Mission’s Future

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Last week, I rode what’s inarguably the next step in two-wheeled performance — the Mission RS. How did a tiny San Francisco startup beat not only established motorcycle manufacturers, but also its electric competitors to the punch? And where does Mission go from here? Company President Mark Seeger and Chief Strategy Officer Vincent Ip were prepared to talk details.

Photos: Kynan Tait

RideApart: Why hasn’t Brammo or Zero built this motorcycle?

Mark Seeger: It’s not a budget thing; their budgets are probably bigger than ours. It’s a philosophy thing, we simply asked ourselves how we could build a better vehicle. Any solution was on the table, nuclear reactors, anything.

Vincent Ip: The Flux Capacitor just didn’t work.

Mark Seeger: If you look at the engineering on a bike, space and weight are the two big limitations. So, if you take the fundamental components of an electric bike — controller, motor, battery, ECU, Charger — you can choose to use off the shelf stuff where whoever’s designed it has made sacrifices and compromises to suit their own needs. Or, you can say, ‘This is my system, my bike, my dynamics. I’m going to maximize the space and weight I have to get the best power.’ And so, to do things like that, our controller is also a charger. We built the charging circuit into it and it uses the motor as a transformer. Expensive to do, but it means we don’t have an off the shelf controller and charger we had to design the bike around, which ended up saving a ton of weight, a ton of space and we get a better quality battery charger which is much faster. Because we started with a blank slate, those things were possible.

Vincent, left and Mark, right.

RideApart: What prompted the decision to put the bike into production?

Mark Seeger: Two things. Number one: the insane over-performance of our prototype. Number two: the demand. Before we’d sold anything, before we had anything branded, before we were doing any kind of production, people were aksing if they could buy it. It was crazy, people were like, ‘I’ll give you a quarter of a million dollars for one!’

Once you get that kind of feedback, you realize there’s got to be a business to it. And that’s when we started looking into the business model and what it would take to do it. And that’s where Vinny came in, he had a strategy where we could pull this off.

Vincent Ip: We started looking at what it would take to bring the bike down to $25 grand or $15 grand. At that point, we were giving up so much that we realized there’s a market for the bike you see here, for something that isn’t watered down.

After you’ve ridden the bike, you realize this isn’t some exotic one-off like the original MV Agusta F4, this is a real product that’s ready for consumers.

Mark Seeger: Many of our team brought experience from Tesla, where you’re looking at a paradigm shifting technology, but one that was architected so well that you don’t care about the technology, because it’s simply a better product. Apple did the same thing: all new technology, but the consumer didn’t care about that because it also happened to be a better phone. Once we conditioned ourselves to the idea that it could be done, we figured out the way to do it.

And here’s the trick: You have to engineer the products and the branding in such a way that people aren’t focused on, ‘Is that a four-core processor?’ No, it’s just a better phone. Tesla just builds a better car. Once you understand that feeding it into the architecture of the bike, which then translates into the engineering requirements, which then translates into technical decisions, that’s how you design a bike.

You don’t ask yourself how many kilowatt hours you can fit in or how many batteries you can strap on; it’s the other way around. This is the emotional appeal I want and these are the performance specs that that turns into. You work backwards and the engineering is the last thing you do.

That said, our engineers hate those discussions because they want to know the engineering parameters and we’re like, ‘We don’t know, you tell us!’

RideApart: Why haven’t Brammo or Zero made those same decisions?

Mark Seeger: When you say you want to build a bike that costs $19,000, then you have to ask yourself how you do that. You have to compromise and bring prices down. But, if you say that you simply want to build a better motorcycle, then you work backwards to get there. You end up with a higher price point, but you have to embrace your price point. Instead of targeting a price and specing down to meet it, we’re building an ultra premium bike and one that you’re going to be excited you paid the money for because the experience is so emotionally compelling. You’re going to fall in love with it.

Vincent Ip: This works for motorcycles better than it works for cars because we all love our bikes. Purchases like that allow a higher price point. We’re free to build a dream bike because it’s going to capture people’s imaginations.

Mark Seeger: Whether you spend $90,000 or $29,000, it’s a lot of money. I want you to feel good about spending that money.

RideApart: What’s the next step?

Mark Seeger: 48 months. We’re on track to deliver a bike that outperforms the one you just rode on range and acceleration and all that stuff, but for around a $15,000 price point. That’s 48 months away. We want to make this performance accessible for most people. Our volume only needs to be in the very low four digits to make that work.

Beyond that, I think the future is product ranges. What’s parked out there [the Mission RS] is a powertrain or powertrain philosophy that has an applicability on a lot of different things, even within just two wheels. And there’s a lot of people who would love that kind of power in a different form factor. The moment you start going down that ladder to a lower price point while increasing performance, you can suddenly produce lots of things.

