Anyway, with that many gullible nitwits out trolling the net for motorcycle news, I am probably wasting my time with this serious observation about the emerging electric motorcycle category. (N.B. For once, I used a word other than 'nascent' to describe the e-bike phenomenon.)
Over the last week or two, I've noted the following bits of news from the e-moto world...
- The Brammo Empulse R was revealed, and it emerges that it will cost about $3,000 more than a BMW S1000RR.
- The first North American TTXGP race took place but nobody came. OK, two teams entered three bikes. Two bikes started; one bike finished.
- Daimler has promised to begin producing the Smart electric scooter by 2014
|This costs as much as...|
|...this. The BMW is completely dominant by any measure. Does Brammo really think the Empulse R, at almost twenty grand, can be anything other than a rich tree-hugger's bauble?|
But. Come on...
Brammo's still talking about 'over 100 mph' and '121 mile city range' in their press releases. Trust me, this will not be the bike that makes range anxiety a thing of the past. Ex-Zero brainiac Neal Saiki has a post on his web site about the skewed results for EVs in 'city' mileage tests.
For the price of the Empulse, you could buy the BMW, and cover all of your operating costs for a couple of years -- years in which you'd have an incomparably superior riding experience in every way. And what will really have been proved when the Mugen laps the TT course at 100+ next month? That it's as fast as a Manx Norton was 50 years ago, with half the range. And that if you could buy it, it would be an order of magnitude more expensive than the Manx was (corrected for inflation.)
|Proof that I respect some Mormon Republicans. And yes, I'm aware that adding 'Republican' to 'Mormon' is redundant.|
Christensen's book, 'The Innovator's Dilemma' is the most important business book written since the invention of the integrated circuit. Steve Jobs described The Innovator's Dilemma as one of his profound influences. Christensen coined the term 'disruptive technology,' and is -- at least arguably -- the expert on the adoptions of new tech that, uh, disrupts established sectors of the economy.
Christensen's take on disruption is that it follows a predictable arc, which is not dependent on the category being disrupted. He's studied examples from industries as varied as steel mills and steam shovels to hard drives and transistor radios. (The Honda Cub step-through was one of the disruptive technologies he identified and studied, too.) And in the Christensen model, the way disruption happens is that new technology displaces old technology at the bottom of the market, while it is still clearly inferior to the best of the previous tech.
The low-performance/low-price portion of the market is often happily ceded by established companies dominating the old technology, who think, We don't want to make that crap anyway.
Then, two things happen over time... First, the cheap new products attract a whole new group of consumers to the market. The first Sony transistor radios were cheap and portable, but their reception and sound quality was atrocious. Companies like RCA, that were in the radio business -- where are they now? -- didn't feel threatened by Sony at all. RCA couldn't imagine anyone buying a Sony, no matter how cheap, instead of an RCA tube radio, because the performance gap was so huge.
What RCA didn't see coming was that there was a huge, new market for radios. Teenagers, who were on the move, and wanted to listen to rock and roll music that their parents (who controlled the RCA) couldn't stand. They bought transistor radios by the million. That enabled the second thing to happen, which was -- those new customers funded R&D that enabled transistor radio performance to improve, and supplied a huge pool of consumers who, as they became more affluent, stuck with the technology they were familiar with.
If Sony had decided to go head-to-head with RCA, going for RCA's performance and price right away, it would have failed miserably. Honda, with the Cub step-through, also carefully avoided competing with the likes of Norton. At the beginning, Honda wasn't even going after motorcyclists at all.
|At some point in the future, we may look back and say, "Remember when electric motorbikes stole a march on the old fossil-fuel-powered bikes?" The bikes that disrupted the old regime will, I'm betting, be more like this one.|
I don't know what the Smart will sell for, but you can be sure it will be a fraction of the Brammo's price, and if Daimler is, well, smart, they'll lower performance as far as they need to, to sell it at a price that undercuts every other autonomous, motorized option.
The lesson from The Innovator's Dilemma is that change, when it comes, doesn't come from knocking off the top of the market and trickling down. (Where's Mission, by the way?) Change comes from knocking off the bottom of the market, and bubbling up.