'We can have the first electric motorcycle with the performance of petrol bikes'
Juan Villegas speaks about the aspirations from Thor and his strategies for an electric two-wheeler market
American two-wheeler manufacturer UM Motorcycles, director, Juan Villegas, speaks to Autocar Professional, on the company’s focus for India, rise of electric mobility, setting-up manufacturing in the country and the Thor.
What is your strategy for the electric two-wheeler market?
We see a big shift globally, this is being pushed by governments all across the world and we see the opportunity to be the first in line with an electric-motorcycle that has proper range and that can is comparable in performance to petrol bikes. Along with it being at a price point which is affordable or considerate by a motorcycle buyer. The big challenge is to see how the price can be brought down, but as far as technology and performance is concerned, we are ahead of the curve and I would say at this moment that we want to take advantage of this in India as well.
You mentioned the (localised version/Indian made version) bike will be priced around Rs 4.9 lakh isn’t that quite steeply priced?
You have to compare this bike with an 800cc bike. That’s the type of power it is generates, so the comparable gasoline version is an 800cc bike. So compared to an ICE-engine based 800cc bike you will see it very competitively priced. It’s just a matter of mindset that people will switch to electric if they see that they are not sacrificing fun, performance. That’s the combination that we are trying to offer as a package in this bike.
Thor is your first electric bike. How do you plan to expand this portfolio of electric bikes?
Thor is the first electric street bike, but we already have a full line of electric off-road bikes being sold through our Italian company. The technology has been there for the past six-years in off-road bikes, but as these are specialised bikes that go for rallies, to endurances, off-road racing in Europe, this has given us a chance to test the technology for many years and now this can be adapted to street bikes. So, that’s the whole beauty of it, the technology is years ahead of whatever every other company is starting to work on now.
And what scope and prospect do you see in India?
I think it could be very big. We are talking about sales to government, police, local municipalities. If the government is buying electric vehicle, it will help boost the electric motorcycle industry too. So we have a bike that is perfect fit for police, for instance this is one area we would like to capture. Second, obviously, the consumer itself because the volume could probably be small in overall numbers, but it’s a niche segment that is going to be growing and being first in line, will certainly help us.
And for your journey so far in India, How would you rate it?
We had a very challenging start because as soon as we entered the market, in 2017 we had a lot of bumps to pass in our regulatory. It created certain problem in the production, in different aspects that we did not anticipate, but it’s part of being in India, and of being in the commitment of passing throughout this issues and still believe in what we thought of as a long term project for the company. It is not only to be present in India but also to make India an export hub for UM, and this is what we still believe and we will continue making the investments that is necessary to maintain out goal.
So far how much sales has come from India?
Well the first year we sold around 10,000 units, which considering it to be a rocky year, we are pleased with the number. Because at the end of the day we have achieved around 15 percent market share in this price category. So I think those are pretty good numbers for a first year of any company.
Right now what is the total number of markets you are present in?
We are there in around 42 countries. We are present in Europe as well, and out of the 42 countries 10 are in Europe. The European market is also shifting in the right direction after many years of stagnation.
Which countries do you have an assembly and production bases, except for China and India? Could you let us know how many units did you sell globally, last year?
We have production bases in China and in India and assembly plants in around five more countries like Bangladesh, Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile. Globally, we sold about 300,000 motorcycles in 2017.
What is your sales target for this year?
This year we expect to sell around 500,000 motorcycles. Obviously, with most markets growing, our economy getting a boost and that will certainly help us. Remember that we are in a segment that is not massive in terms of price. We are more in the medium segment price-wise. So the numbers are important in this segment.
Of these 500,000 sales target, how much can you expect this from India?
In India, we believe we can do around double of what we did in the first year. Probably that is the realistic figure, which would put us in around 20,000 or 24,000 units.
When is the Thor going on sale?
For the ‘Thor’ we are going to have a special promotion for the first 50 Indian customers. These first 50 bikes that we want to see on the Indian roads, would be produced in Italy and we want to give a factory delivery of the bike in Italy to these clients. These customers would also pay a different price around Rs 10 lakh, and they will get their bike here in India along with to get the bike delivered and a tour in Tuscany, Italy. This is the kind of promotion we are planning. The important aspect is that at the end of the year we plan to launch and start the booking of the Indian version of the bike.
Will these be assembled in India?
We are looking at manufacturing it in India and we expect the price to be almost be half or around Rs 4.9 lakh.
So when do you plan to start manufacturing in India?
We are estimating in within one year and it could start from January 2019.
Do you expect to start the delivery in the first or second quarter in 2019?
May be in the first quarter we can start the deliveries. I mean we want to bring those first 50 bikes to create the hype, to get the bikes on the road that would certainly get a boost once the Indian version of the bike is launched. It is the only event that we will have running this year.
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