Thursday, November 30, 2023

UBCO’s electric bike hits global trail

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NZ’s all-electric motorbike scoops order for 1500 in US market.
UBCO bikes agri manager Grant Payton says there is a large rural market in the US for the company to explore.
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New Zealand-based UBCO bikes is poised for its next round of capital raising as the firm moves from the startup to growth phase in its development.

The all-electric motorbike originally developed in a Wairarapa farm shed has moved firmly to the global stage, helped in part by the recent prime ministerial visit to the United States, which included some export heads.

Grant Payton, UBCO director of agriculture, said the trip also gave the mix of Kiwi exporters a chance to catch up with one another, and raised the possibility of future collaborative opportunities, both at home and abroad.

In the meantime, the company has cemented a large deal with a US bike company lodging an order for 1500 of the two-wheelers. The US company intends to build a retail network.

“This is a great opportunity to get the bike visible in a market where we see great potential, in some respects for uses similar to here in New Zealand,” Payton said.

“There are a lot of synergies between NZ and the US when it comes to using the bikes recreationally.”

Through the funding source Snowball, UBCO is working through a capital raise and Payton is confident funders’ interest is strong enough to continue to fuel a growth phase spreading through the US, United Kingdom, Scandinavia and the rest of Europe.

“There is far greater mainstream acceptance of EVs now and we are starting to get more and more enquiry from people who want to make a difference by owning one,” he said.

The current sales split between exported bikes and domestic is about 60:40, but Payton said he expects this to align closer to 70:30 in the coming couple of years.

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Here at home significant potential continues to lie in the farming sector, where the bike was originally developed, and upcoming modifications are likely to add significantly to its appeal.

“It is a given that the New Zealand dairy farm is probably the toughest environment for any equipment, and particularly motorbikes,” he said.

The fifth generation of the bike is currently being upgraded to include new software, brakes and possibly increased power to the rear wheels of the two-wheel-drive bike.

Payton said with ever-increasing on-farm operating costs, the all-electric bike compares favourably with the likes of quad bikes that on average have about a quarter of their retail value spent on them in repairs every year.

Through its centre-of-excellence innovation process, UBCO has trialled a subscription-type service for dairy farmers wanting to use the bikes. But Payton said it remains uncertain  whether this will be expanded in future.

The potential rural market in the US has also been scoped out. “We are looking closely at particular markets like beef farms in Texas,” he said.

Payton said while the bike may be up for some future adjustments, the “naked frame” concept will continue, given its distinct visual appeal and the way it lets owners adapt and attach different pieces of kit to it.

“That design was based on the original Honda CT90 and users are putting surfboard racks, gun-holders and grubbers on them, so we will be sticking with it,” he said. 

He said the crossover in use between farming, hunting and conservation users was strong. 

Adoption by Owen Boynton of the Toa Hunter Gatherer Māori Television show has also raised the profile in recent years, with Boynton describing the electric motorbike as his “stealthy companion”, allowing him to hunt with minimal disturbance.

UBCO now employs more than 100 staff between NZ and Oregon in the US.

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