VanMoof 2.0: a brand new hope

VanMoof 2.0: a new hope


“Impressed,” is the phrase I preserve coming again to after assembly with the new management of VanMoof, an organization that helped popularize electrical bikes earlier than abruptly declaring chapter this summer season. 

I used to be impressed by Elliot Wertheimer and Nick Fry’s symbiotic relationship, impressed by their zeal to maintain present VanMoof riders on the highway, and impressed by their plan to steadily restart the VanMoof machine and develop into extra areas of e-mobility. 

I met with Wertheimer and his company chaperone Fry in London final week to debate VanMoof’s future, at a time when some 200,000 riders have been left with out parts or service facilities for his or her refined e-bikes constructed with proprietary components. 

This isn’t one other Kodak state of affairs, I’m completely satisfied to report, the place the VanMoof model can be squeezed till it’s all however nugatory. “It’s tremendous essential to us to retain what VanMoof was,” says Wertheimer. “So product engineering, product design, tech improvement continues to be in-house, totally. We now have not outsourced it and we won’t outsource any of that.” 

Nonetheless, as spectacular as every thing sounds, it’s all discuss for now. The primary actual take a look at of the brand new firm will start quickly. 

The launch of VanMoof 2.0 entails a staggered rollout of substitute components to retailers with in-house restore retailers, a resumption of e-bike gross sales, and a brand new VanMoof-branded e-scooter within the first half of 2024… in that order, if all goes as deliberate. Key European markets are the preliminary focus.

The US stays a precedence for VanMoof however timings there are much less sure. The VanMoof authorized entity within the US by no means declared chapter and the operations there are present process restructuring alongside collectors. Wertheimer’s VanMoof is the authorized proprietor of the US entity, but it surely’s being handled as a one-off in comparison with the remainder of the corporate with its personal distinctive timelines for a 2.0 launch.

New management

Elliot Wertheimer (31) is the kitesurfing co-CEO of Lavoie with a background in aerospace engineering, whereas co-CEO Albert Nassar has a background in robotics — the 2 based Furosystems e-bikes earlier than becoming a member of McLaren Utilized in an acquihire. Nick Fry (67) is the charismatic Chairman of McLaren Utilized, and has largely been the face of the deal to purchase the dregs of VanMoof after its demise. Fry could be very a lot the “grownup within the room,” as I’d name it, with a storied System One background the place he led a number of F1 groups, together with Mercedes.

From left to proper: Albert Nassar, Nick Fry, Elliot Wertheimer
Picture: Lavoie

However don’t confuse McLaren Group and its supercars with McLaren Utilized, the tech division bought by the UK-based personal fairness agency Greybull Capital in 2021. It was Greybull that appointed Fry into his present place at McLaren Utilized, which focuses on delivering electrification, connectivity, telemetry, management, and analytic options for a variety of automobiles, from motorsports to public transport and now, micromobility options.

The takeaway from my assembly with VanMoof’s new management is that this: the corporate has an extended runway to show issues round and loads of seasoned executives and engineering sources to assist or not it’s profitable. However its absolute precedence proper now could be conserving riders on the highway.

Greybull has deep pockets which suggests there’s no hurry for VanMoof to show a revenue. And due to the chapter, the brand new management isn’t saddled with having to repay any of the substantial debt gathered by VanMoof lately. 

We’re not speeding into this. We’re going to go at a smart tempo.

“It’ll take three years minimal earlier than we begin to see the factor has its head above the water,” says Fry of the VanMoof relaunch. “We’re not speeding into this. We’re going to go at a smart tempo.” 

That additionally means important investments, properly past the €900,000 preliminary money fee to the trustees and legal professionals revealed in chapter paperwork. The staff is testing every half for high quality, and it’s within the strategy of honoring a dedication to purchase again inventories of parts and bikes in numerous phases of meeting. As such, Fry and his Greybull backers anticipate to take a position “tens of hundreds of thousands” into VanMoof earlier than seeing any revenue. 

It additionally has salaries to pay. Lavoie shortly expanded from about 30 to over 130 workers after hiring again about 100 (of about 700) former VanMoof staff essential to the continuity of enterprise, nearly all of whom nonetheless reside in Amsterdam the place Wertheimer is making ready to relocate.

VanMoof founders Ties and Taco Carlier, who did have an advisory function early on, are not actively concerned with the corporate. Wertheimer and Fry are exceedingly complimentary of the 2 brothers and what they have been capable of obtain, together with making regular enchancment in total high quality.

“To be sincere, I just like the SA5,” says Wertheimer, referring to the newest S5 and A5 flagship e-bikes bought by VanMoof. “I imply I regarded on the information — it’s a extremely dependable bike. It’s very stable. They did wonderful work on that and it’s actually, I believe, what they have been aiming for. By way of timing, they obtained unfortunate.” 