Vincent Ip: Think ADV bikes, where you need lots of control. Ever aspect of your throttle response, all your maps, all your engine parameters are now fully adjustable to an infinitesimal level in real time. That’s already there. Once we can get our range up, we can actually look at limiting power consumption to further expand range and make an ADV bike possible.

RideApart: Why isn’t Honda selling us a Mission R?

Vincent Ip: They just can’t do it, their business strategy doesn’t allow it. All their costs are amortized across their whole line; if you buy a bike right now, in order to bring it out, they have to pay for that technology for the next 10 years.

Mark Seeger: Companies like Honda have priced in the depreciation of their legacy technology for the bikes they’re selling today. So, they have to sell that model for x number of years before it’s paid for. So, even if you gifted them a technology package, they’re still paying for last year’s model, this year’s model, the two years ago model, etc. They have certain business limitations that are anchored in their technologies that they have to pay for.

For us, we started with a clean slate. We had to make the same investments everyone else has made, we just made them in a very smart way that has obsolescence designed into it, future proofing designed into it.

The reason we built our own hardware is for total control over the upgrading technologies. Some of those we can predict, some we can’t. Regardless, the bike has to last five to ten years and stay relevant with all our new products. So, when you design that into your balance sheet from day one, you can adopt new technologies as they’re available.

Our services model is new too. Honda has a revenue model that depends on service. We have zero. I’m not exaggerating, there is literally nothing to do to that bike other than brakes and tires. That’s it. We have to requirements for a servicing revenue stream to pay for lots of things. That means we can have better customer service. If you crash a bike or something happens, we will come to you with the parts, wherever that happens to be, and fix it. That’s a much better experience than taking it to some random dealer where you might get ripped off. We can do that because our powertrain has a single moving part.

RideApart: Are you getting pushback from potential buyers on range and recharge times?

Mark Seeger: I drove here from San Francisco [in a Tesla Model S], this is my third or fourth trip. I have zero range anxiety. Where you’d normally stop for gas, I do the same thing and have lunch while my car chargers for free.

What you do from a product design point of view is you make the bike at least as good as what is out there. That was our minimum threshold: our bike cannot have less range than a gas bike. And, the second thing we can do is make sure that the thing charges fast, in a way that’s useful. So, when you have short breaks, you can add meaningful range.

140 miles of real world range on the highway translates to 230 miles in city riding. That gives you the kind of range you’re used to. 140 miles is actually better than most performance bikes.

Vincent Ip: The other thing we’re doing is allowing you to track and analyze all your ride data. So, you can pull out all your parameters, overlay them on Google Maps and share it. Owners can analyze each other’s rides and figure out how someone else put in a 600 mile ride in a day. They stopped here, took this route, waited this long, etc. By sharing information, you’re helping people get more from the bikes.

Mark Seeger: This all came about because we just wanted to buy something that wasn’t available in the marketplace. Now it is.

Vincent Ip: Mark actually snuck the first order in the second the books opened. All of us are buying our own bikes at the full price.

  • Lukas

    Really nice interview, interesting answers. Those guys rock!
    Please keep us posted about Mission.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Thanks Lukas, will do.

    • Strafer

      My supermoto just got stolen
      I hope mission makes an electric supermoto for me to get
      From what I understand electric bikes struggle with range and top speed
      But Supermoto’s don’t have great range or top speed so maybe they are a good candidate for electric?

  • CruisingTroll

    Definitely looking forward to what they’re working on…

  • Jeremy Alvarado

    If I start saving now, in about 6 years ill have enough to leave a nice down payment on one. Lol. They just need some solar charging paint and I’m sold.

    • Kevin

      You could cover your bike, your helmet, your jacket and pants with solar cells and it’s still not going to make a dent, and that may not change for decades. So charging stations and fast charge capability is the game.

    • Davidabl2

      In six years you’ll probably be able to buy a used first generation Mission for an affordable price…considering that they plan to be well into (or halfway through?) their second generation bike..

    • Mugget

      Or something like a “swap & go” supercapacitor. Aussie researchers have just created one that has 12x more capacity than a conventional SC. All that kind of stuff is just going to keep developing… along with solar paint no doubt.

      I’m sure they are already thinking about this stuff though – exciting times ahead!

  • kentaro

    If the auto companies weren’t “too big to fail,” we could have had this kind of innovation with cars.

