Scooterfile recently got a chance to drop by the Mahindra GenZe factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, got to see the plant where the scoots come together and took a quick ride on a bright blue GenZe 2.0 electric scooter.
In case you don’t know, Mahindra and Mahindra is one of the largest auto-maker in India and has lines of business in agriculture (with tractors available in the U.S.), and energy. Mahindra has approximately 36,000 employees worldwide. It is part of the larger Mahindra Group that adds aerospace, steel, defense, education and more to their business portfolio.
The Mahindra GenZe 2.0 is part of a new venture for the company. It features two electrified products (the other being the 1.0). Production of the 2.0 is unique in the U.S. for sourcing all of their components for the products from around the world, but actually assembling their units in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many of the components are produced in the U.S. (the aluminum frame is cast in Wisconsin), and the rest (battery cells, controls, brakes, shocks) are selected from high quality vendors around the world.
I was greeted by Deven Kataria, the companies Chief Operating Officer, who gave me a run down on Mahindra’s operations in the U.S. Headquarters are located in Silicon Valley, but engineering is located in Troy, Michigan and each GenZe 2.0 is assembled in a dedicated facility in Ann Arbor. On a brief tour, I was introduced to Robert Stewart, Head of Product Development, and Bill Canning, Head of Manufacturing. The three managers proceeded to take me on a whirlwind tour of the production facility. Sorry, but just like with the big guys, no photos are allowed of the production process. I can tell you that the facilities are absolutely up-to-date, and use the same data, parts and even tool tracking practices used in other local production facilities. It was impressive to see a large order of GenZe 2.0s being produced for a West-coast scooter rental agency.
They told me about the production process and the design of the scoot. It’s come a long way from the pre-production model on display near the lobby. “Christine” features the same basic shape as the current production 2.0, but has some detail differences that were all “improved” out. In the assembly and test area (each 2.0 is dyno tested before shipping), a blue 2.0 awaited. It’s a large scooter for the 50cc class that it’s in, and the swoopy design is highlighted by a flat floor, large single seat, and a huge storage area that would be great for piling up groceries, luggage or even a science project. The handlebars are a bit high, and will be lowered on future models, but otherwise the scoot is very solid, and offers a functional and approachable design that presents as bigger than you would think. This is a real scooter. Handlebar controls are Italian and are high quality. The beefy “Gabriel” rear shocks are sourced in India. With a proprietary Li-ion 31 lb. removable battery (lockable and located under the seat) the 2.0 will reach 30 mph and has a range of about 30 miles, depending on settings, use and rider weight. The settings include a low speed learner mode, eco (to maximize range) and sport to maximize performance. No points for guessing which one I choose when I took my demo ride.
With a nod towards the demo scooter, I told them that I had brought my gear and was ready to take a 2.0 out on the street. Bob rode the blue one over to the bay door and gave me the quick rundown. Insert and turn the traditional key into the scoot/battery lock on the right lower side, press the discrete power button and the 7” LCD instrument panel comes to life, showing a PIN screen. Yes, each 2.0 has a user-programmable PIN required to get the machine moving. Bob verified that the scoot was in neutral (it has a forward, neutral and a trick low-speed reverse setting), entered the PIN and helped me select the “sport” setting. I climbed aboard the wide seat and, with a nod, gently twisted the throttle to roll out.
The first impression is one of silent, seamless power, and not wanting to dump it in front of him, I rode tentatively into the parking lot. After a quick reminder to myself that this was a borrowed scoot, I did a few silent laps with some gentle braking in order to get used to the ride and re-generating disc brakes front and rear. Handling is absolutely innocuous with a normal, light, tall scooter feel. I soon hit maximum warp to an indicated 30 mph where the scoot and rider ran into the limiter. Yes, the 2.0 will currently do 30 mph, and not 31, and that is because of state law in Michigan (and many others) that dictate the allowed top speed of any device registered as a “moped”, which this one was. That level of performance seemed to pan out nicely in the 15-minute ride that I took around the neighborhoods near the GenZe factory. Whether that works for your commute or joy ride is the question.
