Taipei Times: How did the pandemic affect Kwang Yang Motor Co’s (光陽工業) business operations?
Allen Ko (柯勝峰): The impact is stronger on the overseas markets. In the first half of this year, business activity came to a halt in many countries due to large-scale lockdowns as governments tried to rein in the spread of the pandemic. Almost all of our dealers shut down, and we received virtually not a single order. The situation was quite worrisome.
Entering the second half, most countries adopted a different approach to control the spread of the virus. Governments imposed partial lockdowns and social distancing, or asked bars and restaurants to cut business hours, with the goal to reduce infection risks. Those measures at least allow for some business activity. That was good for us, and we started seeing customers return.
Photo: Lisa Wang, Taipei Times
People shun public transportation and turn to personal vehicles because of the pandemic. Demand is overwhelming, both at home and in overseas markets. Our capacity cannot keep up with the demand, and our factories are fully utilized. We had to cancel the annual leaves of 7 to 10 days.
In Taiwan, we are very fortunate that our business is less affected by the pandemic, as the situation is under better control.
TT: How about Kwang Yang’s collaborations with overseas partners? Any updates?
Ko: We have been working closely with ride-hailing service provider Grab Holdings Inc. Grab has a very ambitious plan to launch electric scooter sharing services, targeting Southeast Asian markets.
We formed a joint venture, Grab Wheels, to provide shared electric motorcycles for Grab members in food delivery, goods delivery or in the logistics business. It is limited to those consumers.
Our cooperation was affected by COVID-19, as our first target market was Indonesia, but unfortunately, the virus situation there is severe.
We will have a more ambitious plan next year when the pandemic subsides. Grab has ordered about 100 electric scooters, and we have shipped some vehicles. That part is still ongoing.
TT: How about Kwang Yang’s plan to make inroads into the Indian market?
Ko: We originally had a joint venture with 22 Motors Ltd, but the project has been terminated. The founders of 22 Motors were divided over the company’s development goals.
After the partnership flopped, numerous companies showed strong interests and approached us for collaborations.
We made good progress in talks for forming new partnerships, but the talks were suspended as the pandemic made international travel difficult. We hope to resume talks after the pandemic stabilizes.
As India is the world’s biggest motorcycle market, it is natural that every player wants to vie for a piece of that pie.
TT: Please tell us about KYMCO’s new electric motorcycle, the F9, which was unveiled two weeks ago along with Kwang Yang’s other new models.
Ko: The F9, a street sport electric motorcycle, is a different breed from the Ionex models which we launched three years ago.
The Ionex series is more for urban mobility and suitable for populous markets such as Taiwan. They are ideal products for business-to-business (B2B) models, for food or parcel deliverers, to use in urban environments and swap batteries at designated stations.
However, some consumers find this kind of electric scooter unsatisfactory. They want something more powerful, for recreational purposes without compromising motor power.
The F9 is powered by a 9.4 kilowatt electric motor and features a 96 volt battery pack with 40Ah lithium-ion units, which is not removable. The F9 can be charged at charging stations, or simply at home.
Taiwanese consumers are familiar with battery-swapping systems, but in Europe and China, the main trend is to recharge the batteries of electric motorcycles.
At such an early stage, we do not plan to introduce the F9 to the Taiwanese market, as it is designed for the Chinese market.
Chinese consumers’ incomes are increasing and demand for high-end electric vehicles is on the rise, too.
In the past, people tended to buy lower-priced models for about 1,000 yuan to 2,000 yuan (US$153 to US$306). Now they can afford models for 8,000 yuan to 15,000 yuan. Relaxed regulations are another driving force. We expect the Chinese market to grow rapidly over the next three to five years.
TT: Does Kwang Yang plan to launch new Ionex models next year? Since the debut in 2018, no new models have been unveiled.
Ko: We plan to launch a new series of Ionex models in the first quarter of next year. Those models will be equipped with removable batteries, allowing riders to swap them out. They will be suitable for the local market, primarily for B2B markets.
TT: How about Kwang Yang’s manufacturing facilities overseas?
Ko: We operate a factory in Changzhou, China, and another in Vietnam. We plan to invest in the Vietnamese factory and make it our manufacturing hub in reaction to the establishment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade bloc.
We also plan to build new manufacturing facilities in Italy, and our high-end electric motorcycle, RevoNex, will be “made in Italy.” It will help us build the image that Kwang Yang is a pioneer and a leader in electric motorcycle manufacturing.
TT: Kwang Yang makes a very special case by offering electric motorcycles and gasoline-powered models at the same time. Why is that? What is the challenge?
Ko: Electric vehicle transition is the trend. It is happening, and we want to be the first to make it happen.
The world’s major motorcycle makers are reluctant to push the transition as they are afraid of losing their competitive edge built on gasoline-powered motorcycles.
Without electric motorcycle know-how, everyone has the same starting point.
The challenge for us is to rebrand as a supplier of electric motorcycles. We have to reset our mindset to design an electric model catering to the needs of customers.
Those interested in buying electric motorcycles are different from buyers of gasoline-powered ones. They are more tech-savvy and not as price sensitive.
TT: Will Kwang Yang follow the path of Gogoro Inc (睿能創意), which created the “Powered by Gogoro Network” and makes electric scooters for other companies?
Ko: Making KYMCO motorcycles is our first priority. We are open-minded about providing manufacturing services, only on the condition that we have extra capacity for that.
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