Gogoro goes forth – swap & go | FEATURE
It’s stylish, there’s an infrastructure developing behind it, and even a new way to get around ownership. So is it finally time to get excited about an electric scooter?
This is certainly an important development taking us closer to what could be the future of electric scooters. So while many of those attending the Milan Show in November overlooked Gogoro – beyond stopping to admire their stylish scooters – SLUK took time to investigate the brand further and conduct an exclusive interview with Gogoro’s Jason Gordon (VP of Corporate Communications) to find out more.
The Gogoro scooter was first presented at the Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas in January 2015 and subsequently displayed at the Milan Motorcycle Show in 2015 where I first came across them. By the time they returned to the Milan Show in November 2016, Gogoro scooters have arrived on the streets of both Asia and Europe.
But what’s the big deal with electric? Surely it’s just political, tree-hugging, propaganda stuff to win political votes and make someone, somewhere considerably richer? Arguably yes.
Using only electric vehicles in city centres will obviously reduce the pollution in the immediate vicinity, but of course the electricity needs to be generated somehow, and until it’s all made using wind and water turbines, then electric vehicles simply move the area of pollution from one location to another.
To balance it up a little, I’ve personally tested a number of electric powered-two wheelers over the years and even helped in the R&D of an electric motor, and on the whole the performance of these has generally impressed me. Almost 20 years ago now the Peugeot Scootelec impressed as a local commuter scooter, which was followed onto the market by a small number of similar machines. The Vectrix was an electric maxi-scooter with the comfort and power to cruise two-up at 50mph+, and more recently I’ve ridden an electric Zero motorbike with a genuine 80mph top speed and all the attributes you’d want from such a machine.
In fact performance has never really been an issue in my experience. It was once explained to me that power wasn’t a problem with an electric motor, it was easier to manipulate than a petrol engine and that the technicians could in theory configure it to climb the vertical wall of a tower block. The only issue would be that the scooter would run out of power pretty damn quickly and fall back down to earth!
Now this for me has always been the stumbling block with electric vehicles; battery longevity and their recharge time. Having a restricted range or having to wait hours before your batteries are ready to continue a journey simply isn’t practical. Neither is charging your vehicle via mains electric from the 12th floor of a city centre apartment, unless you have an extremely long extension lead.
I have encountered one or two Asian electric scooters over the years that offered removable batteries that the owner could in theory carry up to their flat and recharge over night, but nothing practical enough to last the test of time or indeed cause me to remember their name. Still, the thought was there…
Anyway ladies and gentlemen, back to the Gogoro Smartscooter. Designed by Gogoro, including the motor, and manufactured by Gogoro in Taiwan, this of course is not the first electric powered scooter onto the market, nor the first I’ve seen with easily removable battery packs to make recharging more convenient. They are however the first to develop an infrastructure to make sure their product can work without relying on local governments and councils to put something into place for them. Sounds like a plan, hey?
The scooters themselves are small, simple and lightweight. As for desirability, if the designer was trying to capture something as stylish as an Apple Mac or piece of Alessi kitchenware on two wheels then they’ve succeeded. The lines are curvy, the lights are funky and fashionable and it will surely appeal to the trendy commuter market, especially when compared to some of the mundane ‘Nokia’ house-brick-like petrol scooters on the market today.
Gogoro tell us that the motors used in their main scooter have an output of 6.8kw, which they says offers a 0-31mph acceleration time of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 60mph. The stated maximum riding range at 25 mph is approximately 60 miles, so you need to work out your compromise of speed over distance, but that of course is where their battery-swap GoStations come into the equation. Gogoro say that changing a battery pack is quicker than refuelling a regular scooter with petrol; just six seconds.
Taipei to Berlin
The Gogoro was launched in the city of Taipei, Taiwan in 2015 where Jason told me they have installed a network of GoStations to support the Gogoro riders.
But what are GoStations and how do they work? As with many things today, Gogoro has an App to help you along. A glance at the dash on your scooter will tell you how far your batteries have left to go, and you can search for the nearest GoStation where you can facilitate a battery exchange. Upon arrival raise your scooter’s seat, lift out the Panasonic battery pack and exchange it for a fully charged one in the station’s dispenser. It is that simple and takes seconds.
