By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer
NEW BEDFORD — Massachusetts’ Harley-Davidson-riding U.S. Senator John F. Kerry got on an all-electric scooter here Monday and proclaimed it a vehicle of the future.
That endorsement of the Vectrix zero-emissions vehicle was exactly what company and city officials were looking to hear.
Sen. Kerry, a Democrat, talked about going “beyond fossil fuels” and “really exciting great possibilities” and “how you turn around America” during a tour of the Vectrix Corporation’s local operations off Samuel Barnet Boulevard in the New Bedford Business Park.
Speaking to about 35 company employees and others gathered at Vectrix, he also struck a chord when he talked about potential future federal tax incentives for zero-emissions vehicles such as the Vectrix — which sells for about $11,000.
Company officials said that federal or state tax incentives and rebates could be an important factor in boosting sales of the all-electric scooter, which costs about twice as much as a similar gasoline-powered two-wheeler.
Currently, California offers a $1,500 rebate, Colorado offers a tax incentive that can go as high as $4,600 and Georgia offers buyers a $2,000 incentive.
Sen. Kerry, who keeps a Harley-Davidson Wide Glide in Boston — a bike known among Harley fans as a “Switchblade” — took a couple of spins around the parking lot on the Vectrix for the benefit of television and news photographers.
He said the Vectrix was relatively easy to ride and quick.
According to company literature, rapid acceleration is one of the scooter’s strong points. That is possible largely because electric motors can speed up quickly, and the Vectrix moves from a stop to 50 mph in 6.8 seconds.
Its top speed, however, is 62 mph and its range on a single electric charge is 68 miles. The Vectrix uses nickel metal hydride batteries, weighs 462 pounds and is a little over five feet long. It can carry two people.
After looking at the batteries, wires, switches and other mechanicals of the Vectrix, Sen. Kerry told those gathered, “I am in awe of the intricacy.” He said he could understand how the vehicle’s promoters saw themselves providing a high-quality alternative to most gasoline-powered scooters, while still being under the price point for the more expensive two-wheeled gasoline vehicles on the road.
“Take the niche — like VW (Volkswagen) in the ’60s,” Sen. Kerry said about a vehicle that could be good for commuting but also to “get out there for a Sunday ride.”
“You guys are defining the future,” he told the Vectrix employees.
Vectrix Corp. is headquartered in Middletown, R.I., and has production facilities in Poland. The New Bedford facility is called its research and development and distribution location.
The company has about 150 employees, with about 30 in Rhode Island, about 55 in Poland, about 40 in New Bedford and about 25 salespeople scattered around the globe.
Vectrix has been working on its scooter since the mid-1990s. It initiated commercial production in 2007. The scooter is targeted at commuters and fleet buyers such as police departments.
The company’s fact sheet shows sales to dealers of 700 vehicles to date. The Vectrix is sold in 16 countries including North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.
Jeff Morrill, chief marketing officer for Vectrix, said the company took its time bringing the scooters to market to make certain everything was done right.
Asked about the use of top-of-the-line componentry, he said the company was not trying to shave costs but rather build a vehicle that reflected “no compromise” regarding quality.
Mr. Morrill said Vectrix is marketing to police departments and has vehicles in tests in New York City and elsewhere, and has been getting positive feedback.
New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang, who accompanied Sen. Kerry at the Vectrix facility, said he intends to get the scooters into use with the city police department. His interest in Vectrix is both because of its technology orientation and for the jobs.
“These guys are presenting a new alternative,” Mayor Lang said, “This is like lightning in a bottle.”
Mayor Lang said if Vectrix succeeds over the near term, it could mean 200 to 300 jobs to New Bedford.
Contact Joe Cohen at email@example.com
March 18, 2008
By Joe Cohen