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Articles Inex: L.A. Electric Bike Company Finds Big Market in Asia

Los Angeles Business Journal, August 7, 2000, by John Brinsley

Electric bicycle maker Currie Technologies Inc. appears to be shifting into high gear. In June, the Van Nuys-based company reported sales of nearly $1.6 million, compared with only $600,000 for all of last year.

And with 2000 sales projected to be as much as $10 million, Currie seems to be revving up. All the company's sales to date are from U.S. customers, but the true electric-bike promised land is Asia, where Currie is headed next.

Last month, the company struck a deal with Ford Motor Co. to build a stripped-down, wide-tire electric bike for countries such as Taiwan, China, India and Thailand -- where gasoline-powered vehicles have contributed to hor-rible pollution problems. In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei and elsewhere, restrictions are being imposed on some motor scooters in the hope of reducing smog.

Along with Ford, Currie is stepping into the breach, hoping that its battery-operated bikes will find a larger market abroad than at home.

"The potential (in Asia) is enormous," said company founder and Chief Executive Malcolm Currie, former CEO of Hughes Aircraft. "There are an estimated 400 million to 500 million bikes in China, with 30 million to 40 million sold every year."

The bikes made for Ford will be much less expensive than the $899 that typical Currie Technologies models fetch, with a price target of somewhere between $300 and $400.

"In this country, electric bicycles are primarily seen as a recreational market," Currie said. "Over there, they are strictly utilitarian. Our bike has to be a rugged design, very inexpensive. It has to work in the rain and the mud, and over potholes."

His vision for the electric bicycle contrasts with that of Lee Iacocca. The former head of Chrysler Corp. co-founded Westwood-based EV Global Motors and has been using his media savvy to promote the company's flashy electric bikes, which retail for $1,000 and up. Iacocca and Currie view each other as friendly competitors, even exchanging ideas.

"Lee's bike is more like a Cadillac," Currie said. "We want to be the Henry Ford of the industry."

But while not disagreeing with that description, EV Global President Bob Holmes says his company is exploring Asia as well.

"We do have a strategy for Asia," he said. "We're aligned with several strategic partners. EV Global Korea is selling EV Global bikes as they exist in the U.S. Also in Taiwan, we're selling a version of the U.S. bike plus modifica-tions, with fewer components."

The two companies' bikes differ in a fundamental way: Currie's bikes are powered by a motor that can be sold separately and attached to almost any bike with a conversion kit. The motors on EV Global bikes are part of the vehicle's structure. When riders of either get tired of pedaling, they can flick a switch that engages the engine, reaching a top speed of around 18 to 20 miles per hour.

Holmes said EV Global is building a distribution network throughout China, and will announce a deal to market EV Global bikes there by the end of the year. But Carrie's utilitarian business model may be more compatible with the Asian market.

Currie Technologies is building 100 prototypes of its stripped-down bikes for Ford, which will test them in an as-yet-undisclosed Asian country in the fall.

Copyright and Resource: Gale Group