On the road, the 2.0 accelerates well, just about keeping ahead of a driver paying attention, and much faster off the line than the usual distracted driver. I kept to the right side of the road in accordance with Michigan moped laws and generally had no problem on the faster roads that I took. The limiter also works when heading downhill, I found, much to my disappointment. Going uphill, you can tell that there is performance to spare from the rear wheel hub-mounted motor, as it silently provides significant torque to maintain that same 30 mph uphill. Handing is easy and precise, with the front sprung slightly stiffer than the rear, with it’s bigger 17” front wheel providing a noticeable gyroscopic effect and tracking true as speed increases. I didn’t load up the massive rear storage space (the one I rode had a cool nylon zippered case that fit perfectly in the space), but I’d imagine that with a modest load, the dual shocked rear would stiffen up accordingly.
I started out with an 79% charge, and after probably 7 miles of maximum throttle and some casual re-gen by gliding and slowly applying the front and rear brakes, got back to the factory with 62% showing on the 7″ touch-sensitive display. Knowing that I could get the battery pack back up to 80% with just a few minutes plug in somewhere pretty much dismissed my ‘round town range anxiety.
Although my ride was short, I was very comfortable on the GenZe 2.0, and could easily own one. I’d like to think that I would enjoy the challenge to see how far I could ride, recharge a bit at a friendly cafe, and see if I could make it back on what I had borrowed from the cafe. It would be absolutely perfect as the “instead of the second car grocery/pizza/sandwich/farmer’s market” getter. And the only maintenance ever would be tires (although it comes with some decent rubber) and what else, brake pads? And it starts every time with no visits to the dealer… and no visits to the gas station, ever.
As I was slowly cruising down some quiet side streets looking for a parking lot to take some pictures, my mind began to wander. I was thinking about the future of scooting, about having a nearly maintenance-free ride and, of course, customizing a 2.0 to feature a bit more oomph (at the cost of range — I’ll take it!) I spotted a church parking lot and quietly pulled in. I rolled to the back of the lot and had one of those “ohnosecond” experiences. With my experience on scooters and motorcycles (and the resulting confusion of the variety of shifting, shutting down and starting up for each of them), I casually flipped the run switch to off. I instantly thought of the PIN required to start the scoot, and the realization that I didn’t have it. Within a few 10ths of a second I switched it back on, but it’s hard to beat the speed of electricity. As I stared at the PIN screen, I realized that of course, I had neither the PIN or Rob’s business card. I took the rest of the pics and quickly sent an email to my contact at GenZe, Kevin. Within minutes I got a call back and I was soon rolling again. I joked to Kevin that since I had the physical keys and the PIN, I could now steal the 2.0, although it would take me probably a day to get back to Royal Oak! He reminded me that they knew where the scoot was and would know where the scoot was as long as it had power. The modem and technology built into the scoot is that impressive. Unstealable? Maybe, but for sure this scoot is one that will very difficult to steal, at least for long. Which is pretty cool.
Mahindra GenZe has an amazing opportunity. After what must have been a huge investment, they have a well-conceived and executed, quality product that is aggressively priced (US$2,999). They have created a technology-packed transportation device that seems to be the best of the class and are looking to re-define how urban commuters get to work. But even with such a capable transportation device (think Segway, but actually usable), GenZe has a long, tall hill to climb. After years of developing not only the 2.0 itself, but the batteries, the technology and the world-class assembly process, they must seize the moment and put the scooter in the hands of the people who can envision what this means to our zero-emissions, digitally-driven future. Sadly (for us scooterists) these are probably not the small number of folks who would consider using a scooter as a commuter. No, GenZe must go after the energy nerds, hypermilers and eco-geeks, and go a lot bigger than the ever-shrinking number of scooter dealers. And not your friendly neighborhood big-three motorcycle dealer, either, where the 2.0 would face stiff competition on price, speed and range. This means that Mahindra would be better off going after people who already “get it”. We’re talking about any automotive dealer that has a hybrid or plug-in vehicle for sale. The 2.0 would be a great addition for a eco-minded car shopper, and if they are dropping some major coin on a green vehicle, why not have something small, smart and flashy for them to help the with neighborhood or nice day commuting transportation? Something with all the eco-cred and internet functionality built-in from the start. Urban and inner circle suburban folks are the target market for the 2.0. Those gadget-loving apartment dwellers or hypermiler commuters who need short trip duration, eco-friendly and “connected” transportation would instantly understand what the 2.0 is all about. With a well-constructed dealer approach (including sales techniques) augmented by in-dealership demos, people already intending on purchasing a green vehicle would suddenly have another choice… and another add-on sale for the dealership. In a world of change, it pays off to think differently, and the GenZe 2.0 is different indeed. It’s probably not the hard-core scooterists cup of tea (or is it?), but it could be. Especially if it could go just a little bit faster.