Vectrix Electric Motorcycles Files for Bankruptcy (again). We Examine Why

Last week, Vectrix Motorcycles filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, ending its 8-year company history and dreams of creating user-friendly maxi-scooters for commuters around the world.

Nikki rides the Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter (NiMH) Image by SurperDel on Photobucket

Nikki rides the Vectrix VX-1 Maxi Scooter (NiMH) Image by SurperDel on Photobucket

With estimated liabilities of between $10 million and $50 million, the company — whose Vectrix MaxiScooter is sold in both the U.S. and Europe — is likely facing liquidation of its remaining assets.  Back in 2009, the company filed under Chapter 11 for bankruptcy protection and underwent severe restructuring involving a large sale of many of its assets.

Over its eight-year history, Vectrix has sought to encourage commuters out of their cars and onto two wheels with an easy-to ride, easy-to maintain maxi scooter. With a step-through underbone design, the Vectrix VX1 Maxi-Scooter was designed to appeal to non-bikers, while its twist-throttle single-gear drivetrain and hand-operated brakes meant almost anyone could ride it.

But what went wrong?  Why didn’t Vectrix kickstart an electric scooter revolution?

Just too expensive in the UK

The first challenge for anyone considering a Vectrix Maxi-Scooter was its price. With gasoline 250cc maxi-scooters costing as little as £4,000 in the UK and vespa-style 250cc scooters selling for £3,000 or less, the £5,995 Vectrix VX1 was simply too expensive for many commuters to consider.

Then there’s fuel economy. While there’s a fairly large difference between the fuel economy of a petrol car and an electric car, most maxi-scooters and scooters today are capable of fuel economies ranging from 70 mpg all the way up to 100+ mpg.

For most commuters, the switch from a petrol car achieving 40 mpg to a scooter achieving over 100 mpg is more than enough. Worse still, with such a high fuel economy it takes a long time for any fuel savings of the £2,000 additional purchase price to pay off, especially if you’re commuting a short distance every day.

Worst still, electric motorcycles or scooters aren’t eligible for any kind of purchase incentives, meaning there’s no way to alleviate the impact of a higher sticker price.

Scooters aren’t big in the U.S.

With the exception of a few states out east, California and the Pacific Northwest, there aren’t that many places where two-wheeled commuting is practical.  At least, that’s the impression we get looking from the outside in.

That’s partly down to traffic conditions, traffic congestion and vehicle size, but it’s also due to commuter expectations and lifestyle.  For the most part, while many Americans enjoy the pleasures of two-wheeled transportation, it tends to be in the form of a weekend pastime, not a daily commute.  Furthermore, european-style scooters are generally ignored in deference to more traditional full-size motorcycles.

Europeans love scooters, but Americans prefer motorcycles

Europeans love scooters, but Americans prefer motorcycles

Had Vectrix been European, rather than U.S. based, we think things may have been different, especially had it been based in scooter-friendly countries like Italy, Germany or France.

Reliability woes

Another challenge facing Vectrix from the start was one of reliability. With numerous problems with early bikes, including battery pack failures and power control circuitry problems, Vectrix maxi-scooters built up a poor reputation among many EV enthusiasts. With patchy support from franchised dealers, we know Vectrix riders whose bikes spent weeks and even months off the road while problems were diagnosed and repaired.

What’s more, early VX1 Maxi Scooters used troublesome NiMH battery packs instead of the lithium-ion battery packs used by later VX1 +Li models. These early battery packs had insufficient battery management which lead to poor range and ultimately broken battery packs and frustrated riders.

Tough competition

Worse still, despite being one of the first Maxi-Scooters to the market, the VX-1 faced tough competition in the marketplace, both from other electric scooter brands but more commonly from electric motorcycle brands like Zero and Brammo.

With more conventional motorcycle styling and riding characteristics, the Zero and Brammo ranges of electric motorcycles — both of which have dramatically refined their designs, specification and performance on an almost yearly basis for the past six years or so — proved a more sensible buy for most two-wheeled commuters.

What’s more, while Zero and Brammo produce commuter-friendly first-bikes for those making the transition from four to two wheels, both firms also make powerful road bikes designed for hardened bikers.  Essentially, both firms gain far more market share because they appeal to a wider market segment.

A true shame

We spent some time with the Vectrix VX-1 MaxiScooter back in 2010, and loved its easy-to use controls throttle-controlled regenerative braking, low centre of gravity and step-thru design.

Since then, we’ve ridden a large number of far more capable electric motorcycles and scooters and have to admit that when faced with faster, longer range two-wheelers, the Vectrix VX-1 has failed to keep up with the competition.

At the moment, there’s no news what will happen to what remains of Vectrix — or what will happen to service provision for existing owners. For now, the prognosis isn’t good.

Do you own a Vectrix Maxi Scooter? Do you agree with our take? What would you like to see happen next?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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