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ZEV electric scooters born of sport bike passion

Chris Peters, Contributing Writer
May 21, 2012
Filed under Features

Performance, handling push sales to new buyers

Created out of a love for sport bike racing and a frustration with what was available on the market for electric motor scooters, DH Zehrbach founded Z Electric Vehicle Corporation (ZEV). Having distributed a wide array of electric scooters over the last four years, Zehrbach has watched business grow as demand for electric vehicles has drastically increased.

“I started seeing the electric bikes that were being used in Asia and looking like the scooters that were being brought into the United States by various importers. I said ‘These things aren’t very good. We can do a whole lot better than that,’” Zehrbach related. “So we sat down, designed and built [the first ZEV bike] and started taking orders on it.”

DH Zehrbach, founder of Z Electric Vehicle Corp., wanted to build a better product, and has watched his West Virginia-based manufacturing company see extensive growth overseas.

Now ZEV, based out of Morgantown, W.Va., is distributing electric vehicles worldwide. Zehrbach’s passion for sport bike racing and longtime love of motorcycles led him to focus on building a better electric scooter that handled like the bikes on which he had spent so many years.

“The big deal was concentrating on building a better motor, a better controller and a better chassis. The chassis was different than anybody else had for a scooter,” Zehrbach explained. “My scooter has to handle like a sport bike, so that’s what we did. We put a really rigid flame that has no deflection, and you can really honk it around the corners, just like you would a sport bike. The parts are all tucked up high so you can get stupid lean angles and have a great time.”

Overseas expansion
After starting with distributing in Europe, ZEV began stateside distribution in 2009. ZEV also recently opened a manufacturing shop in Vietnam to help support the increased demand for its product in Asia and now also distributes to Australia.

Zehrbach hopes that more American dealers will sign on to sell ZEV products considering the amount of success the company has had dealing with customers directly. He sees ZEV doing well for any dealership.

“Most of the dealers that are coming in are relatively new dealers that are interested in opening up shops, rather than someone that’s been doing it for 20 years,” he said. “Most of the gas bike businesses don’t touch the electric bike.”

However, Zehrbach hopes that trend will change with the increasing demand for electric vehicles in the marketplace.

“One thing you see is that the dealers that have a lot of variety are doing a lot better than the ones that do not have a big variety. So what we’re seeing is no depth of market in one particular category,” Zehrbach said.

With that in mind, ZEV offers a broad product line over a wide array of price ranges, with bikes retailing as low as $3,800 and as high as $8,800.

“We offer a lot of different models, though I will say that 75 percent of the sales are in the top two priced models,” he said.

High performance model
In addition to offering a wide range of products, Zehrbach mentioned a few other ways ZEV separates itself from its competition.

“What we try to do is offer higher speeds and performance than the competition, generally at 25 percent less price,” he said. “We’re the only company that uses hub motors, built in the back wheel. There’s no chain, there’s no belt drive and no air being forced through the motor, so you’ll find our bikes are significantly quieter than anybody else’s electric bike.”

The ZEV5000 uses new advances in lead battery technology to perform with a top speed of 62 mph and a range of 50 miles on open roads. It has an MSRP of $4,545.

Zehrbach also pointed out the ever-evolving clientele looking for electric scooters includes new faces that would be welcome at any dealership.

“There are a lot of people that are pure commuter rider; they don’t ride for sport,” he said. “They don’t care about charging time. What they talk about is having a full tank of gas in the morning. They talk about the time savings of not stopping for gas and the convenience of charging their [vehicle] up. So that would be a new rider that would be different from anything the dealerships have seen.”

This new potential customer base is very affluent, Zehrbach said. Every time the company has raised its prices, the most expensive bikes become the new best sellers. There’s also a residual effect in attracting these new-age riders.

“This new rider has no equipment,” Zehrbach said. “I used to be a bike salesman, so I understand a lot of times the profit I made for the dealership by selling a helmet, rain suit, boots and maybe a windshield were more than the shop maybe made off the motorcycle.”

ZEV is offering 30 percent margins and granting dealers sampler or test programs to give the product a try in the showroom. Zerhbach also said he will expand into electric bicycles by the end of May and hopes to have electric motorcycles on the market by 2013.

The new 500 model shares the latest hub motor design with other vehicles in the company lineup.

With increased demand, a growing product line and an evolving customer base, Zehrbach believes carrying electric vehicles will increase traffic at most dealerships.

“The idea is to get new riders to come to the dealership,” he said. “Whether they buy electric or not, it’s still a door swing. If you put a Corvette in the showroom, but they buy a station wagon, you still got them.”

Sales increase
Business is on the upswing for ZEV in 2012. By the end of the first quarter, orders by dealers and distributors had exceeded all previous year-over-year growth by four times. More than 50 percent of the brand’s new buyers do not bring motorcycle riding experience with them; instead, they come from riding electric bicycles. As electric bicycles have sold in numbers vastly larger than any motorcycle volume worldwide, owners are moving up to the next level of performance.

“This gives the motorcycle dealer a shot at a completely new customer base and market segment,” Zerhbach said.

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