Friday, October 12, 2012

Mission, uh, 'accomplished'?

If A&R has its facts right, San Francisco's Mission Motors has just laid off most of its staff. It's been an up-and-down few years for Mission, which burned through its founder and $10,000,000+ while producing a handful of prototype motorcycles. A year or two ago (if my blog is to be believed) the company basically shitcanned its plans to actually produce motorcycles and repositioned itself as a specialty engineering company offering its EV knowledge to the auto industry.

So, how do I interpret this new news?

I'd say the venture capitalists who funded Mission have run out of patience. Either they've just decided to stop throwing good money after bad and written the company off, or they're getting ready to hawk Mission's only assets while there's still time -- "I-P!! Get your Intellectual Property now, while it's still warm. Ten cents on the dollar!..."

The fact that it's going down this way, with ignominious layoffs of most of the staff -- including engineering staff -- is an indication that no existing auto (or bike) maker wanted to acquire Mission's IP, expertise and staff even for a few million bucks. It suggests that most if not all potential buyers for a company like Mission have already internalized their EV teams.

So will Mission just be wound down, or will some company come in and acquire the assets? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I went back and reviewed the notes I made in 2009, when I first wrote about Mission and Brammo, in advance of the first TT race for EVs. I made a road trip up the West Coast, first visiting Brammo and riding an Enertia prototype (the company's first race bike was being assembled while I was there.) Then, I went back down to S.F. to spend the morning at Mission and the afternoon at Infineon, where I was one of the first outsiders to watch the Mission race bike test.

The overall impression that I had was, Mission had a lot more engineers and IQ points in the room, but Brammo had a business plan. (To be sure, Brammo's had to revise its plan plenty, but at least they had one.)

The old expression goes, "What you don't know won't hurt you."

What you don't know that you don't know, however, will kill you.

At Brammo, the guys seemed to have a better sense of what they didn't know. At Mission, they were sure that they knew it all. Brammo's still not delivered its first Empulse, but at least it's still in business, so I feel that my first impression was accurate. And, to help you recall those heady days all of three or four years ago, when it seemed we were only, oh, five years away from a viable EV-moto segment that could seriously threaten the ICE bikes, I dug up a few pics from that first Mission visit.

Hacking the world's first (self-proclaimed) electric superbike. Those were the days.
Forrest North, the company's first CEO, didn't have a corner office, but he had a corner. That's his dog, Tonka. A year or two later, North was in the doghouse with Mission's investors.
Tom Montano, Mission's resident test stud, was an American TT racer before that was cool.
Remember Yves Behar's striking prototype design? After hiring a neophyte designer, Mission threw this out and hired James Parker. That, ironically, meant that the final, gorgeous iterations of the Mission R were designed by a guy who still drew on paper with a pencil. Parker was the right choice, but it was too little, too late. He and I had many long conversations in which he bemoaned the fact that there were too many people at Mission who didn't really know -- or even like -- motorcycles.
A closing thought. Back in 2009 (which is a long time ago, in the tech world) people said, "We're five to ten years away from really threatening the fossil-fuel status quo." And today? We're still five or ten years away. What's God's way of telling you that you have a great pitch, but an oversimplified approach that will fail in the real world? You find yourself presenting at TED.

1 comment:

  1. "Parker was the right choice, but it was too little, too late. He and I had many long conversations in which he bemoaned the fact that there were too many people at Mission who didn't really know -- or even like -- motorcycles."
    I've said this all along, these computer geeks with their "green" ideas will never be able to build an electric bike that will sell to anyone but another computer geek. Electric bikes are being pushed by the very "green" fools that would never ride a bike in the first place. Does Willie G. Davidson like bikes? Did Sochiro Honda like bikes? Does Eric Buell like bikes? When men like these build electric bikes they'll sell.