Mission Motors Delays Electric Superbike Production: What’s Next?

Mission Motors’ plans to manufacture a limited run of its Mission One high-performance electric motorcycle are being put on hold while the company works to build a powertrain supply business and raise additional funds. The startup, which earlier this year said it aimed to begin deliveries of the 50-bike run in the second quarter of 2011, is “still feeling the after-effects of 2009,” when fundraising took longer than hoped, according to CEO Jit Bhattacharya.

Based in San Francisco and originally called Hum Cycles, Mission Motors has raised $4.7 million in debt and equity since its inception in 2007. The company will need more capital in order to transition from the development phase to actually producing the 50 planned $68,000 Mission One superbikes, Bhattacharya said in an interview. With tech startups, that challenge is commonly known as crossing the valley of death, and according to Bhattacharya, Mission Motors hopes to raise a new round of financing by mid-to-late 2011.

In the meantime, the company is announcing a new business division this morning for developing electric vehicle powertrains, including energy storage systems, drive systems and software, and also providing engineering and integration services. Under partnerships with two global vehicle manufacturers, it has already begun integrating Mission Motors powertrain technology into prototypes. Current financing will see the company through another generation of powertrain and motorcycle prototypes, Bhattacharya said, as well as the launch of its powertrain supply business.

Mission Motors has been in talks since at least February of this year with Chinese motorcycle maker Zongshen Power Machinery about collaboration on lower-power, lower-cost electric models than Mission’s homegrown design, and possible direct investment in the startup. According to Bhattacharya, those talks are ongoing.

The two partners working with Mission Motors’ powertrains in prototype vehicles are “selling vehicles everywhere,” he said, including North America. Bhattacharya hopes Mission Motors will bring in a few more powertrain partners by this time next year, ideally securing 4-5 “solid partners in an array of vehicle classes,” who will integrate Mission Motors’ powertrain into production-intent models. The company says its so-called Mission Electric Vehicle Technology, or MissionEVT, system can be configured to work for powersport or automotive applications, in all-electric or hybrid vehicles.

This morning’s announcement about the MissionEVT system being offered by the company’s new EV Powertrain Division is really a matter of putting an official stamp on a direction that Mission Motors has been moving toward for much of this year. Back in May, Bhattacharya revealed that the company was looking to generate initial revenue through licensing or sales of its core powertrain tech to industry giants (a common strategy among tech-focused EV startups). He told us at the time that the company was already working with two automakers to integrate its tech into their vehicles at pilot scale.

Within 6-8 months, Mission Motors plans to set up shop at a new facility in San Francisco that’s twice the size of the company’s current headquarters and will allow it to do low-volume motorcycle and powertrain assembly, in addition to engineering. Six months ago, Bhattacharya said Mission Motors expected to unveil a lower-cost electric motorcycle in 2010 and deliver “hundreds” of units of that second-generation model by the end of 2011. But on Monday, he said Mission is now “very focused on the Mission One.” By the end of January, he said the company will disclose more about future motorcycle lines and plans for racing in 2011.

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