“In 20 years time, when the historical past of VanMoof is being written, I hope that the brothers get the credit score they deserve,” provides Fry.

Nonetheless, with hindsight, it’s clear that whereas the Carlier brothers confirmed nice talent at launching one thing from scratch, they have been ill-equipped to steer VanMoof by way of a pandemic and world financial downturn that brought about low cost investor capital to dry up. “Entrepreneurs take ridiculous dangers, they’re inspirational — however they’re usually not good at working,” concedes Fry. “In so many instances it then will get handed on to folks like me who would by no means ever do the primary piece, as a result of that’s not our factor. However we are able to do the second piece.”

Components and repair facilities are coming quickly

“Maintaining riders on the highway is prime precedence,” says Wertheimer, not as soon as, however 5 instances throughout our two-plus hours collectively. And which means two issues: the provision of spare components and the launch of a brand new community of outlets — aka, licensed bike retailers — that may additionally service VanMoof e-bikes.

So, in Q1, and beginning sooner fairly than later, VanMoof will probably be launching a brand new components and retailer community with an preliminary emphasis on assembly nearly all of riders the place they reside. Meaning spinning-up a brand new community of third-party licensed bike retailers situated in massive cities throughout the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, initially.

“We’re enhancing some key components and parts that wanted to be improved, not solely simply from a reliability perspective, but in addition from the standpoint of mechanics,” says Wertheimer. The staff is targeted on making VanMoof e-bikes simpler to service with a view to keep away from the lengthy wait instances which have traditionally plagued VanMoof riders. Wertheimer says the purpose is, “to be sure that a workshop can repair your bike in 20 minutes, not three hours.”

The corporate goals to enhance the standard of components and scale back restore instances.
Picture: VanMoof

Nearly all of VanMoof e-bikes on the highway are S3 and X3 fashions, so these components are the precedence. However VanMoof’s bikes are comprised of a whole bunch of {custom} components. “I believe there are 400 SKUs,” says Wertheimer. “We’re specializing in a very powerful ones, about 20 to 30. After which we’re going to ramp up progressively on the remaining.” VanMoof batteries and e-shifters are on that precedence record, as the corporate continues to push out firmware updates to repair any recognized bugs. 

Components will solely be accessible by way of the brand new retailer community for the foreseeable future. And whereas present VanMoof e-bike warranties have gone poof with the chapter, Wertheimer says “we’re going to produce these components at preferential charges to retailers,” and launch its personal guarantee program on the similar time. However if you need your VanMoof e-bike serviced, you need to go to one of many licensed bike retailers, assuming one exists shut by, which may then analyze the issue and advocate an answer. DIY options may come later.

“We don’t wish to be in servicing anymore,” says Wertheimer. “I believe they tried with numerous nice intentions, however it’s too troublesome to do it for your self.” 

What’s subsequent for e-bikes?

As soon as the components can be found by way of a correctly skilled community of native bike retailers, VanMoof plans to once more begin promoting e-bikes from its present catalog. SX3 fashions won’t be bought, however SA5s appear possible — Wertheimer wouldn’t decide to any fashions, although. Initially, new VanMoof e-bikes will solely be that can be purchased from the brand new retailer community, however direct-to-consumer gross sales from the VanMoof web site might return in areas the place an area community of licensed workshops exist. “We won’t promote bikes in Timbuktu,” says Wertheimer.

Will we ever see the unreleased VanMoof V?
Picture: VanMoof

Wertheimer and Fry don’t wish to be tied down on a date for a return to e-bike gross sales, however they’re aiming for a Q2 restart within the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, with extra nations to comply with.

As to what’s subsequent, properly, that’s the place McLaren Utilized might present the key sauce. Utilized excels at gathering up plenty of information from fast paced automobiles to nice tune efficiency and make them extra environment friendly.

For instance, should you’ve ever watched F1 on tv you then’re already conversant in McLaren Utilized’s ATLAS system (even when it’s “powered by AWS”) which is used to show and analyze information for every automotive. The information is collected by McLaren Utilized’s ECU (Digital Management Unit) which nice tunes motor management for each petrol and electrical motors. 

“How do you win in System 1 and win in motor racing? You win by effectivity,” says Fry. “The factor you get superb at is making issues that are as mild as attainable, as small as attainable, and as environment friendly as attainable.”

“In case you have very nice motor controls, you are able to do plenty of issues,” continues Fry. “Enhance the vary as a result of you should utilize the battery energy extra effectively, for instance. However the different factor that automotive producers are discovering out is that if in case you have very nice motor management you too can tune the driving traits of the automobile.” That’s a fairly excessive degree response, but it surely does sound a bit like what Cowboy is doing with its Adaptive Energy function, if I needed to guess at one attainable end result of this union.

