"That's one of the reasons I was hired, and why they've hired a lot of people with great motorcycling backgrounds,” Harden says during a recent interview with MO.
The other people to whom Harden is referring are former Buell employee and current Zero CTO, Abe Askenazi, and long-time Triumph guys Karl Wharton and Mark Kennedy, Zero’s COO and VP of manufacturing, respectively.
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"We've changed the culture of the company,” Harden continues. “Before it was a bicycle manufacturer making pseudo-motorcycles. We're building full-on motorcycles now, with motorcycle-level build quality, the components that go into them, the fit and finish, the performance, and that's a big difference from where we were a short while ago."
A short while indeed. In a self-imposed race to catch up with the market, Zero is currently maintaining a nine-month development schedule. Proof of the ground gained is seen in 2012’s product launch in November of 2011 compared to 2011’s product launch in March of 2011. But it’s an unsustainable schedule.
“Once we’re in-sync with our product next year then we can breathe deep and take a full year for development,” says Harden, a former competitor of the epic Dakar Rally. “We’ve got some products that will take some time to develop and some really big plans, so nine months isn’t sustainable.”
Other than the importance of powertrain development, Harden won’t comment on future projects but he hinted to possibilities such as minibikes for kids, trials bikes and retro-styled motorcycles, but no scooters. “It would be a mistake for us to compete in that market, especially against Chinese companies that can make them at prices we can't even touch,” he explains. Technologies, such as downloading different engine/controller mapping to an iPhone then uploading it to your Zero is a possible future application.
Zero, Harden explains, is reticent to make any premature announcements regarding new models, citing Brammo’s Empulse that was supposed to be in consumer’s hands more than six months ago but has yet to be released.
"When the Empulse exists we'll have a product to compete with it. Until then you have to talk about what exists. I mean, why not compare us to a MotoCzysz? It's the same thing isn't it? They both exist in very rare quantities in a lab somewhere,” says Harden. "Zero will continue to develop products according to our vision and our strategy for the brand, and we'll continue to make announcements about products when it's relevant for the marketplace. The last thing we want to do is excite people about things that don't exist."
"The idea of this company is to create a strong foundation for growth and our manufacturing capabilities, to develop out what this product segment can be,” he explains. "We know that the mainstream OEMs are coming and we want to be in a competitive position when they arrive."
Harden speaks of a seemingly solid game plan, especially considering the real possibility of KTM, BMW or another manufacturer, with deep pockets and global recognition, entering the electric motorcycle arena. Although a major OEM will bring with it a new level of competition, at least Zero knows its antagonists.
Demographics for electric motorcycle owners are not as clearly defined. Core motorcyclists are aware of Zero, but until power, range and price strike a better balance, the majority will continue purchasing internal-combustion-powered two-wheelers. But Zero certainly isn’t limiting its reach to the consummate enthusiast.
"We're fishing in all ponds,” says Harden. “The traditional enthusiast group is a no-brainer – we're going to be drawn to that conversation whether we like it or not. But we have a great opportunity to speak out to mainstream press in ways that traditional motorcycling companies can't,” he says.
Harden emphasizes this is an opportunity to create new motorcyclists and grow the motorcycle industry.
"I’m here as an evangelist to try to get people to break out of that mold of how we're thinking about motorcycling. We all come to it with our hardcore years of motorcycle enthusiasm. I want us to come it from the eyes of people who've been sitting on sidelines wondering if they should get involved. And when you do it from that perspective I think these products really make sense.”
But even for devout bikers, electric motorcycles are, in ever-increasing certainty with the closure of each outdoor riding area, making sense. Harden grew up with a backyard motocross track. As an adult he has a backyard track on his 2.5 acres in SoCal where he can ride a Zero MX morning, noon and night.
"I think an electric motocross bike makes so much sense if you have that opportunity, and even if you don't, if there's a little area where you can sneak off to near your property, there's so much opportunity to ride with one of these things because of the lack of sound."
For proof of a successful, quiet, outdoor MX park, look no further than Dark Green Motorsports and its electric MX track in North Carolina where riders can rent electric dirtbikes to ride at its facility.
Harden reminds us the electric-bike industry is in its infancy and that the technology driving its development is growing exponentially. The next few years will bring many changes to electric-powered motorcycles, claims Harden. For now, he reminds us that the world is changing and Zero has a broader, 21st-century-view of the future, whereas naysayers are still wearing 20th-century blinders.
"If you too narrowly define what you think motorcycling is and what two-wheel recreation and transportation is, then you can see all sorts of roadblocks,” he explains. “But if you change your focus for just a minute and look into other areas, you can see nothing but opportunity, and that's where we're looking.”
2012 Zero Electric Motorcycle Lineup Unveiled [Video]
Interview with Zero's Scot Harden
Zero Motorcycles Hires Scot Harden
Former Buell Engineer Joins Zero Motorcycles
Electric Motorcycle Racing Season Wrap-Up
Electric Motorcycles Primer
AMA Inducts Scot Harden Into Hall of Fame