Italian startup Nito bikes has drawn the attention of the EV community with its unconventional design, the use of wood, a strong spec sheet and a thrilling motorcycle concept. ElectricVehicleWeb connected with the founder of the company, Cesar Mendoza, an accomplished industrial designer, to ask him about the vision of his company, the electric motorcycle project, and his take on the Indian electric vehicle market.
Can you give us a bit of your background and why you decided to launch an electric vehicle company?
We are very lucky that we come from the design field. This is the area of my specialization and the main part of my job. I’m an industrial designer and studied in my country that is Venezuela. I came to Italy to continue my study here and finished my diploma. Then I went to Japan for four years and came back to Italy again. I was very lucky because after some years, I became the Dean of the school I studied in – Istituto Europeo di Design in Turin. That school has a fantastic course in transportation design. I worked there 12 years and we designed for many big brands like Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota, Maserati, Aston Martin and Tesla. In 2010, we did a design for Tesla Motors with the school and at that moment I understood the potential of this kind of technology. At the same time, I understood that light vehicles will move ahead first with electric technology because at that moment, the Tesla was a little more than 2 Tons.
I understood that it is easier when working with a two-wheeler because the weight is around 100 kg and with two people, the total weight is around 250 kg. So when I finished my experience with the team in Istituto Europeo di Design, I decided to open a company to combine design and electric technology. At that time, Europe was not really at the forefront in this field with only the Chinese having long experience in this kind of vehicles. We travelled to China to search for a partner for the technology and find a complementary way to produce. We decided to build Nito that is partly produced in China but completely designed and engineered in Turin. We have around 30 per cent parts of the motorcycle that is produced in Italy. Our factory here makes the final assembly and final testing and we distribute all around Europe and USA at this moment.
Tell us about the journey with your products and the sales evolution
At the beginning of the project, we started in a very simple way because often in a company like this we need a lot of capital and resources. We started with our kick scooters and decided to build scooters because they are the most popular two-wheelers and anybody can use it. We decided to focus our attention in that type of vehicle and at the same moment we wanted something compact because we believe that with the traffic and even with the electric vehicles, you don’t need the extras. If you are fat, you are not electric; electric needs to be fit, fast and light. We want to give the possibility to the consumer to have something that is fun and this is one of the reasons we chose the kind of tyres that are fat (NES scooter). These fat tyres use the air as a shock absorber; when you are in Rome or Milan, the streets are not so smooth and with the fat tyres you have better comfort.
And using not-so-big wheels, we understand we can have the continuity of the floor of the scooter. We decided to use wood because wood is a very rich material, and gives the scooter a very rich image. We found this combination to be very positive and in the same time we give our customer the option to choose. Actually, our scooter has 72 possible combinations – four body colours, two tyre colours, four wood colours and three different seats. The combinations that you can do from all these options are beautiful.
Another important point is the power. Our electric scooter uses a 4 kW motor and a 72V 30 Ah battery and is actually one of the most powerful scooters in the market. Our desire was when you see it, you love it and when you drive it, you buy it!
We are an Italian company. Our main point is to be present in the Italian market. We have 25 dealers around the country. We don’t want lots of dealers but dealers who understand our philosophy, the way we see the vehicles, and the quality of the service. We have around 18 importers now in Sweden, Holland, Germany, Austria, Portugal, France and Spain with our presence. Our bigger markets in Europe are Italy and Germany, and Holland is very strong too. Last year, we started in USA. The US is such a big market and they love our brand, so we are selling more there. We need to control the expansion. This year we are at around 500 units, it’s not so big but if you think five years ago it was just a powerpoint. It’s a very nice beginning and next year we will be around 2,000 scooters because we already have confirmation from our importers and we have orders in hand.
Our next step after this perhaps will be going to the Chinese market but not as a Chinese vehicle; it will be a combination of Italian-designed and engineered, and Chinese manufactured. China sells around 20 million electric motorcycles in a year. So the new vehicle will have a higher price; lower than the Vespa but not so far. We are one of the most powerful scooters because we develop our motor and battery. While you can say our scooters are recognized for the design but after you drive it, you are more impressed by the acceleration than for the beauty. We are really a combination of driving sensation, aesthetics and materials.
The Indian EV revolution is brewing and this decade is set to witness mass adoption. What are your plans for India?
I have been to India many times. I know Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune and have some friends there. I’m impressed about how important two and three-wheelers are for transportation in the country. India will be a nice market for us but at the same time, it’s such a big market and the only way for us to be there would be to make an agreement with a local brand to manage the distribution in a very special way, similar to the way that we plan for China.
I use this fantastic opportunity to let’s say open our doors to make an interesting distribution network with someone who wants to invest, to share our adventure in your market! I know how important this market would be; the problem is we have too much to manage at this moment. We are not bigger like Honda or Piaggio or Kawasaki. We are a 20-people group and our power is in our import partners. We need to find a nice partner and if we do, we can be in India by 2021.
You showcased a radical electric motorcycle concept at the EICMA 2018. Is that project progressing to production?
The Coronavirus has caused a small delay. We planned to launch it this year but now it has been pushed to next Spring. We have tested the powertrain with a 15 kW engine and built a prototype that weighs 198 kg. The maximum speed was 152 km/h and it was like a rocket. It was more than what we expected, so we are very satisfied. We chose to put the engine in the rear wheel because we had more space to manage the beauty and balance of the motorcycle. We are developing the rest of the frame to stay within a final weight of under 200 kg. It will have around 150 km of range but the acceleration sensation is something unbelievable. It is exciting and we try to find the best way to do our design. The acceleration will be even stronger than the Ducati supermotard – it’s only to say how exciting it would be to ride a vehicle like this with very low sound but very high power!