Mission Motors, the San Francisco startup working on high-performance electric motorcycles with lithium-ion batteries, has caught the eye of Chinese motorcycle maker Zongshen Power Machinery. The motorcycle blog Asphalt & Rubber this week picked up a translation of Chinese reports saying the firm has signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate with Mission Motors on development of electrical engine systems, and possibly invest in the startup.
While the investment and partnership have not been finalized at this point (the memo is more of a road map of how the pair will proceed if talks go well), the deal could be an important step for Mission Motors as it works to build a viable business model in a market that not too long ago sent pioneering electric scooter maker Vectrix into bankruptcy.
Mission Motors CEO and co-founder Forrest North told us last fall that the startup, angel-funded so far with at least $2.2 million, needed to raise less than $30 million over the next 3-5 years, and it had “really strong interest” at the time in discussions for pre-Series A financing. China Knowledge reports that part of Mission Motors and Zongshen’s memorandum of understanding calls for the startup to deliver a three-year development plan by the end of this month.
Mission Motors gave us a statement this morning from chief operating officer Jit Bhattacharya describing the arrangement with Zongshen, which the startup has identified as a “potential partner.” As part of an ongoing discussion, he said a strategic investment is under consideration, and, “We are exploring how we can leverage Mission Motors’ technology with Zongshen’s strengths in high volume, low-cost manufacturing to create a lower cost electric powertrain for the Chinese market.”
If the deal goes through it could support Mission Motors’ long-term goal of expanding beyond the luxury market (where Vectrix floundered) and into lower-priced commuter models. According to North, the company already has a larger trend working in its favor, with new opportunities opening up for electric motorcycle startups with the right technology. The industry has shifted, he told us last year, from large manufacturers showing general disinterest in startups’ plug-in technology to a point where they increasingly “see value in working with a startup” that’s nimble and “technologically focused.” North didn’t mention Zongshen at the time, but he told us many manufacturers were calling up the startup amid a rush to develop electric models. “Building up the technology internally,” he noted, “will take them much longer.”