Considering all the money being thrown around like confetti by the likes of BMW and Samsung, it’s still clear that all the flash-bang-wallop in the world, even if it’s sold hard by fantastic, tall German models who’ve been swimming in an Olympic pool of Channel Number 5, is not going to work if you show up bearing dull product. The same ol’ Saatchi and Saatchi with a Daft Punk soundtrack. The attention junkies representing Polaroid and Kodak have done a stratospheric spend on signage and space in the desperate hope that nobody will notice they’re attempting some kind of comeback, but everybody already has.
If I were a betting man, which I’m not—although they’re in no danger of extinction here in Sin City—the folks I would bet on if I was one of those deep-pocketed young Chinese Turks from AliBaba or T. Boone Pickens are a double-act based in Taiwan, Horace Luke and Matt Taylor, whose startup company, Gogoro, formed after they left executive gigs at HITC to go it alone. Yet even they’re standing on the precipice of some shaky ground.
Horace Luke is a co-founder and CEO of Gogoro, where he has overseen product development and corporate strategy from the outset. Luke was chief innovation officer at HTC from 2006 to 2011 after ten years at Microsoft. At HTC, he led product strategy from concept to delivery for the likes of the first generation Xbox, Windows XP and Windows Mobile. His CTO and co-founder, Matt Taylor, has had his back at Microsoft and HTP, although he himself has been the actual innovator behind the original version of the smartphone at Motorola before being poached by Bill Gates.
AT CES they finally presented the vehicle they’ve been working on and raising money for, for close to four years in secret. It’s a Smartscooter, a kind of retro mod electric scooter featuring an all-electronic dashboard, which can be completely programmed via Bluetooth from your smartphone before you ever take your ride. Fast for a scooter, it can easily hit 60 mph. Beyond the vroom-vroom, it can be tuned to the point where you can coordinate your music with your GPS enough to be able to play ‘La Vie En Rose’ as you enter Paris’ arrondissements, while blinking out cute, personalized light patterns off its LED headlights and taillights. Connected to the Cloud it will also tell its rider where and when to locate the necessary battery-charging station.
The bit about the charging station, however, just as with the vehicle’s retail price, is a bit difficult. Horace and Matt are pretty affable guys until those two subjects are raised. Actually, the battery conundrum is a tough one for anyone in engineering. The universal ideal would be to pull out a plug and simply put it inside a socket of your home or garage’s wall. Elon Musk’s Tesla idyll is one of the giant battery parks strategically employed all over your metropolis just like gas stations. Luke and Taylor, however, think the notion of swappable batteries, stored under the seat, about the size of a bowling ball case, easy to pull out of a feed slot and just as simple to place back in, are better. Thus, when you are running low on juice, you visit a charging kiosk and easily swap your old batteries for new or refurbished ones.
Taylor spoke of a network of franchised changing stations in every city. Gogoro riders would also be subscribers who paid a monthly subscription to use them. “Far less than your gas budget,” he said. And just as with pit-stops in Formula I competition, scooter stars would see their low-juice vehicle change instantaneously from anemic to roaring, ready to rock and roll in minutes. Only being able to get as far as 30-60 miles away from your city location is not ideal, however, and will remain a touchy subject until we know Gogoro’s prices for both the vehicle and battery subscriptions.
The usual speech, concerning the end of pollution as we know it, especially in Asia, was given. The fact is, however, that batteries are nasty polluters, too. It may have escaped Luke, Taylor, Musk, the Nissan Leaf folks and hybrid builders that their vehicles will still pollute, but some of the public will not be fooled.