Gogoro is the long-hyped, well-funded startup that revealed its debut product, the Smartscooter, at CES this year. It’s a sleek looking ride with impressive stats, but the real innovation is the system that lets customers swap depleted batteries for fresh ones at ATM-sized stations.
A pilot program starts this week, with a full commercial launch planned for this summer.
Battery swapping for electric cars has an unimpressive history (see: Better Place), but there’s reason to think it could work for scooters. The batteries in the Smartscooter weigh just 20 pounds, so you don’t need complicated and expensive machines to handle the swapping process. A rider can easily pull them out and pop fresh ones in. Based on a Gogoro demo, the whole process should take six seconds. The stations will be small and affordable, and easy to put in enough places to make the idea of range anxiety disappear.
The pilot program will be open to 100 riders, about half of whom will be selected from the general public (and who’ll get to ride the scooter for free). The goal is to log 100,000 hours of riding time, “to start stress-testing the infrastructure and stress-testing the vehicle itself,” CEO Horace Luke says. The infrastructure bit is especially important: If a rider can’t easily get to a swap station, or does get there only to find no fully charged batteries, the whole idea is kaput. “So we’re taking the beta program to the street to really work those kinks out.”
Based on that data, in a few months Gogoro will start a “very aggressive deployment” of swapping stations, going for “critical mass” right away, Luke says. He won’t say how many stations will be hitting the street, but given their small size and relatively low cost—less than $10,000—you can count on seeing a whole lot. The Taipei metropolitan area, which includes Taipei and New Tapei City, covers 105 square miles, about twice the size of San Francisco, but still manageable. And the location has its benefits.
The company chose to start its work in Taipei largely because of the city’s enthusiasm for becoming a “smart city”—New Taipei City has installed more than 10,000 WiFi hot spots and more than 90 percent of households have internet. Residents have a “good adoption history to smart technologies,” Luke says.
It also helps that the city’s working with Gogoro to offer “a very comprehensive subsidy program,” similar to the tax benefits US drivers receive for buying an electric vehicle. Riding a Gogoro scooter will also come with “privileged parking” near building entrances.
Gogoro has so far been quiet on one of the biggest questions about its business model: How much riders will pay for the scooter and the right to swap out depleted batteries for fresh ones. “We haven’t settled on a cost yet,” Luke says, but that should be settled and announced before the program launches for real this summer.
In the meantime, interested consumers can head to the city’s tony Xinyi shopping district, where Gogoro is opening an “experience center”—basically, a store—to get a closer look at the sleek scooter and the company’s plan for changing how we get around.