Since 2007, the guys behind the California-based startup Alta Motors have been working to bring the ultimate enthusiast bike to the American market, and that product is just about here. The company's first electric motorcycle, called the Redshift, is slated to begin deliveries later this year, and is backordered by over three months.
But Mark Fenigstein, Alta Motors co-founder and CEO, told Tech Insider that it wasn't until Tesla became popular that consumer demand for electric motorcycles really took off.
And now, Fenigstein is aiming to follow in Tesla's footsteps, in a sense, and become a leading electric motorcycle maker.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Tesla
Fenigstein said that Tesla "paved the way somewhat technologically and absolutely in terms of public opinion" for Alta and the rest of the electric transport market.
It was only a few years ago that people shunned the idea that there would ever be widespread appreciation for electric bikes, Fenigstein said. But the public's growing appetite for electric vehicles, as well as advancements in battery technology, have helped e-motorbikes become a viable option for personal transport, he added.
That being said, Fenigstein still estimates that it will be a while before electric motorcycles are mainstream.
"I think on a 10 year timeline you'll see mainstream acceptance on the order of what the Model 3 just achieved," Fenigstein said.
Built For Performance
Tesla's first car, the Roadster, was a two-door sports car that embraced fun driving and zero-emissions all at the same time.
Similarly, Alta's first bikes are also all about performance.
Fenigstein said that Alta's Redshift bikes were designed so that riders could have as much control as they need to over their bike. Alta also wanted to make sure that its bikes could help its rider progress as a faster and more confident motorist.
The Redshift bikes are punchy when you want them to be, built to be able to handle both potholes and motocross jumps, and engineered to put a smile on motorcyclist's faces.
Like Tesla's Roadster, Alta's Redshift could be the first of a wider range of electric motorcycles or even utility vehicles.
However, for now, the company is focusing on getting the Redshift right and out to customers before it expands. The RedShift MX currently sells for about $US15,000 and the RedShift SM, which is for on-road use, prices for $US15,495.
Made In California
Like Tesla, Alta has its own factory based right in California.
Fenigstein said having its factory in Northern California is "just good business."
He said that the close proximity of the factory and Alta's San Francisco headquarters is critical for R&D purposes and for the fast-paced development and manufacturing the company wants to maintain. It also enables the engineering team to learn from the manufacturing team in real-time, which in turn allows them to create better bikes.
There's even a secret-keeping aspect to why Alta felt the need to build out its own factory.
"On a couple of the pieces of proprietary technology, we didn't want other people learning how to build it," Fenigstein said. "So the best way to protect our battery technology, for example, was for us to do to the pack manufacturing in-house. Really similar to Tesla in that respect."
Battery Technology Is Key
Fenigstein claimed that Alta's battery, the Alta Pack, is the most impressive part of the company's two bikes.
"Our battery is about 80 per cent or five years ahead of the curve in terms of range per pound."
This means that Alta is able to fit more battery capacity into a smaller and lighter unit.
Fenigstein said that the same goes for Alta's electric motor.
"Our motor is also about half the size of any state of the art 40 horsepower electric motor you would find anywhere else," he said.
Currently, Alta's Redshift SM road bike is rated for just 80km of range.
"We picked categories where the range requirements are relatively low," he said. "We feel like we're building the bikes that meet the daily need and meet the same use capabilities as the gas bike."
However, Fenigstein did admit that when he wants to participate in a long trail-riding day, he'll bring out one of his gas bikes because his Redshift MX doesn't have the range quite yet.
Two Tesla Co-Founders Have Invested
Alta Motors doesn't just share operational and technological similarities with Tesla, though. It also shares investors.
The startup has also managed to attract investments from two of the same guys who helped create Tesla: Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarppening.
Eberhard and Tarppening both left Tesla in 2008, but both helped finance and craft the Tesla brand in its early days before Musk led the company's $US7.5 million Series A investment.
In 2012 when Alta first began looking into developing its own battery technologies, it hired Rob Sweney to lead the way.
While Sweney manned his post as Head of Battery Engineering, Tesla co-founder and Sweney's former mentor, Martin Eberhard, acted as a "casual advisor" for Alta.
"He was involved first as a casual advisor, as a colleague, then formally as an advisor, part of our board of advisors for at least a year, and then it was a joint investment from him and another co-founder of Tesla Mark Tarppening," Fenigstein said.
"The two of them, after getting to know us and watching us kind of notch away milestones, they both were willing to invest."