We know that electric cars are a big opportunity for Aotearoa in reducing our carbon emissions, but what about other types of vehicles – say in delivery services, at airports, or for farming? UBCO is one company that’s providing an alternative – and innovative – solution for utility electric vehicles.
Utility vehicles are generally used off-road in environments like farms, parks, vineyards, or orchards. They can handle all sorts of terrain, from grassy paddocks to rocky slopes, and can also carry tools or cargo with ease. UBCO’s two-wheeled range is totally electric and mostly designed for off-road use, but they can also be used on-road for the benefit of commuters or weekend adventurers.
Building up the business
UBCO introduced their first rough and ready prototype, then known as the Steed Workhorse, to New Zealand farmers at the 2016 Fieldays, the largest agricultural trade show in the Southern Hemisphere. The motorbike won the Fieldays Innovation Award, while the founders found themselves a new CEO at the same time.
Timothy Allan was the convenor of the awards and he was so impressed with the potential for Anthony Clyde and Daryl Neal’s invention he offered to help them build a brand. Allan ran a product development company, Locus Research, and recognised a good product when he saw one. He's also passionate about and has experience working in the sustainability space so UBCO ticked a lot of boxes for him.
"I did a lot of work in sustainability education and lifecycle management in the 2000s but my interest in UBCO was more commercial,” says Allan. “I was probably a bit of a mercenary if I’m being honest! I wouldn't have been interested if the bike didn't have some potential on the sustainability side of things but I definitely saw the commercial potential.
"Our vision back then was to have an UBCO vehicle on every farm in New Zealand. That’s still the goal but from the start we also recognised the massive global market for UEVs. There’s huge potential for the bikes in urban as well as rural environments around the world."
That potential is reflected in the US$10m of funding the company raised recently for global expansion. UBCO currently works with Domino’s in New Zealand and the UK while other clients include New Zealand Post, the Defence Force, DOC (the Department of Conservation and Landcorp Farming Limited).
Interestingly, despite its environmental credentials as an EV company, UBCO has steered away from highlighting the clean green benefits of its bikes.
“I've had a strong commitment to sustainability my whole career, but we've never played the sustainability card with farmers,” says Allan. “What we've said is ‘here's a lightweight, two-wheel drive utility bike. If you like it, will you buy it?’ And a lot of farmers have said yes. It's not so much a matter of ‘buy this because it’s an EV’, it's more about convincing farmers to buy UBCO bikes without them even thinking about whether it’s an EV or not.
“If you can deliver a simple product that works robustly in the environment of your target market then you're onto a winner. We've made huge progress in the last couple of years in terms of developing a vehicle that can handle anything that is thrown at it and can continue to operate day in, day out in a challenging environment like New Zealand.”
Sustainability by subscription
Take a look at the UBCO website and the benefits listed include tough, effortless to ride, quiet, versatile, safe, and intelligent. There’s little or no mention of carbon emissions or how UBCO bikes are better for the environment. There is a sustainability page on the website that highlights some of the environmental gains from choosing a UEV over a fossil fuel powered alternative. They include:
- 80% less CO2 through adoption of EVs vs petrol
- 60% less CO2 over the whole vehicle lifecycle
- 50% less photochemical oxidation (smog)
- 40% less cumulative energy demand.
However, the environmental credentials are not front and centre. That’s not by accident, says Allan.
“Yes, UBCO bikes will contribute significantly to reducing CO2 emissions but we also acknowledge the fact there are end of life issues with EVs that UBCO needs to take responsibility for.
The company has done just that by offering a subscription model that offers a commercial benefit to the buyer while giving UBCO control of what happens to the bike at the end of its life.
“An UBCO bike costs less than a comparable combustion vehicle over three years but the problem is it costs more upfront,” says Allan. “A subscription model flattens that cost, and gives the buyer those cost benefits immediately instead of waiting three years. It also means we retain ownership of the vehicle, which means at the end of life, we can determine whether it gets another life, or whether it should be recycled.”
The company is also working hard on R&D to maximise the lifespan of the whole product, including the battery.
“If we're designing our products for disassembly at the end of life, which we are, then we can ultimately make that whole process work better. Economics and sustainability align when it comes to the subscription model which is a big advantage.
“The bottom line is, if the product didn't perform, if it wasn't something that our customers could get behind, none of that would matter.”