Polaris Buys Brammo Bike Business, Will Build Own Electric Motorcycles
27 January 2015 - Autoblog
Polaris Technologies, which already makes and markets gas-powered motorcycles under the Indian and Victory brands, has announced that it has acquired the electric bike building business belonging to Brammo.
The move reflects a fondness the Minnesota manufacturer seems to have for electric-vehicle enterprises, with GEM, AIXAM, Mega and Goupil Industrie having been previously added to its constellation of companies.
Long an investor in Brammo, the transaction should see Polaris begin manufacturing electric motorcycles at its Spirit Lake, IA facility, where it already builds the aforementioned Indian and Victorys, as soon as this summer. The deal will also replenish the dwindling cash supplies at Brammo as it transitions to full-time electric drivetrain development, a segment the firm has intimated has been growing for it of late.
So, what do we make of all this? We can't say for sure whether Brammo's failure to make a go of it comes down to product shortcomings or management missteps. Or both. While its main model, the Empulse, was better looking and featured higher quality components than its main competitor, the Zero S, it was also saddled with a 6-speed transmission that allowed for a smaller motor and better cooling, but gave up some efficiency and added complexity. Some also complained the unit, developed by Italian firm SMRE, was a bit clunky. And while the bike did receive some upgrades, the battery capacity, and thus range, lagged behind that of Zero.
As for the front office, its history is one that includes failure to bring to market a number of products in a timely matter, if at all. Remember the Engage and Encite? How about BrammoParx? Then there's the company's original – and more affordable – Enertia model. After making substantial improvements for 2011, it basically fell off the map, leaving the low end of the market to the competition.
That's not to say team Brammo wasn't without its successes. Its racing program developed a truly awesome bike that many hoped would become the basis for a future commercial model. And its Empulse marketing efforts, including a tie-up with motorcycle-gear maker Icon, brought so much brand equity, it's hard to believe the nameplate will be dropped by its new owners.
From the Polaris perspective, a full-throated entry into the electric motorcycle space is a robust response to Harley-Davidson. Though it's unlikely to offer something in the Project Livewire vein – at least at first, since there hasn't been enough time to engineer a new model from whole cloth – getting its electric wheels quickly into dealerships could give it first-mover advantage and boasting rights.
While our questions to the North Star marque mostly went unanswered, we did get hints that electrification is an important technology that will be integrated into a number of its future products. Certainly, the motorcycle platform, with its space and weight constraints, make a perfect place to develop and hone that capability. Currently, the only power-sports oriented EV it sells is the Ranger EV side-by-side, which doesn't even have modern lithium batteries.