Builder of affordable, electric motorcycles Alta Motors recently partnered with Harley Davidson to drive scale and get their motorcycles into the hands of more customers around the world. The new partnership is already starting to bear fruit as the high-tech motocross company fleshes out the benefits of having an established, high-volume cruiser builder with arguably the strongest brand in the industry on their side as they look to take on the world.
The Potential of a New Partnership
Alta Motors sprouted out of a culture steeped in research and design, with products naturally growing out of the technologies being developed. The latest of its products, the Redshift MXR affordable electric motorcycle, makes use of the heart and soul of Alta’s tech — a battery that packs the highest energy density of any other lightweight electric vehicle.
We recently spoke with Marc Fenigstein about these topics. Marc’s LinkedIn bio has him down as Alta’s Rapidisto-in-Chief, which means he “plays at the intersection of design, business, and technology.” Marc shared more about how the company is thinking about its plans to drive scale and take its products to the next level. He shared that, “the hardest thing for a startup is the supply chain,” and with that in mind, they started looking for a partner that could help them level up the way Alta Motors sources its raw materials.
On the surface, the two companies couldn’t be more different. Harley Davidson is know for its cruisers, rolling down city streets in packs, hauling around an army of oversized men adorned in leather and blacker-than-night sunglasses. Alta Motors builds products for the younger crowd with energy drink–fueled guys and gals clad in mud-speckled glow-in-the-dark clothing designed to protect them from the inevitable attack of the elements.
Beneath the branding, the empty Red Bull cans, and the handlebar mustaches, they are both fundamentally motorcycle companies and there are strong cultural bonds between them. Motorcycle riders are rebels and the two-wheeled monsters they ride are fundamentally the same. Marc related that, “we viewed the world and the possibilities very similarly. ”
Electric Vehicles Open Up New Possibilities
The differences stretch beyond culture and into the business realm, with significant potential to tap into the overlap in the companies to make the partnership more than just the sum of its parts. “As different as our products and market are, there are a ton of synergies.”
Marc shared that Alta is exploring a broad segment of untapped market, including “everything larger than an e-bike and smaller than a passenger car,” because they feel that is the sweet spot for the technology Alta Motors has developed. It would be easy to assume that a motorcycle company would remain focused on two-wheeled products but Marc shared that Alta views the lightweight, electrified transportation segment as one with significant potential. “We have a natural tail wind in scooters and motorcycles and we want that growth to happen in electric.” Alta is open to competing with a variety of vehicles types — “that could be two wheels, that could be four wheels.”
The explosive growth potential in lightweight electric vehicles like e-bikes isn’t just a pipe dream — all you have to do is look to China to see how fast this segment can not only be created, but become a significant segment of the market. Maybe it goes without saying, but it’s worth noting that Alta is laser focused on pushing electric vehicles. “In most developed markets, the numbers work out in favor of electrics,” Marc related.
Alta Motors currently does all of its design and manufacturing above the battery cell level in California. Pushing for clarity on the future of manufacturing, I asked if outsourcing to overseas suppliers or contract manufacturing was in the future for Alta Motors and found that this is something Alta Motors and Marc are passionate about. The answer might surprise you.
“For us, time is money. Not just for startups but any company that is competing on having superior products in the marketplace … if they’re competing on anything other than pure cost and a commodity, it actually is the sound business decision to have your development and manufacturing colocated because you can cycle and introduce product so much faster.
“Y0u can mature that product so much more quickly that ultimately, you’re saving money. You’re building a better product sooner which means that it’s much more valuable to the market and that value to the markets far outweighs the difference in labor cost.”
Taking on the World
Alta Motors was started to prove what was possible with electric vehicles and to really see what they were made of. “We stepped back and thought about what the most brutal environment would be to test electric vehicles … and off-road motorcycles were it.” That mindset of taking on the hardest challenges because they’re tough was the reason Alta threw its hand into the air for one of the most difficult motocross challenges in the world — the Erzberg Rodeo.
For the uninitiated, Erzberg is an epic off-road challenge that pits 500 motorcycle riders not so much against each other, but against nature in a course that seems to eat challengers for breakfast with only 25 finishers in 2017 … and only 9 in 2016.
The riders must squeeze every bit of power out of their bikes up insane dirt and rock mountains, down fast straightaways, and around tight turns. It’s the pinnacle of off-road endurance motocross races and, as such, felt like the perfect place to see what Alta’s bikes were made of.
Alta Motors will be the first electric motorcycle manufacturer to compete in the challenge, pushing its electric motorcycle tech to the limits to see if its vehicles are up to snuff. Marc shared that while electric motorcycles have a few advantages over their internal combustion counterparts, in that they don’t stall and allow for much more acute control of torque, they are heading into the unknown.
The mountains, rocks, dirt, and hours upon hours of brutality have a way of breaking welds, draining lines, and pushing both bikes and riders to their limits. That’s why Alta Motors has entered — it wants to see how the bikes it has birthed hold up in the most challenging conditions in the world.
Looking Around the Corner
Alta Motors is aggressively pushing into the future to define and develop products that don’t exist yet if if that means it has to, “develop a [market] segment where there isn’t one.”
“What’s particularly exciting for me — we’ve been at this for 8 years: 2018 is proving to be a major inflection point for the electric vehicle industry as a whole. We’ve had a product on the market for long enough to prove that it’s the real deal and that the technology does what we said it can do.
“Now we’re able to attract a partnership and the investment we need to really go broad and go global and mature as a company. … We are in the middle of that next transition where we go from a single product startup to setting our sights on being a global vehicle manufacturer that is going head to head with the big guys.” — Marc Fenigstein, Alta Motors
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