Enclosed Electric Motorcycle An Industry Changer?

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Txchnologist. Author credit goes to Matthew Van Dusen.

In the moments after Daniel Kim narrowly escaped from under the 500-pound Land Rover chassis that he was welding, he decided that he needed to rethink his ideas about vehicles.

This was in 2004 and Kim, a Land Rover mechanic in Portland, Ore., was trying to build the “perfect SUV” – capable of running on biodiesel, shorter, more rugged.

image via Lit Motors

“I started thinking about the reality of how we drive,” Kim, who is now the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Lit Motors, said of the accident’s aftermath. “Seventy percent of people drive alone and, when they park, they waste space.”

In the two weeks following the incident, he conceived of an enclosed electric motorcycle that could protect people from the elements, go for hundreds of miles and be so stable it wouldn’t tip over. Kim recently showed off the fruit of his convalescence at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif.: the C-1.

“We’re making a safe motorcycle,” Kim said.

Cars, by Kim’s reckoning, are most often a waste of space and, for the most part, they’re terribly inefficient. Motorcyles are far more efficient but they’re dangerous.

The C1 is gyroscopically stabilized – sort of along the lines of a Segway – so it can’t tip over. It delivers 1,300-foot-pounds of torque and has about 200 miles of range or, as Lit employee Ryan James put it, “three times the range with one-third the battery requirement” of electric cars. A regenerative braking system helps goose the range and airbags protect the occupants.

The prototype on display at the Fortune conference, made of fiberglass, was stabilized by more prosaic means: a couple of supports kept it upright. But the crowd climbed into the cabin to enjoy Kim’s sleek invention nevertheless.

Much of the Lit team, including Kim, are graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, and it shows in the surprisingly aggressive snub-nosed profile of the C-1.

The C-1 will set drivers back $24,000 and it won’t be ready for another 18 months.

The worldwide market for electric two wheeled vehicles is astronomical: the clean energy consultancy Pike Research estimated in 2011 that there would be 138 million electric motorcycles and scooters on the road by 2017, with heavy concentrations in China and southeast Asia. In the U.S., the vehicle would appeal to aging motorcyclists and people who wanted transport without owning a car.

But for Kim, the C-1 is more than a mass-market play; he thinks vehicles should be exciting. Lit’s website brands it “a rolling smartphone” and Kim himself describes it as an app that could be programmed to pop wheelies, corkscrews and other BMX tricks.

“Why not?” Kim said. “The sky’s the limit.”

Much remains to be done before the vehicle can ply the roads and others have failed on the path before, notably the SAM electric motorcyle developed by the Swiss company Cree.

But Kim’s vision has already taken him this far from his near-fatal accident.

“This is exactly what I wanted,” he said.

Txchnologist is an online magazine created in partnership with GE. We offer an optimistic, but not utopian, take on the future and humanity’s ability to tackle the great challenges of our era through industry, technology and ingenuity. We examine ideas that will shape societies, from the developing world to our frenetic and growing cities.

    • Mark Fabian

      Great idea, but $24K is a bit out of reach for the masses who would use a single-seater.  Would 2 wheels in the rear eliminate the need for a gyro?  Can the price be brought down to around $5K?  Otherwise, something like the semi-enclosed AutoMOTO gas or electric vehicle would be a better choice.  Also, does the C-1 have the torque to negotiate steep and hilly terrain?

      • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

        It’s true, $24K isn’t cheap – though brand-new technology never is. However, as we scale up to larger production runs, the price will drop to $16K and eventually $12K. We’re not interested in a “luxury only” model – we want to see our vehicle everywhere!

        The gyro does much more than just keep the vehicle upright at stop lights – it is the primary safety feature as well. The gyros put out 1300 ft-lbs of torque, which will keep the vehicle upright even in a collision. A three-wheeled design without gyros would not have any added safety, and a three-wheeled design with gyros would be much less efficient than a two-wheeled design.

        And yes, the C-1 will absolutely drive well in steep and hilly terrain. The in-hub, direct-drive motors are quite powerful, with a lot of torque.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Locklear/100000184797954 Tom Locklear

      fabulous

    • http://work-bench.org/ Christopher Miles

      I want one. A proper segue from the Segway. This bike must be made. If Lit Motors doesn’t have the resources for test, production, marketing, etc- I do hope that someone makes a call to Tesla. I just photoshopped one of these next to a Tesla S. Wow. Quite the pair.

      • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

        We will absolutely bring the C-1 to market. We’re currently accepting pre-orders for our initial production run on our website at http://litmotors.com/reserve/ . We expect our first production run to sell out, so a pre-order is the only way to ensure that you’re able to get one of the first C-1’s.

        • http://work-bench.org/ Christopher Miles

          That’s great news! You have such an amazing product. I apologize if my comment seemed cynical. I supposed I had thoughts of Aptera- and didn’t want your great concept and outstanding design to get pushed to the back by the vagaries of the market as had Aptera. 

          Looking again- you’re in a different segment really.
          Good luck. Again, apologies for my armchair pundtry. Easy to comment on this stuff. Much harder to make it all work, look great, at sell it for a return.

          • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

            No worries, Christopher! We welcome criticism, and we’re doing our best to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. We were big Aptera fans, and disappointed to see what became of that concept – but we were able to pick up a couple of their founding members for our team (Steve Fambro and Jason Hill), whose experience has been invaluable.

            • http://work-bench.org/ Christopher Miles

              Aptera was in my head as some ghost images showed up today on AutoblogGreen. 

              Great that a few on the team found a home.

              Anyhow- If the Aptera cameo’d in JJ Abrams’ s first Star Trek 2009-

              And since we now know Kirk loved a cycle….

              And since Trek wraps pretty soon- maybe they still have time to sneak in your sweet ride. Now THAT would be a cameo.

            • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

              Agreed!  =)

    • Franmail2003

      A $24K bike that you can’t fit a bag of groceries into?  Makes no sense to me

      • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

        You can absolutely fit groceries in the C-1. The space behind the driver is enough for a small bag and a few bags of groceries – what most people have with them most days. It’s about as much cargo as you can carry on a plane.

        • Bill Burgess

          Most people have a problem with understanding “first run”. With the advent of utility models, cargo/delivery models, sedan models, racing/off road models I am sure the picture will clear for them. You might share some of those profiles to stifle the doubters. Some people see a tree some realize there is a forest.
          .

    • Jamesaladd

      Range, range, range. Get that up and you’ll appeal to the BWM and Gold Wing crowds.Both the BMW LT and the Wing already cost more.

      • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

        Our current estimates are for a range around 200 miles. Not the vehicle to drive across a continent with, but that’s not our aim. We’re striving to make the vehicle that 80% of the population will use for 90% of their driving. Most driving is a single driver, no passengers, minimal cargo, for much less than 200 miles round trip. The C-1 is perfect for such trips.

        However, we are also looking into designs to extend the range further, for the smaller segment of the population that needs more range. The specs listed in the article are for our first model; once we bring that to market, we will expand into many different designs based on the same platform.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Goodhall/1592375883 Patrick Goodhall

      Motrocycles need to lean to turn – any problems there?  Regular, flat streets are one thing, but what about hairpin curves and switchbacks on narrow country roads?

      • http://litmotors.com/ Lit Motors

        Good question, Patrick – one of our many patents is for the controls that enable the gyros to dictate the lean/tilt of the vehicle at all times. So the C-1 leans itself into turns at the exact angle required for the turn, and maintains the stability safety feature throughout the turn.

    • http://profiles.google.com/duncan.j.watson Duncan Watson

      I would love this.  As someone who is planning a second car for commuting, light errands and solo endevour activities, this fits the bill and is cheaper, costs less to operate and is easier to store than a Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus EV.

      I could bring the dogs to day care (14lb terriers), I could pick up dry cleaning.  I could go to the trailhead for a hike.  Obviously I could easily commute in it.  Plus I can drive to Portland or Vancouver, BC from Seattle if I wish.  I really want one.

    • http://twitter.com/voToTov  

      I have taken an exciting bike. To that for the time being, without buyingthe bike, wait until the release in Japan. Early, come to Japan!

    • Tim Marsh

      I will buy it today for 16 k even if the wife hits me it would be worth it 

    • AhMama

      Ok Great, so when will you forge a deal with Zipcar and assist the aging Motocyclist with gaining access to such a marvelous bike.

    • Bill Burgess

      Just did a 232 mile round trip to L.A. from the north. Noticed all the one person vehicles each way. With as much regenerative braking available I think the trip could be made with a C-1 for a buck. And thinking of the planned on board office feature, I figure about 700K people could have used the C-1 that I saw on that trip.