Detachable battery? “Trying into it!” he says with a hearty snort.

Right here’s what Wertheimer is keen to decide to in these early days: the increase button, the enduring body styling, the built-in lights and cabling, UX/UI, and the kick lock anti-theft are all right here to remain and will carry over to model new VanMoof fashions sooner or later. Belt drive or chain? “We’re wanting into it,” Wertheimer says with a wry smile. Detachable battery? “Trying into it!” he says with a hearty snort.

Earlier than its chapter, VanMoof estimated that its e-bikes have been constructed from over 90 p.c custom-designed components. Wertheimer is evident that his need for product differentiation would require the corporate to proceed making {custom} components. “The place we are able to make them in partnership with extra off-the-shelf producers, we are going to. However our failure charges are decrease than a few of the guys we might outsource to,” says Wertheimer, who has been obsessively analyzing VanMoof’s information.

Fry helps an avenue of clever customization as properly with a view to preserve prices down. “I imagine that within the bike trade, as it’s within the automotive trade, you make distinctive what folks care about,” he says. “Does somebody care if it’s an off-the-self completely serviceable Shimano half if they’ll’t see it? In fact not, nobody cares as a result of it really works. You’ve obtained to do each: you’ve obtained to maintain the individuality that makes your product a VanMoof, and you need to discover components which individuals don’t care about. In any other case you find yourself with one thing that’s frankly massively costly to engineer and massively costly for the buyer to purchase.”

So, earlier than Q2 is over, VanMoof expects to be delivery spare components to a brand new community of outlets that may restore e-bikes and promote new ones — at the very least in precedence nations the place the majority of VanMoof riders exist. The rollout will probably be methodical and managed which suggests the corporate will probably be spending far extra money than it’ll be taking in for many of 2024. “There received’t be any important income till later subsequent yr,” says Fry.

VanMoof Sequence 1 scooter

Fry says that VanMoof’s surprising chapter accelerated Lavoie’s plans to department out into e-bikes. This sudden refocusing on e-bikes is inflicting the retail launch of the unique Lavoie Sequence 1 scooter to be pushed again about six months.

The Sequence 1 scooter will probably be rebranded VanMoof and is at the moment being VanMoof-ified.
Picture: Lavoie

In reality, the Sequence 1 scooter, developed by Lavoie and McLaren Utilized will probably be rebranded VanMoof, with plans to launch it simply after VanMoof e-bikes return on sale. The Sequence 1 was imagined to launch in November, however is now being reworked in new colours, supplies, and finishes. The scooter can also be adopting the VanMoof app and UX / UI for its built-in show. That work has pushed the retail goal to someday in Q2.

I used to be capable of take a look at trip an outdated engineering prototype of the Lavoie-branded Sequence 1. I’m not a scooter man (they aren’t authorized the place I reside) however I can perceive the last-mile worth proposition of a folding scooter that may be carried onto a prepare or bus at no cost, or loaded into the again of a automotive. The way forward for city journey is multi-modal, and e-bikes and e-scooters will each have their place contained in the VanMoof app.

The folding mechanism on the Sequence 1 was developed by McLaren Utilized and it’s one thing to behold. First it obviates the necessity for a kickstand, and permits the scooter to shortly collapse right into a fairly compact and transportable package deal. The Sequence 1 will even inherit VanMoof staples like turn-by-turn navigation and anti-theft tech.

Does this imply we are able to anticipate a folding VanMoof e-bike sooner or later? “I hope so sooner or later, but it surely’s not one thing we’re actively discussing,” stated Wertheimer.

Remaining ideas

So much has been written about VanMoof’s demise, however I believe time will show these items to be untimely.

Sure, the chapter has been horrible for patrons and workers and collectors. However it seems as if the trustees have finished an admirable job of choosing a succesful new steward to hold the corporate ahead whereas preserving as many native jobs as attainable. 

We predict we’ve obtained the makings of one thing that may very well be very profitable

Sure, the founders aren’t there anymore, however they’ve been changed by Wertheimer’s robust technical acumen (shared by his co-CEO), Fry’s grownup oversight, McLaren Utilized’s huge engineering sources, and Greybull’s cash. “We actually imagine this has obtained potential,” says Fry. “We predict we’ve obtained the makings of one thing that may very well be very profitable.”

Sure, the corporate is not technically a Dutch e-bike firm, however does that matter when 80 p.c of the workers are ex-VanMoof and residing in Europe’s bike capital of Amsterdam?

I’ve been overlaying VanMoof since 2016 — it was the first electrical bike I ever rode again when e-bikes have been nonetheless for the aged. Perhaps I drank the Kool-Assist in London final week, however should you ask for my intestine response after assembly with Wertheimer and Fry, it’s this: 

VanMoof is on the verge of a comeback, and, in a couple of years, may very well be higher than ever.


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