FIRST PUBLISHED February 2012
Gocycle, Ultramotor, Brompton
This humble organ would never stoop so low as to spread gossip and innuendo about respectable manufacturers. That said, strange things are happening to Gocycle and others, and one feels duty bound to report them, under the much abused journalistic principle that exposure might be in the public interest. Or put another way, if the public are interested, they will continue to purchase this scurrilous rag.
First for dissection is GoCycle, an interesting British demountable electric bike introduced by Richard Thorpe’s Karbon Kinetics (KKL) in early 2009. Despite a zillion hours of bench-top fatigue testing and the attention of multi-gender, multi-ethnic focus groups, the GoCycle seems to have suffered from a few issues whilst in production, but nothing terminal, and the Mole for one rather enjoyed its jaunty ride and useful take-apart foldability.
In early 2011, stocks of the optimistically named G1 had been depleted, and the expectation was that an altogether whizzier G2 version, complete with Li-ion battery and other novelties, would follow after a decent interval.
After rather a long gestation, the G2 was finally launched in September 2011, but no bikes followed, and the company went quiet, before announcing in November that Singaporean company Flextronics would be its manufacturing partner.
Judging by the press release, there is clear synergy between KKL and Flextronics. If nothing else, they both speak the same impenetrable gobbledygook: KKL announced that the deal would enable it, ‘…to capitalize on growing international demand for the Gocycle product portfolio by leveraging Flextronics’ advanced manufacturing solutions and global supply chain logistics capabilities’. Nice and clear. Flextronics responded that Gocycle would be, ‘an exciting addition to our diverse Clean Tech solutions portfolio.’ We hope they’ll be very happy together.
Flextronics is one of these companies you can’t easily get a handle on, if only because it’s hard to understand what they’re on about. In the old days, a manufacturing company manufactured things with spanners and wrenches, but Flextronics’ literature speaks disappointingly about ‘solutions’ rather than products: High Reliability Solutions, High Velocity Solutions, Integrated Network Solutions, and those all important Clean Tech Solutions.
Judging by similar tie-ups (Flextronics seems to manufacture electric motorcycles for US company Brammo), Flextronics takes care of all the manufacturing hassles, leaving the innovators to innovate.
This brings us no nearer to actually getting to grips with where GoCycle stands, and where it might be going. KKL has been strangely quiet since the merger/take-over/partnering solution. A few 3,000 Euro ‘limited edition’ G2R models were apparently let loose in Europe back in November 2011, but those pre-production bikes seem to have disappeared without trace. Meanwhile, the word is that the G2 will appear in March 2012, a full 13 months after the last G1 was sold. At this rate it will be selling to a completely new generation of cyclists.
Talking of solutions, a common solution to manufacturing woes these days is to be taken over by an Indian company, the subcontinent apparently being flush with takeover cash, despite receiving a reported £1.4 billion in UK aid each year, much to the fury of the Daily Mail.
Ultramotor joins Hero
This was the jolly fate of Ultra Motor, the electric bike manufacturer which shed its much bigger Taiwanese subsidiary, before going wheels up in November last year. Within a few weeks, the parent company had been bought for an undisclosed sum by Hero Eco, a newly formed division of an Indian company that started making bicycles in the 1950s and now has an annual turnover of more than a billion pounds.
To Hero, Ultra Motor cost peanuts, and will be used to fuel its relentless global expansion. The intention is to sever links with China and Taiwan, once existing contracts have been worked out, and transfer production to India. Hero Eco is expected to achieve turnover of £200 million within five years, and somehow you just know it’ll hit the target.
Brompton – where’s the Beef?
Back in dear old blighted Blighty, Brompton continues to do well, with buoyant sales and healthy finances, despite or perhaps because of – swingeing price increases of nearly 8% on some models.
All jolly good, but what seems to be missing from Brompton these days is the engineering innovation.You know the sort of thing: gears, tyres, wheels – the spinning bits that turn a bicycle from a static display piece into something useful.
Between 2005 and 2009, Brompton introduced three new variants, a singlespeed hub, lightweight titanium options, a wide-ratio geared hub and new tyres. In the following three years, the company introduced, er, a cosmetic pedal, an alloy seat pillar (later quietly withdrawn), a jacket, a ‘unique’ T-shirt, some limited edition graphics and one solitary engineering advance, the taller ‘H’ type handlebars.
The power-assisted Brompton variant was expected to put the stamp of authority on the abilities of the new management team, but the project seems to have gone on the backburner. According to Brompton’s own website, ‘The pursuit of improvements is the lifeblood of any innovative and ground-breaking manufacturer’. As our colourful U.S. cousins might respond, ‘Where’s the beef?’