Behind the scenes at Scomadi Thailand | FEATURE
I’ve followed the Scooter Innovations and Scomadi story from day one and have written numerous features and stories about the brand for various publications over the years – and of course for ScooterLab.
I watched the story develop. From bespoke hybrid Lambretta based-bike-engined conversions – hand-built in Preston. To carbon fibre limited edition Scomadis. Followed by a run of ten fibreglass hand-built Scomadis and then eventually into Chinese mass production, followed by more recent low-key Thai production.
The rise and fall
I’ve followed the ups and downs of this forward-thinking British company. It’s a brand that suddenly made retro scooters become mainstream. I also worked in a large scooter dealership as the first production models eventually arrived in the showroom back in 2015. They sold like hotcakes. Each batch were pre-ordered before they were even produced in China.
We’ve all watched the rise and fall of Scomadi as they battled their former Chinese production facility in the high court and also very publicly on social media. It’s fair to say that the public airing of dirty laundry didn’t help matters and a ‘less said, soonest mended’ strategy would have been less damaging to the reputation of the brand. Dealers were left in limbo after production suddenly stopped, leaving the door wide open for the ‘other’ brand created as a direct result of Scomadi’s downfall.
Talk to Frank
It’s also fair to say that through the medium of SLUK, I’ve had more than my fair share of run-ins with Frank Sanderson – the remaining half of the original Scomadi company. His life’s work is very important to him, although his passion can often come across as anger/arrogance and antagonism.
At home with The Sandersons
When SLUK were invited over to the new Scomadi factory opening in Thailand as a guest of Frank and wife, Kaye (Scomadi Global Sales & Marketing Director) I was hesitant – especially as I’d be living with the couple for five days. I agreed though and came back with a much better understanding of Frank and an admiration for Kaye. I also had one of the funniest weeks I’ve had in a long time. Frank’s sense of humour and infectious enthusiasm gets lost in the written/typed word. He’s misunderstood in the virtual world and a danger to himself when let loose on a keyboard but his heart is in the right place.
Prototypes and specials
As many readers will know, Frank started off producing ‘specials’ from his Lancashire workshop. That’s something he’s still focussed on now and since moving to Thailand to oversee the new factory he’s got a chance to get stuck into what he’s best at (no, not public relations!) Frank will be concentrating on the R&D side of Scomadi and is also developing the SSS specials – more on those later.
400cc? Bike engine?
The R&D department has images of the Series 1/Series 2 style Scomadi, as well as the 400 and Gas Gas powered scooters. Although development isn’t as fast as the scooters many of you would like, you have to remember that they’ve been through the mill a bit. Scomadi were on the brink of collapse after the court case and the whole fiasco has left them trailing the competition.
The models many British Scooterists have been waiting for aren’t available yet but it doesn’t mean they’re forgotten. Dave Wilson at RetroTech is currently working at perfecting a productionised version of the Scomadi for the factory. A frame that will accommodate various engine configurations. If you’re impatient you can get him to build you a 400, or bike-engined model right now – as some customers are already doing.
Two long hard years of legal issues, near bankruptcy, company restructuring and serious wound licking have taken a toll. It meant production suffered, in fact, it halted for a while. Development also came to a stop.
Gaining the necessary Euro compliance for the TT model was slowed right down as a result (the original TL certification didn’t transfer to the TT) and despite all this, Frank and Kaye never lost sight of where they saw the brand.
Imagine how you’d feel if somebody cloned your kids and flooded the neighbourhood with your bastard offspring? Life has been tough but they’ve soldiered on.
Their first (hastily created) Thai factory wasn’t really suitable for purpose, so they’ve recently moved to a new facility between Bangkok and Pattaya. They’re in good company, it’s an area used by the likes of Ducati, Triumph and Harley-Davidson to build many of their bikes.
Enter the cavalry, two huge new investors came to join Scomadi (existing Thai investor – Pimol is still a share holder).
Leisure company, Minor International own 2,200 restaurants in 27 different countries. They also own 520 hotels and serve 76,000 rooms.
Their ‘Lifestyle’ side has over 480 points of sale and concentrates on brands. The Thai’s are very brand orientated and also love their vehicles, if they can pimp it they will.
Scomadi is one of the brands under the umbrella of this £1.5 billion a year company.
With a portfolio of clients including Lamborghini, Audi, Ford, Seat, VW, Skoda, Fiat, Magneti Marelli and many others, British owned CT Automotive is well placed to bring vital systems and modern production expertise to Scomadi. This is no longer a scooter ‘built in a cowshed.’ Scomadi has just entered a whole new world of quality-controlled production. Systems are being implemented to make sure the end-user gets the very best vehicle possible.
Engineering is being overseen by newly appointed Jodi Willis who has the expertise of a world-leading automotive company behind him. He’s already been instrumental in improving weak areas of the frame and developing new thrust bearings for the steering column – as you can see in the video above. A new retro-style speedo is also under development and there’s plenty more to come.
Slowly, slowly catch a monkey
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Imagine you’re heading up a company that’s rising from the smouldering ashes. You’ve just moved into a new factory and despite the investment, you still need to help balance the books from the two painful and expensive wilderness years.
So what do you do?
Are you going to build a handful of specials for the speed-hungry UK market? Or are you going to learn to walk first by building home market production machines that will bring in some much-needed dough and allow development to continue? It’s a no-brainer from a business point of view.
The production line is currently building TT models for the Thai market, as well as for other parts of Asia and Australia. Those markets demand 125s, they’re not looking for a 400cc auto, or geared two-stroke. So what about Europe?
