10 Q&As with FUELL Co-Founder and CEO Francois-Xavier Terny
We already released a story that highlights Erik Buell’s new adventure into the electric vehicle world. Now we get a bit deeper – here’s an exclusive interview with the co-founder and CEO of Fuell, Francois-Xavier Terny.
Ultimate Motorcycling: The website refers to FUELL arising from an “unexpected encounter.” Expand on that a little—what’s the story?
Francois-Xavier Terny: I am the connection between Erik Buell and Fredric Vasseur. I knew them both, but they hadn’t met each other and when we all met, we talked about our shared experiences and that led to a conversation about e-bikes. Fred had success in EV racing and Erik had experience with motorcycles and mass production, and I had experience with manufacturing, supply chains and so forth. We talked about e-bikes for urban transportation; for Fred, that meant bicycles and for Erik it meant motorcycles and we talked about how innovations from Fred’s Spark Racing experience could be applied to new e-bike products and the urban bikes came to be. Erik was interested in a very practical urban motorcycle and Fred was interested in bringing the same qualities to an urban electric bicycle.
UM: Let’s talk price: Two versions of the Flow are offered right out of the gate; the 11kw model with an MSRP of $10,995.00 (USD) and the 35kw model with an MSRP of $11,995.00. Compare that with the Harley-Davidson LiveWire at $29,799. That is a huge price point advantage ($17,844) for the Flow. Buyers may be suspicious of what they are missing out on with that large a gap—what would you say to their concerns?
Terny: When we looked at the who would be buying urban electric motorcycles, we found the core of the market is at about $10,000. A relatively low price promotes mass adoption. We have the supply chain experience and manufacturing background to be able to keep manufacturing costs and end-product prices low without sacrificing quality or reliability. Another major factor is in the design itself. For example, compared with a conventional Buell motorcycle, the Flow has about one third the number of parts. The rear wheel motor is an innovation that eliminates the need for a transmission, primary and final drive components that add weight and wear out. We have 19 patents on innovations for the products so far. We anticipate manufacture of the Flow to be in the U.S. and the Fluid in Taiwan, at least initially.
UM: The FLOW appears to offer unprecedented convenience and sophistication in how the FUELL app allows stand-off operation of nearly everything; but what if there is a failure in the signal, smart phone or other links? Is there a manual backup or non-app dependent work-around for each function?
Terny: Yes-all the functions that can be accomplished by the FUELL app have manual back-up on the bike or from the dash controls.
UM: In addition to factory-direct sales for Fluid and Flow products, will distribution happen through established dealer locations such as existing motorcycle and e-bike dealers, or through franchised or company-owned outlets, or by online sales or some combination of these? If by online merchandising, how will service and warranty support be provided?
Terny: We anticipate that all of the above may be part of the distribution system, but not using exclusive dealers. We do plan to have arrangements with specific providers to handle any work that requires trained technicians to work on, for example, high-energy systems. Other types of work such as tire changes, hydraulic disc brake work and so on can be handled by shops that do that work for conventional bikes, as well.
UM: The Flow features inverted Ø 40 mm telescopic forks—is that manufactured in-house or sourced from an existing manufacturer—and if so, what brand is going to be used? Same question for the rear shock unit.
Terny: We have the design specifications for brakes and suspension but have not finalized a vendor for those items. Pre-production prototypes being built now will be used to assess performance of component options.
UM: The Flow features two ride modes—Urban and Audacious. How do the two differ?
Terny: The Audacious setting raises both torque and top speed outputs. For example, top speed goes from approximately 55 mph in Urban mode to about 85 mph in Audacious mode. That allows for the rider to move with the traffic if part of their commute includes stretches of Interstate highway.
UM: Talk a little about the linked intelligent ABS system (in-house vs sourced, caliper and disc specs, etc.):
Terny: The electronically linked intelligent ABS system is one of the innovations that goes along with the rear wheel motor concept. The front hydraulic disc ABS system electronically integrates the rear wheel motor to act as a brake for progressive braking force, eliminating the need for a separate rear brake system. That further reduces vehicle weight and the number of moving parts.
UM: Range has long been one of the limitations electric vehicles have faced; the Fuell Flow offers a claimed range of 150 urban miles on a charge. What are the key design factors in the bike’s design that help reach that range and where are the opportunities for pushing the range even further? In “audacious” mode, what is the expected range?
Terny: Light weight allows less power consumption so that is a major factor—and, the overall range on a charge will depend on how long the Audacious mode is used. One thing to keep in mind is that, unlike an internal combustion engine that idles and continues to consume fuel when stopped, an electric vehicle does not.
UM: Heat is a real factor in reliability and service life for nearly any form of transportation and EVs are no exception—indeed the motor for the Harley-Davison Livewire, for example, is liquid-cooled. How does the unique wheel motor on the Flow cope with heat?
Terny: Computer simulations done in the design process show that air-cooling the rear wheel motor is adequate. The design of the rear wheel motor also provides for space to accommodate liquid-cooling if needed.
UM: The e-bike and e-motorcycle markets are something of a free-for-all right now with new products seeming to emerge on a near daily basis. What key features will set the Fuell Fluid and Flow products apart from the rest?
Terny: Innovative design, performance and the price-to-performance ratio that these products have give them distinctive appeal. For urban riders, light weight and ease of handing in traffic and the safety and security features will be very important. Those factors combine to give these products unique appeal. Because of its unique design, the Flow has an extremely low center of gravity, with about half of its weight below the height of the axles, making for very easy handling.
For more, visit FUELL.