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Mission Motors: Battery Tech Holds Key to Mass Market

It’s crazy fast and eerily quiet. That’s the gist of what attendees at last week’s TED summit in Southern California learned about the Mission One electric motorcycle unveiled by San Francisco-based startup Mission Motors. I spoke with the company’s chief operating officer, Jit Bhattacharya, this afternoon to learn more about where Mission Motors is heading — and how it plans to get there.


The big dream? Have commuters riding electric motorcycles as an everyday form of transportation within a decade. But here’s the bottom line: As an angel-funded startup that reportedly only has enough capital to last six months and a motorcycle priced at nearly $69,000 (only about $11,000 less than the extended-range electric Fisker Karma sports car), the ride could be a bumpy one for Mission Motors.

So the company is taking it slow, starting with an initial run of 50 motorcycles, and plans to work on 250 standard-edition bikes the following year. Bhattacharya said the idea is to set a new performance standard for electric motorcycles with these high-end models before taking aim at the lower-end commuter market — similar to the route Tesla Motors mapped out back in 2007.

mission-motors-torqueLike automakers working on electric vehicles, one of Mission Motors’ biggest hurdles to affordable pricing and profitability lies with the lithium-ion battery pack. While much of the business involves assembly (Bhattacharya thinks of it as a biotech-like integration project), the battery pack is being developed and built in-house. It’s the most expensive piece of the machine, and it’s where Mission Motors has to cut costs to achieve healthy margins at anything close to competitive pricing (around $10,000 to $15,000, according to Bhattacharya).

With electric cars, battery packs have to be much bigger and heavier (read: costlier) than packs for motorcycles in order to carry all that steel. That makes it harder to drive down the cost. But Mission Motors has to deal with the challenges of cooling and balanced weight distribution in a much tighter space on two wheels. It also needs capital. Bhattacharya said the company will likely seek a new round of financing before anything can roll off the assembly line, adding that it will take less than $50 million to get manufacturing up and running.