given them more digital "ink" than just about any other two-wheeled EV-maker around, but they deserve it, because they're products are turning out, as Robert Kanode points out in this interview, to be more than just recreational "toys." They have hundreds of their electric scooters working with police forces and resort operators all around Italy. The police department of Milan owns more than 100. Now they've successfully completed delivery trials with Domino's Pizza in The Netherlands, which has lead to the first order for the Oxygen's new CLR model scooter, creating what I call the "Domino-effect."
Just a little background first on Robert Kanode. He lead the team that developed IBM's ThinkPad laptop computer. From there, he moved on to head the commercialization efforts of Evercel, makers of the world's first production nickel-zinc battery. He left Evercel some two years ago and now works as a consultant on behalf of Oxygen World S.p.A. in North America where he's charged with helping set up their first assembly, distribution and service center in Throop, Pennsylvania, along with developing marketing strategies.
The Throop plant will service North America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Kanode sees it as filling an important role not only in assembling the Oxygen E, Oxygen P (police model) and the new Oxygen CLR (cargo long range) models but also in testing them and future products. Up to this point virtually all electric scooters sold in North America have been assembled overseas -- most in Taiwan and China.
All of the scooters being assembled in Throop will be powered by Evercel nickel-zinc batteries, giving them significantly better performance than lead-acid equipped models. The Oxygen E will have the Evercel M50 battery, while the CLR model will be equipped with the MD80 batteries. It is this latter model that Domino's Dutch subsidiary has ordered for replacement of its current fleet of gasoline-powered scooters.
Kanode explained that the CLR model offers longer range of between 50 to 60 miles on a charge with a top speed of 28 mph. While the scooter is easily capable of much higher speeds, its been restricted in Holland so that it can be classified as a moped.
The CLR model also introduces a larger chassis than the original Oxygen E (Lepton). He noted that in tests with Dominos in The Netherlands, a pair of CLR prototypes achieved a "solid" 50 miles range on a single charge over 1,000 km of driving, more than enough to meet the pizza maker's daily delivery needs.
From Domino's perspective, electric scooters make a great deal of sense financially, as well as environmentally. Kanode told EV World that because the scooters are electric, they can be stored and recharged inside the franchisee's operations, something not permissible with a gasoline scooter. In addition, they cost only a penny-a-mile to operate and cost right around $4,000US to purchase.
He further emphasized the importance of serviceability and reliability, which also impact the bottom line. Dominos was impressed enough with the two prototypes that they ordered seventy-five CLR models, each of which is capable of carrying up to seven pizzas in an insulated hot pack that fits inside the cargo carrier, naturally emblazoned with the Dominos logo.
For a company serious about its environmental image, delivering its product on a clean, quiet, efficient electric motor scooter is a huge plus. Dominos in the Netherlands, however, is going to have to revise their web site after they begin to deploy their new Oxygen CLR's because they currently have an animation on the site that shows a gasoline scooter delivering pizzas, complete with a buff of smoke!
Worldwide, Dominos has over 7,000 outlets, both company-owned and privately-owned franchises. Kanode said that both the Dutch subsidiary and some franchisees have ordered the CLR. He has met and talked with other Dominos owners in the last year and has plans to replicated the Dutch experience here in the Western Hemisphere by first starting with company outlets in the Caribbean.
We asked him if Dominos had an concerned about safety. He replied that initially, the scooter will only be introduced in markets that already rely on dirt-bikes and motor scooter solutions. He added that because the scooter is so quiet, Dominos asked Oxygen to include a "user friendly" alarm to warn pedestrians of its approach. The company also asked for some minor changes in the height of the seat and size of the cargo carrier box.
Turning for a moment back to the Throop, Pennsylvania operation, Kanode said, "Our intent is that we bring components or sub-assemblies in from our facility in Italy and we final assemble them to order in Pennsylvania. The best example of that is probably the Oxygen P, the police scooter."
The plan is to bring in what he calls a "white body" and complete each scooter to order for each police department including badges, decals, and accessories. While he wouldn't say how many orders Oxygen had received for the P-model from North American law enforcement agencies, he did say that developments had proceeded well beyond the demonstration phase and into active negotiations, noting that the State of Pennsylvania and governor Edward G. Rendell have been "very supportive."
Traditionally, police departments have had two options for deploying their forces: foot patrols or police cruisers. In the last decade, some progressive departments have added mountain bicycles to this option, and a few have fielded electric bicycles, but from Kanode's point of view, that still leaves a void for something between these two extremes. He sees that option as the Oxygen P. It gives officers the mobility they need, especially in crowd control situations such as sporting events, as well as public accessibility. The general public are much more likely to approach an officer on a motor scooter than one siting a patrol car, he noted.
Electric Bicycles Are Secondary Focus
Oxygen World S.p.A. also builds and sells electric bicycles, the newest one being a folding model designed and developed for Swan Yachts in Finland. The idea is to provide yacht owners with mobility at various ports-of-call around the world. Kanode said the bike can be folded into the size of a Pullman suitcase.
Beside the new folding bike, the company's original electric bike continues to sell well in Europe, with more than 5,000 in consumer hands.
"We will bring those products to the US," he explained, "but it will not be our benchmark focus market entry products. It will follow the lead of motor scooter family."
EV World asked Kanode about Oxygen's North American retail marketing plans. He responded by saying that while efforts to interest police departments and similar fleet operations would appear to be OEM-driven, meaning Oxygen would be doing the prospecting and selling directly, this is not the plan. Instead, he wants to drive those sales through retail channels by getting established dealerships involved in not only selling to consumers but to also work on larger, local fleet orders.
"We've started talking to what I consider serious two-wheeled and four-wheeled EV dealers in selected markets. We are focusing on dealers in Florida and we are focusing in on dealers in California, Arizona and Nevada." The emphasis on the Sunbelt will shift as warmer summer weather approaches in North America. His initial thrust is to interest GEM and Segway dealers in these regions. He sees these dealers as having an appreciation for a "professional-grade" product as distinct from inexpensive, "entertainment, toy" EVs.
In his talks with potential dealers, he's noticed that many who started out selling these type products are now starting to "migrate up the food chain" to more serious, professional products. He includes in this latter category the Segway Transporter, the Oxygen scooter and when it becomes available the Vectrix electric motorcycle.
EVs Coming of Age
"The first huddle we have to overcome in the EV world is to overcome what I call the heritage of our transportation," Kanode stated. "A two-wheeled transporter of gas-powered or any other means, has not been a part of our heritage and we have to educate the individual that this can provide a transportation solution. That's the first barrier to entry of any product into this market. Once someone touches the product and, in particular, rides the product and understands that it's quiet, it's fun and it isn't difficult to operate... people adopt the technology and at that point, they seriously begin to consider specific transportation solutions; what this product can do for them. Once you enter the value equation, then you can proceed to the purchase decision."
CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK...