Tactics: Brammo


0313 Tactics 01In retrospect, it seems almost inevitable that a supremely innovative, self-confessed “gearhead” like Craig Bramscher would eventually conceive the idea of building the world’s most advanced electric-powered motorcycle.

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BY STEVE WARGA

0313 Tactics 01
Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher stands next to the Empulse, the world’s most advanced electric-powered motorcycle.
// Photo by George Rubaloff

In retrospect, it seems almost inevitable that a supremely innovative, self-confessed “gearhead” like Craig Bramscher would eventually conceive the idea of building the world’s most advanced electric-powered motorcycle. The Empulse greeted the world in December 2012 to rave reviews from both motorcycle enthusiasts and green-energy advocates. This emission-free sport bike is not your average plug-in scooter. It can reach speeds over 100 mph and can go as far as 100 miles between charges, all wrapped in a design that’s turned the burgeoning e-motorcycle world on its ear.

Ashland-based Brammo’s certified green machines are what CEO and founder Bramscher believes to be part of the answer to the question of what will replace internal combustion engines and their voracious appetites for distilled petroleum products.

“I know that electric vehicles are better than gas for the planet, for the vehicle and for the people, long term,” Bramscher says. “It’s a good fight to fight. I believe in it 100%.” He’d like to see Oregon fully onboard with the green revolution, too.

Thanks to Bramscher’s team of talented and dedicated engineers, designers, fabricators and support staff, numbering close to 100, Brammo has grown from an impudent upstart to a global brand name in little more than three years. He jokes that his crew, many of whom have been on board since the beginning, has acquired a narrowly focused cynicism. Every time he says something can’t be done, they turn around and do it better and quicker than anyone’s done it before.

Brammo
CEO: Craig Bramscher
Incorporated: 2009
Employees: 100
Factoid: The Empulse has zero emissions at 100 mph

This out-of-the-box thinking comes from the top down. Four years ago, Bramscher, 52, had a prototype commuter e-motorcycle, the Enertia, limited capital and no distribution network. The solution? “We thought it’s mostly an electronic device,” he says. “So why not talk to a high-profile electronics retailer?” That August, Best Buy infused $10 million into the company and started making plans to stock Brammo products alongside all those big-screen TVs and other consumer electronics on display to “half a billion visitors per year,” compared to about 10 million prospects, total, in all the motorcycle dealerships in the country.

Best Buy has since had to withdraw from the dealership program. But Bramscher says they’re still onboard with their stake in Brammo.

For 2013 the company offers three separate motorcycle platforms, including a motocross bike, the Engage. They’re taking orders now for multiple configurations at prices ranging from $7,995 to $18,995. The dealership development team says it would like to see “35 top-tier dealers” by 2014. It’s all part of their intent to be a “significant player” in a global market estimated to grow to 18.6 million units by 2018, according to Pike Research of Boulder, Colo.

 


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// Photo by George Rubaloff

Another visionary concept of Bramscher’s finally came to fruition late last year. Polaris Industries out of Medina, Minn., a company known globally for its snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles, made a big move into the electric-vehicle arena in 2012, acquiring both North Dakota’s Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) and France’s Goupil Industrie SA. In October, Polaris and Brammo consummated a four-year courtship when Polaris acquired a minority stake for $28 million.

 

Bramscher’s looking for more, but the Polaris deal “helped dramatically.” Besides the capital, the deal cleared the way for Brammo to offer financing for dealer inventory, known as “flooring,” courtesy of GE Capital. Further, consumer lender Sheffield Financial has agreed to terms with Brammo to finance retail purchasers, Bramscher says. “Most [financing] companies want to see you have a couple hundred million in revenue before they’ll start financing.”

Beyond the numbers, the Polaris investment allowed Brammo to remain an Oregon-based asset. Bramscher says seven other states were actively recruiting him to relocate. One state’s package of incentives totaled $41 million. He admits, “There are days when I think I could just stop fundraising and take the money and go.”

Now that Brammo’s purchase of the 100,000-square-foot former Walmart facility in Talent is nearly completed, and with the announcement of plans to establish an R&D office in Portland, Bramscher says he’s here to stay. “That’s the plan,” he offers with a wry smile, thinking no doubt of how “the plan” has changed in the past three years.

As soon as the deed is recorded for the Talent property, Bramscher will establish a manufacturing facility to “cover all R&D for headquarters, assembly of batteries for North America and assembly of motorcycles for North America.” The R&D office in Portland will bring together a number of freelancers currently working out of their homes in the Portland area. Brammo also has designers and engineers working in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Bramscher’s ever-evolving plan means big doses of globe-trotting. Currently, Brammo has more dealerships in Europe than in the U.S. thanks to growing demand for the commuter-oriented Enertia R, which is being built in Hungary in partnership with global manufacturer Flextronics. Bramscher also is working on deals in Singapore and Hong Kong while eyeing expansion into Japan, South Korea and maybe Malaysia, among other possibilities, including Mexico. Wherever he goes, Bramscher carries the Oregon business brand proudly. He’s urging the governor and legislators to color that brand in brighter shades of green. “We’ve got this amazing opportunity,” he says. “It’s good to be green. It’s something that fits the state so well.”