    • Spencer Dorsey

      We do have this kind of innovation with cars, it’s called the Tesla model S

      • kentaro

        Respectfully, I think you missed my point. If automakers who failed to build cars that were competitive or could not organize their internal structure properly and be profitable had rightfully lost market share, innovative companies like Tesla would have seen greater investment, opportunity in gaining market share and access to talent from defunct, bloated firms.

  • BigMan

    “Honda has a revenue model that depends on service. We have zero. I’m not exaggerating, there is literally nothing to do to that bike other than brakes and tires. That’s it.”

    Wow. Forget the electric stuff. I want to know how they built a motorcycle that doesn’t require changing the fork oil, lubricating the swingarm pivot, or cleaning the drive chain! Or even checking the tightness of the bolts that hold the engine to the frame. If they have truly found a way to eliminate all the non tire/brake service items on an electric, then that means they could cut down on almost half my service items on my ancient gasoline motorcycle, too.

    • Spencer Dorsey

      “I’m not exaggerating”

      He was probably exaggerating.

    • Campisi

      I’m fairly certain the jackshaft arrangement requires periodic fluid changes, as well.

    • Mugget

      Given that the main point of differentiation between an IC and EV motorbike is the engine/motor, it seems reasonable that this is what was being referred to when taking about nothing to do (to the motor).

  • BigMan

    When they say “future proofing designed into it”, I wonder if they mean the model line, or an individual motorcycle. One is a lot easier than the other.

    • Mugget

      I think they’re talking about components. In the test ride article there was mention of the engine being able to produce 220hp – when they have the battery capacity to allow that. I’m sure that’s not the only area, I got the idea that battery packs will also be upgradable in the future, so you’re not always stuck with the same range. That kind of stuff.

  • grb

    this is awesome!! so excited

  • cattmando

    they are WRONG about Honda. Ya don’t build a jet plane from scratch without laying going to the edge. Or a robot. Honda is leading edge. Can’t say they don’t have an electric bike setting on the side-lines. Or, they have chosen not to for their own reasons.

    That being said, good on these guys for going to the wall. Someone has to be first.

    • Gonfern

      Honda motorcycles operates on their own budget and profit margins. Just because the accord sells well, doesn’t mean they give that money to develop a better cbr

    • eviladrian

      Of all the big bike makers, I’d say Honda would be the one to make a hybrid or electric bike for the mass market.

      When you look at the NC700 getting a car-based motor, the PCX scooter using a brushless motor/generator to replace both starter and alternator and the Civic Hybrid using a similar ACG unit to boost low-end torque, it’s pretty easy to join the dots.

    • Drenched

      Honda do in effect have an electric bike already, supposedly the domain of Mugen, a Honda tuning partner the Mugen Shinden Ni narrowly came second in the IOM ETT race this year, was piloted by John McGuinnes, a Honda rider, and used many Honda components…
      This allows Honda to distance themselves from failure or profit loss impact and allow them to get a vehicle to market with a reduced risk. The minute the Shinden, or it’s successor becomes truly viable, big H will be there to provide the financial backing required to make it into production.

  • Generic42

    Noted, I have two years to save up for my first production E-bike

  • Bill J

    Alright – 48 months, if Mark and Vince release a performance e-bike in the $15K range, I’m trading in my Harley… :)

    • Mugget

      I would trade everything except my 2T supermoto. Then again… once I ride an electric supermoto that is tuned to be as snappy as a 2T engine, I’ll probably change my tune!

  • Robert Horn

    Will Mission Motor Company continue to offer components (Or at least that’s what the website says), or will it just sell complete bikes?

    VERY interesting series of articles…

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Mission Motor and Mission Motorcycles are two different companies. The former creates IP and electric drive component, the latter motorcycles.

      • Robert Horn

        Good to know – thanks.

  • James

    You ask him about the bikes range and he spends two paragraphs talking about his personal car that he does not build and has no relation to the bike? nice, guy should be a politicion with interview skills like that, dedicates only one sentence to the range, which is not longer than most performance bikes at all, 225km is what most performance bikes get to before they need to go on reserve, you still have a while to go after that.

    Also all this ride analysis sounds like a highway policemans dream come true, on great look, i just impounded this electric superbike off some yuppie doing insane speeds down a motorway, lets have a look at the dash, oh wow look, hard evidence on every other owner that they were speeding on their own bikes! lets go pay them a visit.

    Maybe the police in california are nicer, but if they want to sell a global product they might find that many owners are not a fan of riding a bike with a black box recorder fitted.

    • alex

      chances are you’ve been driving around a car with playback or wireless transmit capability for years – the obd3 standard contains remote shutdown and vehicle tracking solutions for government entities. the officer would still need a search warrant generated by probable cause – asking you to do it for him would go against your right not to self incriminate.