Coronavirus reaches the parts others can’t
The current coronavirus epidemic/pandemic/black death isn’t just killing people. It’s also having a massive knock-on effect on business. Many companies will die as a result. All major manufacturers have parts made in China – Scomadi are no different.
The coronavirus means components aren’t leaving China for overseas production (it will also stop, or slow down the shipment of complete Chinese scooters made by other manufacturers of course). Parts aren’t being produced in some areas – factories/towns and cities are locked down.
Containers aren’t able to be loaded, or leave China. Airfreight/couriers and post have also been stopped. Parts like the newly approved Bosch ABS system for Euro 4 Scomadis can’t get to Thailand. It also means that European spec TT 200s can’t be produced at present, (although the CBS – Combined Braking System 125cc models can).
European Scooterists will have to wait a little longer if they want a new TT 200. This will also affect other manufacturers of course and things are going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. We’ve already seen parts of Italy on lockdown this week, Piaggio has closed their museum until things improve and Tenerife have a 1000 holidaymakers in quarantine. The world may well have a very turbulent 2020.
When will scooters arrive?
A European order for scooters takes a minimum of four weeks on the water, add a storm or customs issue and it’s closer to six. Factor in getting a slot for the colour/colours the UK/Europe want and it can take another month for models to be produced.
You’re looking at close to three months for a new order to be made, shipped and delivered to dealers. If we’re lucky (and the distributor puts an order in now), we’re still looking at May/June before 125cc TT models are available in the UK. That’s without the further disruption caused by coronavirus…
It could be an advantageous wait though. It gives a bit of time for any teething issues to be ironed out, for any updates to be added and for the nervous UK/European dealers to get back on the Scomadi rollercoaster.
That’s enough about the background and politics behind Scomadi. Let’s have a look around the new factory. Firstly, this isn’t a massive facility. The production line is set up to produce a scooter every 20 minutes from its single production line. The aim of this factory is to produce quality, rather than quantity. They’re putting systems and processes in place to ensure the end product is as good as it can be.
It’s overseen by British workers who understand what the customer is looking for (the main men at CT and Minor are also British born and raised). Once production is back in full swing and life is rosy, there’s nothing to stop this approach being scaled up or replicated elsewhere to increase production. Starting modestly is a smart way of working. Get it right from the off, then think big.
The factory itself is branded with the new Scomadi corporate identity, a colourful theme honed in the flagship, four-story Bangkok showroom. That CI is being rolled out to other home market Scomadi dealers, like Watchara Marine. A multi-franchise store near Pattaya, who sell lots of big boy’s marine toys, alongside Triumph Motorcycles and Scomadi (they also rent toys out and provide excursions if you’re in the area). Our own dealers could learn a thing or two from overseas.
It’s evident that Thailand has taken to Scomadi like Frank takes to an angle grinder. Scomadi cafes are dotted around, and meets are a regular occurrence. Scomadi is certainly a brand in its own right in Thailand. The thing that sets it apart from the UK is that scooters are something a bike rider will also want to own, there’s no ‘them and us’ to create an invisible barrier to ownership.
The only model currently in production is the metal-bodied TT. It’s been updated considerably from the first TT models that came to Europe. The frame itself has evolved, making it feel plush when ridden back to back with an earlier one. The suspension has also been improved and the new steering bearings add to an overall feeling of a much better product. The TT does look very well finished up close. The fit of the panels, the paint and the components all look top-notch. The scooters ride very well too.
GTS beating electric Scomadi
The TT comes in 125 and 200 as we already know. We also got a chance to ride the prototype electric version, it out accelerated a GTS 300. We’ll have a better look at that in a later feature. Scomadi aim to have that one out in the second quarter of 2020, the performance is astonishing and the added tech will make it a serious contender. The TT 200 (181cc) matches the GTS 300 on performance as well when fitted with a variator.
SSS Special editions
Frank is currently in quarantine, locked away from the factory floor in his own little laboratory where he happily cuts, grinds and welds things. It’s like a see-through prison cell for naughty or disruptive fabricators. A visual warning to the production line operatives of what could happen if they step out of line.
Gone are the days of just picking a handful of fasteners up off the shelf, Frank has to account for the stuff he uses. This is a different way of working to what he’s used to. He’s currently working on the aftermarket side of Scomadi, developing (amongst other things) the Scomadi Special Series – SSS.
The SSS will be produced as a fully prepared model with all the factory modifications, upgrades, styling and performance parts already fitted. Including different engine configurations, exhausts, maps, and tuning products. Scomadi have developed the SSS tuning parts in conjunction with Yuminashi.
Factory tuning covered by warranty
Scomadi approved official aftermarket parts and upgrades will be covered by the factory warranty. All SSS tuning parts and accessories will be available to upgrade the existing Scomadi models.
We’ll bring you some video footage and a feature on the tasty looking SSS models next week.
I left Thailand and the Scomadi factory having had an enlightening experience. It’s a fantastic place to ride a scooter so if you ever get the chance be sure to give it a try.
Scomadi have been battered against the ropes and although they’ve been down a few times they’ve not been knocked out yet. The Scomadi story isn’t a fairytale by any stretch of the imagination. For an ‘ordinary’ Scooterboy (or pair of Scooterboys to be precise) from England to even get this far is a miracle in itself. Taking a home built scooter to mass production is a huge feat. This is big boy’s engineering and development, a world away from creating a shed built special.
Let’s hope the new direction and a factory blessed by Budda will breathe new life into the brand and help to silence their critics. The new company line up has some very serious players. Let’s hope they can put Scomadi back on the right track. We wish them every success and will follow the story closely.
Words, photos and videos: Iggy
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Scomadi Thailand gallery
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