Brammo, the Talent, Oregon-based electric motorcycle manufacturer, has been the subject of some dire rumors lately. Those have ranged from innocent speculation about Brammo's health, primarily due to the extension of a huge model-wide sale to the end of the year, to statements that Brammo has closed its doors and laid off all its staff. There was enough hint of truth to the chatter that we felt it necessary to contact several insiders in the industry, local sources, as well as talk to Brammo directly to find out the truth of the matter.
*For some details on the last six month's developments, see our piece a few months ago: The Brammo Fire Sale – The Story Behind the Story.
The first and most dramatic bit of gossip was that there was a company-wide layoff at Brammo. Brammo's Adrian Stewart reports there were in fact about 20 workers (out of the total of around 70 at that location) laid off, hardly company-wide, and they were assembly-line mechanics tasked with wrenching the Brammo Empulse together. The reason behind this is simple. The 2014 Empluse model year has stopped production. The 2015 Empulse has been delayed, but is targeted for the first quarter of 2015. Though a tough decision, as a layoff always is, it made sense.
Brammo Empulse battery pack
The second bit of drama that we saw on the forums, as well as heard from some locals, was that there was a "Closed" sign on the front door, and the doors have been locked since before Thanksgiving. This, Stewart said, he has no explanation for. He said they closed for the Thanksgiving holiday- Thursday and Friday, the two days most businesses close - and were back to work on Monday. Baffled, he did say that someone may have put a sign up and forgotten to take it down, but he wasn't sure. Apparently all the employees, management included, use the back entrance to the building, and don't really see the "front" doors. Remember, this is a building that was recently a WalMart - in Stewart's words, "enormous". Regardless of what started the rumor, the company has been hard at work (Stewart mentioned 60+ hour weeks) and it's business as usual.
Those two rumors quelled, what exactly is happening with Brammo?
The official word from the CEO, Craig Bramscher, is that they are "working through a deal", via local news station KDRV-TV. The back story to that has some interesting twists and turns.
We covered Brammo's BrammoPower ventures, and their relationship with Polaris, a major partner in our previous story. What we didn't cover was the Better Place deal.
Prototype modified Renault Laguna EVs charging at the Better Place visitor centre in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, north of Tel Aviv.
Better Place was an Israeli based company that was focused on electric vehicles, charging stations and battery-swapping tech. After an astronomical rise, they suffered an equally dramatic collapse. They went bankrupt, and the assets were acquired by the Canadian investment firm TerraCap Ventures. TerraCap is also one of the investor companies for Brammo. The short version of a very long story is that TerraCap, after shopping around for someone to manage their newly acquired assets and coming up short, turned to Brammo's Craig Bramscher for help. See this almost amusing post on the Better Place Facebook page, where they advertise the position:
Yosef Abramowitz: Better Place Israel
from our friends at TerraCap: Seeking General Manager, preferably former BP executive: General Manager
Job Description: The General Manager is responsible for all matters in Israel related to the recent purchase of certain assets of the recently bankrupted Better Place on behalf of Terracap Ventures. The General Manager will need to have a thorough understanding of Better Place, its business model, former employees and technology used by the company.
Brammo added the Better Place/TerraCap deal to its list of "Things to Do", and a pile of charging and battery swap tech to its warehouse of goods, intellectual as well as physical. (To read a fascinating account of the rise and fall of Better Place, check out the lengthy and detailed story on Fast Company, here. Back in 2009, Shai Agassi, the driving force behind the company, even made an appearance on The Colbert Report.)
Suffice to say, Brammo has a lot of irons in the fire, not the least of which is it's electric motorcycle segment. Polaris is keenly interested in Brammo's battery design and manufacturing, as well as the rest of the electric drivetrain capabilities, and is the biggest investor. Brammo has scored some contracts for it's BrammoPower division as well. As we observed a few months ago, there are a whole lot of balls in the air, even more than we were aware of, and only so many hands - and resources - to juggle them. One is forced to wonder if the company is stretched beyond what's reasonable, or prudent. Is this brilliant, opportunistic entrepreneurship, or ADD management lacking focus and direction?
Ultimately, Brammo has to answer to its investors. They, including Polaris, at this point sound like they're trying to evaluate the scope and range of all of these various projects and tangents, and quite literally as we spoke. Stewart emphatically stressed that all plans to continue the development and production of the motorcycle segment were an unwavering commitment - including the requisite warranty support and parts/service. We discussed some of the possible future models of the Empulse, the features, and yes, even the transmission. More on that later. Here's what Stewart noted:
- Despite facing stiff competition in the marketplace, 2014 will be our best year so far, with sales up 60% on 2013.
- We now have 52 dealerships in 14 European countries, including the UK
- New importers and dealerships have also been appointed in Japan, Australia and Canada.
- In 2014 more than 75% of our sales came from European dealerships, which is great news for US exports.
- Because we design and build battery packs here in the USA, we have a thriving OEM business. BrammoPower, our electrical powertrain supply business enjoyed great success in 2014 including winning key government contracts.
All in all, exciting news. But the kind of excitement that gives you ulcers.
Stay tuned - Stewart assured us there'd be news to follow within a few weeks. He quite frankly said there's a lot up in the air as to the "final" arrangements and decisions, and nobody really knows for sure how things will shake out. Management, as well as investors included.
2014 Empulses ready to ship