Scooters are everywhere in Taiwan. According to government data, there are 67 scooters per 100 people on the island, the highest ratio in the world.
So if anyone wants to launch a new type of motorcycle, Taiwan is the place to be.
A high-tech electric scooter called Gogoro Smartscooter has become available for pre-orders since Saturday. It sells for NT$128,000 (US$4,130).
US financial magazine Forbes describes the scooter as a combination of Vespa and iPhone. It can accelerate from zero to 50 kilometers per hour in 4.2 seconds, and can reach a speed of up to 100 km/h, a superb performance by the usual standard of an electric-powered scooter.
Unlike in most electric vehicles, batteries installed in a Gogoro scooter can be removed and replaced immediately with new ones.
Riders can unplug the shoebox-sized batteries easily, place them in charging pods found in most petrol stations and exchange them for fully-charged batteries. The whole process can be done within six seconds, according to Gogoro.
Gogoro’s app can be used to program custom light patterns for headlights and taillights. Rider can monitor their motor scooter from their smartphone app, which also does regular tests of the scooter and helps riders find the nearest station with ready batteries.
But Horace Luke, a Hong Kong-born designer who founded Gogoro, tells CommonWealth magazine: “It would be wrong to think we are a scooter manufacturer.”
Luke immigrated to Seattle at an early age. Before starting his own business, he worked as chief innovation officer at Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC.
He had foreseen that the smartphone market was bound to get saturated and handset prices would fall. So as early as 2010, he had thought of making a high-tech electric scooter.
“People thought that I was making smartphones for HTC at the time, but my goal was to put the internet into people’s pockets,” Luke says. “The same rationale applies to Gogoro as well — what we are really selling is mobile energy, not just scooters.”
He firmly believes that lithium battery will become cheaper until one day it will be more affordable than gasoline. He says his entire business is based on this belief.
“The battery price is going down while the other is climbing for sure. One day, the two lines will meet. This is the time when people will abandon gasoline which is stinky and expensive,” he explains. “We are simply investing for that moment.
“Before, all of our electronic products had to be powered by direct current. The whole world changed when AA battery was invented.
“We are now making something like the AA battery for automobile. In the future, it can be applied to vacuum cleaners and robots as well. Manufacturing scooter is only step one.”
It is interesting to know why Luke chose Taipei for Gogoro’s base, instead of the Silicon Valley, or Shenzhen Qianhai where the local government is enthusiastically supporting innovative products.
People often say that Taiwan is a prototyping heaven. However, in Luke’s eye, it’s more like a manufacturing heaven. “You can basically make anything here,” Luke notes.
“Once I had to find a material for making a press button for the Xbox controller. We wanted the texture to be jelly-like, but the US factory turned us down and said it couldn’t be done because of thermal expansion.”
But factories in Taiwan treated Luke differently; every other day they would come up with a new material for Luke to see. About a week and a half later, the mould was built.
“It is the can-do attitude of the Taiwanese that impresses me,” Luke says.
Luke has background in furniture design, making him one of a handful of tech entrepreneurs with design expertise.
Much like Steve Jobs, Luke’s engaging personality has helped him attract elites from all over the world to join his team.
Beatrice Santiccioli, dubbed as the queen of color, is one of them.
Santiccioli had worked in Apple for 12 years; she was responsible for the choice of colors in some of Apple’s iconic products such as the iMac and the iPod. She helped Luke come up with the ivory-white tint for his Gogoro scooter.
Other team members used to work for big names like Goldman Sachs, Nike and Microsoft.
Chen Hui-Ming, 60, used to be HTC’s chief financial officer; he is now a Gogoro director. He has given his full support to Luke in his mobile energy business.
“These talents have worked with Luke before. They are now coming over to Taiwan for Gogoro, and it is clearly not because of money,” CommonWealth quotes Chen as saying.
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