      • James

        Well actually your wrong and i specifically own a car where the only technology is abs and a radio and dont plan to ever purchase any car that has esp, gps, tc, electronic ancillaries etc because i like cars and enjoy driving. Infact the entire reason i got a bike was because at the time bikes had almost 0 technology in them because i was getting fed up with cars. If you were interested the car is a 2005 impreza, and next car im buying is a 78 lincoln conti (because its the complete polar opposite of a motorcycle, and thus the perfect car for anyone who owns motorcycles)

        Mission sucks and the entire electric industry is based around selling this crap to celebrities. Ever wonder why just about all the electric crap is coming out of california? Cant wait to see it all fail and be remembered as a stupid gimmick. Just wait until the world has fracking and watch this whole ‘peak oil, gas is expensive’ situation completely disappear.

        • alex

          Fracking is not a solution to oil, it’s an ecological disater – and if you still believe in the popular myth of peak oil 40 years after it missed it’s deadline, I suggest you at least consider researching the Russian take on where oil comes from and take an educated guess at which version is more true. Theirs or what oil companies tell us.

          And if you still believe them try researching “keystone pipeline special economic exclusion zone” and finding out about where the oil from Alaska will really go. It doesn’t seem like we really need it that much.

          As far as electrics being a stupid gimmick, how do you think gasoline works? All that it really does is store energy in a chemical form. It still requires electricity to function.

          And if you think burning things is a more efficient form of energy transfer than batteries…lol

          It’s only the energy density of the batteries that’s currently inferior, and that’s rapidly changing as batteries are improving by around 20% annually. At that rate this years 19kw battery size will hold 22.8kw next year / then 27.36kw / 32.83 etc until by 2020 they can either go twice as far or have half the battery weight, making them lighter than the lightest Ducati Panigale and more powerfull.

          As far as your “analog” wrx goes it probably has at least two dozen electrical control units including the DCCD system controlling the awd. And I won’t bore you with the details but you obviously don’t understand how wireless works either suffice it to say anything with wire’s in it is capable of receiving a wireless signal.

          • Gonfern

            Lol almost every new bike has speed review. I’m definitely worried about a police officer knowing how to navigate the menus on a bike they never seen. Get you tinfoil hats everyone. They are coming for your thoughts!

          • James

            It doenst have DCCD because it is not an STI its a base model non turbo impreza. Im not going to have some massive debate about oil on rideapart, but either way petrol powered bikes are more enjoyable to ride and have more soul.

            • alex

              So it only has like 23 control units not 24 – for the airbags, seat belts, abs and others.

              More importantly unless you were part of the exclusive group of no one who rode the Mission R production prototype already your facts about petrol powered bikes being better, are not.

    • Mugget

      Arguing and debating the range is just splitting hairs IMO. Like he said, in 2 years they’ll have a bike that goes even further on a charge… and that technology will just keep improving. You can’t say the same for IC sportbikes. At least not anywhere near the same range of improvement that will come with EV.

  • Guest

    The questions I wish you would have asked is will they offer a 400+ volt charging option that can utilize the tesla supercharger network in the future for super fast charging times – and what happens if you run the battery pack down and then it dies completely – tesla used to have some very pissed off owners of 50K battery paperweights.

    • Mugget

      Good point… I’m sure all this info will come to light. Most people who are EV-savvy will be well aware of the Tesla battery debacle.

      High voltage charging is an interesting point as well… that could be a great thing for people running solar power. I don’t know specifics, aside from the fact that solar panels can crank out some big voltage… perfect track day setup.

  • Tessier

    Mission please make a sport tourer!!!!

  • Send Margaritas

    “Are you getting pushback from potential buyers on range and recharge times?”

    Good question. Evasive answer. It is also the reason why I’d never consider one. Batteries would have to get way better, and recharge times way lower. And a whole network of recharging stations, similar to gas stations, would need to get developed. After the 140 miles (if that is what you see in the real world) you better be near a recharging station, with the time to wait while it recharges, no? So you could likely plan on trips of 50 miles, and then a return trip. Interesting, but not ready for prime time. Sounds like a ‘run errands bike’.

    $59K, lol! You could get 2 Honda F6B(s) for that, and have 19K for add-ons, gear, insurance and gas.

    Buy the stock ‘short’. Solyndra on steroids, with no government funding.

    • Andrew Karmy

      As someone with a ~110-125 mile range I can sympathize with this problem. But In the PNW It wouldn’t be much different than a gas bike so long as the Mission has CHAdeMO functionality. I-5 from BC to Northern CA border is covered and a lot of the secondary routes are covered or planned for in the next year.

      Of course, you wouldn’t be doing the Iron Butt on the mission…