Ex-HTCers bring their design chops to electric Smartscooter

Startup Gogoro hopes its slick scooter will be the start of a cleaner energy revolution in big cities.

Gogoro
Gogoro's Smartscooter is a sleek, battery-powered motor scooter. Gogoro

LAS VEGAS -- What happens when the folks behind hit smartphones such as the HTC Desire and Hero get really creative? You get the Gogoro Smartscooter.

Gogoro, a Taiwanese startup created to help shake up energy usage in big cities, boasts talent from HTC: Gogoro CEO Horace Luke served as HTC's chief innovation officer and Gogoro Chief Technology Officer Matt Taylor was its chief technologist. Both were key players in the smartphone maker's rise to prominence.

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On Monday, a day before the official start of the International Consumer Electronics Show, Gogoro unveiled its first product, a slick, battery-powered motor scooter that can be tweaked and monitored via a smartphone app.

Carved from a sheet of aluminum and featuring a sleek "slipstream design," the Smartscooter includes custom-designed parts and 30 sensors. But it's more than just a scooter capable of leaning at a 48.5-degree angle. It's the catalyst for the company's big ambition: The creation of the Gogoro Energy Network of stations, where subscription-paying customers will be able to swap batteries in seconds.

Gogoro's GoStation will have fresh batteries for someone looking for extra juice. Gogoro

While scooters are a niche form of transport in most US cities, they are more prevalent in cities in Europe and Asia, with their narrow and congested streets. What's more, automakers including BMW, Ford, Tesla and Volkswagen are fueling rising demand for vehicles that cut fuel consumption. The global market for electric vehicles is expected to reach 6.4 million cars in 2023, up from 6.4 million last year, according to Navigant Research.

Gogoro hopes its Smartscooter will appeal younger people, especially in megacities with populations in excess of 10 million, said Luke.

"If you get an 18-year-old to flip to an [electric vehicle], it will change the world," he said.

Here's how it works: The batteries include several sensors and a near field communication chip that can talk to the GoStations. Once a rider pulls up, the station recognizes the bike and associated account, opens up a spot for the spent battery and unlocks a fresh battery. The rider needs to lift up the seat to swap the battery, which weighs about 20 pounds.

See also: CNET's full coverage of CES 2015

Luke said it takes about 6 seconds to swap in a new battery, which is built by Panasonic, the same company that produces the batteries for Tesla.

"The batteries themselves are so smart that what's possible is beyond transportation," Luke said.

The hurdle is getting cities and landlords to install the GoStations. The stations, which are about the size of a vending machine, could go on the street, at a gas station, inside a parking garage or even a convenience store. Luke said cities have been open to the idea in early conversations. Even so, it could be a formidable challenge. Better Place, the Israeli-startup that raised $760 million to a network of car-charging and battery-swapping stations, filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

Gogoro has raised $150 million in financing, including an investment from HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang. The company plans a full deployment in one city, with the hope of mass adoption, and at least one more city to serve as an influential model.

The Smartscooter comes with an app that can control and diagnose the vehicle. Gogoro

"This is the beginning of something new," Luke said.

The Smartscooter can be monitored via a smartphone app. The app can also tweak the look and color of the dashboard, run a diagnostic check and be used to locate the scooter itself. The app will send a notification if the scooter is tampered with when the rider is away.

Gogoro declined to comment on the price of the Smartscooter or the subscription service. The scooter will be available sometime this year.