Electric scooter with swappable batteries hits Taiwan's streets

An electric scooter with batteries that can be changed within seconds will hit the market in Taiwan at a starting price of $4,140.

Gogoro, the start-up that raised $150m since unveiling its flagship electric scooter idea in 2011, said the Smartscooter would be available for pre-order from 27 June and riders will be able to change batteries at several Gogoro charging stations around the city.

Co-founder Horace Luke – HTC’s former chief innovation officer – said in a press conference that even though it was more than a 125cc gas scooter that costs about $2,620, the overall cost of running a Smartscooter will be less than its gas counterpart after two years of use.

The downside is that the only way to recharge the scooters is at Gogoro charging point, which leaves owners tied to the manufacturer’s network and pricing plans. However, Smartscooter owners will receive one year’s theft insurance, two years of free maintenance and two years’ unlimited access to the battery charging stations as part of the initial package.

“We want to demonstrate to the world the leadership behind smart energy and smart transportation,” Luke said. On the densely populated island there are about 15 million scooters for 23 million citizens, making it a preferred mode of navigation.

Battery power is the crux of the Smartscooter and Gogoro has developed its own in order to power the scooter, with Panasonic’s 18650 lithium-ion cells – also used in the Tesla Model S – and a couple of dozen sensors inside. It is as large as a shoebox and weighs 9kg.

When the battery is low, riders get an alert on their smartphones and are directed toward the nearest charging hub, which are designed to charge eight batteries at a time. The battery slips in to an open slot and a few seconds later a fully charged one is dispensed instead. Owners will also have the ability to reserve the battery before arrival.

In contrast to Testla, Gogoro customers never ‘own’ the battery, nor can charge it at home, and will be renting it by a subscription. But Gogoro has yet to say how much it plans to charge for the batteries once the two-year special offer period expires.

The scooter goes from 0-30 in 4.2 seconds, TechCrunch reported, with a maximum speed of 60mph. It is also connected to the cloud, so that 30 onboard diagnostic sensors can keep track of things that could go wrong and send alerts. A Bluetooth token locks and unlocks the scooter, opens the under seat storage and serves as at the Gogoro charging point.

It will be interesting to see whether the two founders of Gogoro - both former HTC executives - will win Taiwanese citizens over with the Smartscooter, as it has yet to build a convenient charging network. It also remains to be seen if customers are willing to pay the hefty price and tie themselves to one company.

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