You may remember the frenzy whipped up by our media when it was revealed that U.S. auto industry executives had flown private jets to testify before Congress in search of federal aid. The next time they made the trip from Detroit to D.C., they drove in whatever token fuel-efficient models they had on hand to improve their image. None of those vehicles were all-electric, as a truly practical, affordable and fun electric car still appears a few years away for Detroit manufacturers. But does the public at large know there are now practical and inexpensive electric motorcycles?
Brammo, maker of the Enertia electric motorcycle, embarked on a clever bit of guerrilla marketing to raise awareness of its brand. Enertia Lead Designer Brian Wismann and ad guy Dave Schiff sent a couple of Enertias to Detroit, which they then rode to Washington D.C. Riding in 45-mile legs-the distance the bikes can go on a full charge-they did the 700-odd-mile trip in about two weeks, relying on volunteers and strangers for power outlets and couches to crash on. They only had a single mechanical issue, a burned-out controller in Aurora, Ohio. As they traveled, the pair blogged about the experience, and eventually dozens of media outlets picked up on the story, including the L.A. Times and the big news networks. Cost of the trip? Not much: cost of electricity per bike was about $4, and they didn’t even pay for it, and the pair was able to sleep on couches in a variety of dens and living rooms along the way.
Once in Washington D.C., they had a hard time finding an audience, though, so they hung around until they found somebody from the government to hand one of the bikes. It was tough: the Smithsonian has a long process for artifact donation, and the guard at the White House politely turned the duo away. But the media attention did net the Brammo CEO an audience with Energy secretary Stephen Chu. In the end, they just chained the bike, festooned with signatures of all the people that helped team Brammo on the way, to a post in downtown D.C. Will we see the president wobbling around town on an electric motorcycle? Not likely, but it’d be nice to see a president on a motorcycle-any motorcycle.
The Brammo Enertia is one of the first freeway-legal, made-in-USA, all electric vehicles sold to the general public. It uses an aluminum frame and high-spec European components for the chassis. The motor is an 80-amp AC unit good for 29.5 ft.-lbs. of torque, fed by three lithium-iron-magnesium-phosphate batteries good for 76.8 volts. I’m not sure what all that means, but Shiff and Wismann reported hitting 70 mph on flat ground and averaging 45 miles on a single charge. Recharge time is about four hours, but topping off a partly-discharged battery takes much less time. Battery life is 2000 recharges or 8-10 years. The whole package weighs in at 324 pounds. Jay Leno compared it to riding a 250-300cc, gas powered bike.
Price? Just $11,995, less any state or federal incentives, which can be substantial. That’s a lot to pay for a low-performance bike with such a laughably short range. It’s strange when you consider that Brammo CEO and founder Craig Bramscher (“Brammo” was the nickname given to the burly young man by his high school football coach) built a U.S.-built version of the Arial Atom sportscar under license. That car has an F1 car-like power-to-weight ratio, but the e-bike is different: a suburban commuter that’s quiet, clean, efficient and fun. And while a hardcore enthusiast may turn his nose up at such a friendly product, Brammo doesn’t seem to care: the bikes are being sold at Best Buy, the consumer electronics chain. Will big-box shoppers eschew a 70-inch LCD TV for a $12,000 electric motorcycle they can’t ride for more than an hour in any one direction? If they don’t, it won’t be due to a lack of clever marketing.