King Gillette supposedly said "Give 'em the razor; sell 'em the blades" — the first example of a business model where the product is sold cheaply but needs an endless stream of supplies. It could be engraved on the case of every inkjet printer. Now it's being applied to an electric scooter, the Gogoro Smartscooter. It’s a very cool electric scooter with lots of nice features like an aluminum frame, a racing suspension "inspired by jet-fighter landing gear" and 30 onboard sensors that deliver diagnostics, statistics and directions to your smartphone.

What it doesn’t have is a plug. Instead, the scooter owner relies on the Gogoro Energy Network, an infrastructure of stations where the owner can swap the two batteries in about six seconds. According to founder and CEO Horace Luke:

 “Our products and business model will impact a variety of consumer areas to create a metropolitan ecosystem with better connectivity, easier access to energy, and a more enjoyable urban living experience.”
It’s a business model that sounds very much like Better Place, the ill-fated Israeli company that famously crashed after burning through almost a billion dollars of funding. It was based on the idea of a network of battery-swapping stations.

I don’t think the Gogoro will share the same fate, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the company is going to blanket the target market with GoStation. Luke tells the Verge’s Chris Ziegler: "One station per mile is what we’re looking for.” And contrary to what many are saying, not having a plug is a bonus — not a bug — in countries where most people live at very high density in buildings without garages and no place to plug in for charging. If you've seen how scooters are parked in Asia, it’s quickly evident that it would be almost impossible to plug a lot of them in at once. A fresh charge on two batteries will push this scooter 60 miles, so it really isn’t that different from going to a gas station for a fill-up, and it’s a lot faster.

a pair of gogoro batteries

A pair of smart batteries the size of a bowling ball. (Photo:Gogoro)

It’s also not that different from the way many people run their barbecues these days. I used to own my propane cylinder, and would have to drag it to the propane stand and wait in line for the guy to fill it up. Now I go to the nearby store that has a tank exchange and switch up the empty one for the full one. They take responsibility for the tank being in good shape and legal (they expire after 10 years) and I get my propane more quickly. Similarly I don’t really want to own a battery; I just want the electricity.

These batteries are expensive, full of electronics and security so that they can’t be stolen, and they lose their ability to hold a full charge over time. A battery swap/rental system like this keeps them fresh, optimally charged, and puts them to other uses when they can’t adequately power the scooters anymore. They may no longer push a scooter from 0 to 30 in 4.2 seconds, but they're great for emergency lighting and data backup. A swap system also allows for smarter charging, ensuring that cleaner, off-peak power is used and power consumption curves are smoothed out. This is important in fragile power grids.

Back at the Verge, there are 86 comments hurling varying degrees of abuse at the concept. They want a plug, they want to own the batteries, it’s a scam like ink-jet cartridges and so on. Then there is one comment from a guy in Shanghai, who has to drag two heavy batteries up to his apartment every night. He notes that "most people like me living in these large urban sprawls in rapidly developing countries are unable to get a cable to their bike to charge them … I, my wife and millions like me are the market for these bikes."

family on motor scooter in china

Off to grandma's on the family scooter in Hunan province, China. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Try billions. Scooters are the way much of the population in Asia gets around. It’s not a matter of choice but necessity, as scooters are a lot cheaper than cars and they are used for everything, including taking the family to grandma’s during Golden Week. And most scooters are huge polluters with dirty, inefficient engines. The Gogoro is an answer to a whole lot of serious problems. I hope it succeeds. You can find out more at Gogoro.

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.