Entrepreneurs are always looking for the next big break in the marketplace.
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Nowadays, many of these opportunities are popping up in eco-friendly or "green" industries, such as cleaning products, alternative energy, and architecture. Hybrid-engine automobiles are already gaining market share in the consumer transportation sector.
But will the success of green automobiles be duplicated in the motorcycle industry?
A few companies are banking on it.
Electric motorcycles are already being produced by three West Coast startup companies which are hoping to ride the next wave of green commuter vehicles. Unlike their automotive counterparts, electric motorcycles use absolutely no gasoline. They are completely powered by electric batteries which are plugged into a standard wall outlet to be recharged. For commuters, this can potentially save hundreds of dollars in gas costs every year.
Also, these motorbikes do not have tailpipes, so they do not spew pollutants into the air while on the road. This quality may appeal to environmentally-conscious bicyclists who want zero-emissions transportation without expending the muscle necessary to power it. Like hybrid vehicles, electric motorcycles are very quiet; the only noise they produce is the sound of the chain mechanism which turns the wheels.
Currently, most electric motorcycles retail for less than $10,000 each. Though sales are not exploding right now, that may change in the years to come as traditional motorcycle manufacturers Honda and Yamaha begin to enter this marketplace.
Here's a look at the three companies that are on the cutting edge of electric motorcycles:
Main product: Enertia
Named after its founder, CEO Craig Bramscher, the company opened for business in 2002. Not only are Brammo motorcycles eco-friendly in their operation, but their outer shells are constructed of a material made from recycled water bottles. Brammos are not offered through dealerships, but are instead sold through several Best Buy electronics stores and serviced by Geek Squad, the popular computer and electronics repair and installation company.
Main product: Zero S
The two captains of the company boast an impressive pedigree. Founder Neal Saiki is a former NASA aeronautical engineer, while CEO Gene Banman served as an executive for Sun Microsystems. Like Brammo, Zero is planning on expanding into overseas markets in Asia and has hopes of nine-digit annual revenues within a few years' time.
Mission Motor Company
Main Product: Mission One
While Mission's products function using the same basic technology as that of Zero and Brammo, the company is clearly targeting a different market segment. The Mission One high-performance electric motorcycle reportedly has achieved a top speed of 150 miles per hour and can go 150 miles on just one charge (both figures are more than double what its competitors can accomplish). So Mission is not only looking for eco-friendly customers, but also speed-hungry thrill-seekers who may want to change over to an electric bike.
While the green technology of these products stands on its own merit, it remains to be seen if the consumer will embrace the idea of electric motorcycles. Because they operate quietly and with very little vibrations, riders do not experience the bone-jarring roar associated with regular motorcycles. So some experts wonder if the electric motorcycles may not be "macho" enough to appeal to the typical biker.
Nevertheless, the electric motorcycle is a perfect example of the entrepreneurial spirit: altering an existing product in order to embrace new market trends. And should they catch on, electric motorcycles could potentially transform the way that people around the world commute and joyride.