Gogoro recently arrived in Europe, in Berlin to be precise, but with a slightly different concept. Partnering with Bosch subsidiary Coup, an e-scooter sharing service launched in August 2016. Think Boris Bikes in London and you’re along the right lines. People hire the scooters in Berlin rather than own them, so commuters can simply ride to work while tourists have an alternative for seeing the sights. As you’d expect, the service is accessed via an App. Coup initially launched with 200 Gogoro scooters that are available in a limited number of Berlin neighbourhoods, the bikes restricted to a maximum speed of 45 kph so that anyone over 21 holding a car or motorcycle license can use them. The pricing structure is based on a flat-rate fee of three euros for 30 minutes or 20 euros for the working day (7am to 7pm), including rider insurance via Allianz. That’s arguably cheaper than catching a taxi.
Using the App you locate the nearest scooter to you, tap the App to unlock the scooter and access the crash helmet under the seat. This is apparently an HJC lid which isn’t a bad brand at all, but getting one the correct size that hasn’t been dropped a dozen times already could be a gamble. Anyway, no keys are needed with the app – you literally twist and go.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Jason agreed.
“Since we launched in Taiwan in August 2015 we’ve sold 15,000 scooters and sales are continuing to increase. Our system is based on battery swapping and we’ve installed 270 battery-swapping GoStations, which are the size of an ATM cash machine. In Taipei we have them installed every 870 square metres so people can get new batteries wherever they go. We’re getting about 9,000 swaps per day now. Our customers have ridden 30 million kilometres since we launched 14 months ago. and they’ve swapped two million batteries.”
So explain how does ownership of a Gogoro work in Taiwan?
“One of the issues with EV adoption is that batteries make up such a large percentage of the cost of the vehicle, whether that be car or a scooter. Traditionally it’s about 30-40%. So we thought it was important to remove the cost of the batteries from the cost of the scooter and have that in the Gogoro network. So when you buy the scoot you buy it without the batteries. Then, in your monthly subscription, you are paying for access to the batteries. That enables us to manage the batteries, make sure they are always the best batteries available, well maintained. It’s a pretty different idea.
What does it cost in Taiwan?
“There the scooter is about the equivalent of 3000 euro. In Taiwan they have some electric subsidies too, so it can be less. The GoStation network access can be anything from about 10 to 30 euros a month, depending on how much you use it. You can pay for unlimited access, or if you think you’ll only go a certain distance or use it once in a while then maybe pay 10. Any extra and you pay a few extra cents per mile.”
Can you explain the wireless features of Gogoro?
“One of the unique things about Gogoro is that we connect to ‘The Cloud’. The scooter connects to your smartphone, connects to the battery, connects to the GoStation, all wirelessly. It is constantly doing self-diagnostic both of the battery and the scooter, but also sending information about your top speed, where you’ve travelled, how much energy you’ve used etc. This can help riders determine what’s best for their energy consumption and allows the rider to select the ride feel and throttle acceleration and even the dashboard screen colour.”
And what about maintenance on the scooter?
“Almost nothing, very little indeed. The drive belt is checked at a service, but there really are few moving parts to worry about.”
How did the scooter-sharing scheme in Berlin come into being?
“The whole purpose of Gogoro in the beginning was to help people in cities change the way they transport themselves around the cities, but also to give cities an alternative, clean energy option compared to gas (petrol). But to do that you have to have a better product than the equivalent 125cc scooter. When we were looking at coming into Europe, Bosch actually contacted us and said they wanted to launch a scooter-sharing service so we partnered with their Coup scooter-sharing service in Berlin, where we currently have 200 Gogoro scooters as part of that service.
“It is a little like London’s Boris Bikes, but one of the differences in Berlin is that when you hire you don’t have to go to a ‘station’ to pick a scooter. With the app you can see where an available scooter is, go there, check it out, start and go. And you just leave it parked safely wherever you finish – as long as it is within the hire boundary. It is secured and locked automatically via the app.”
I’m guessing the backers have spent a lot of money on R&D and the infrastructure?
“Yes, and of course any new market needs set-up costs. But these actually aren’t that expensive; a GoStation is about $10,000, so it’s not like crazy money. I can completely envisage this being successful in London, especially when you see the gridlock of cars there and gridlock of the underground, a scooter makes a lot of sense. I really think it’s viable for any major city to create an infrastructure for EVs. London, Paris, Barcelona, all the major cities that have scooter culture can do it.”
So is this the future of electric scooters? It could well be. If a city is prepared to invest in infrastructure and affordable scooters become available to the masses, it could change the way people used powered-two-wheelers, which would be very interesting indeed.
And of course the more people who switch to electric power hopefully means there will be more fossil fuel for me to burn in my tuned classic two-stroke scooters!
Until then, if you’re in Berlin and want to ride a Gogoro, you’ll need to visit the Coup website