Gogoro is one of the biggest and most ambitious start-ups coming out of Taiwan in recent years. From fundraising to launching startling new products, every step the company takes catches attention and makes headlines.
And this is not just because its founder Horace Luke used to work for innovative Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC and has garnered the supported of numerous influential entrepreneurs. Instead, pride of place must go to Gogoro’s first product, its revolutionary Smartscooter, which is mostly “Made in Taiwan,” from design to R & D to manufacturing. But just what is so special about this scooter? And exactly how are Gogoro’s scooters tailored to consumers in their launch market, Taiwan? Walter Wang, the chief designer of Gogoro, has the answers to these questions and much more.
People were stunned by the physical appearance of the Smartscooter when it launched in June 2015. “Gogoro’s slick electric scooter is what you’d get if you mated a Vespa and an iPhone,” a Forbes article stated. According to Walter Wang, a former chief designer at Nova Design with more than ten years of experience in scooter design under his belt, scooters were once restricted to a very masculine aesthetic. Petrol scooters are typically difficult to disassemble, so washing, maintaining, and repairing scooters was a “dirty job.” Gogoro’s Smartscooter turns all that on its head by applying three key principles to design and manufacturing processes: highly recognizable, even for children; as pure and simple as electronic products; using aluminum alloy for panels, without a crew on top; and, with a unibody frame, for easy cleaning and maintenance.
These innovative guidelines, which challenge the traditional scooter production model, are surprisingly difficult to incorporate into the design. It took the Gogoro design team three to four months to come up with a design that looked more like a “pumpkin carriage” than a scooter. They were also happy to sacrifice cost when they chose to use lighter, more expensive aluminum panelling instead of the more common plastic or steel, and when it came to molding the aluminum, they did not baulk at the purchase of the heaviest nine-axis punch press on the market. Horace Luke even hired the “Queen of Color,” Beatrice Santiccioli, who was favored by Apple’s Steve Jobs, resulting in a bright, eye-catching color scheme that departs significantly from the dark and dirty image of traditional scooters.
“Design should be able to interact with people,” Wang notes. “We expect Gogoro to be easy to take care of, something that people will want to use all the time, just as they do with their electronic products. Some customers have told us that even their kids enjoy washing the Smartscooter with them because it’s so easy to do. The reason we named this scooter ‘Gogoro’ was because of the way you pronounce the word; it’s easy and fun, which is the way we want Gogoro to be portrayed.”
Gogoro is also designed to suit the specific needs of Taiwanese people. As Wang pointed out, Taiwan is humid and often plagued by rainy weather. The area of Gogoro’s engine that sits less than 30 centimeters above the ground is designed under the IPX7 designation, meaning it is able to withstand immersion in water up to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes or less. The area of the engine that is more than 30 centimeters above the ground is designed under the IPX6 designation, which is able to withstand high-velocity streams of water.
“I’ve never before applied for an IPX7 on such a high end product,” says Wang. “Gogoro’s system relies entirely on electricity, so we’ll never allow rain to obstruct its operation and safety. We also understand that thundershowers come and go really fast in Taiwan. While there may be puddles of standing water, but they’re rarely deeper than 30 centimeters.” Knowing how Taiwanese people love to modify their scooters, Gogoro also provides a customization service. Owners can customize their display screens, change panels, and much more. As Wang notes, “We provide custom-made services based on Taiwanese people’s needs. We want them to feel like they have something unique, and provide them with a chance to express themselves.”
The battery life is also caters to the particular driving habits of Taiwanese people. With an average riding distance of 88 kilometers per week and an average speed of 40 kilometers in the city, the battery needs to be replaced just once a week, about as often as people who drive petrol scooters stop at a gas station to fill up. Gogoro’s design team also focused on the look of the battery. “When designing [the battery], we had to consider all the aspects: weight, size, and texture. If it’s too small, battery life will be short; too big, and it will be difficult to carry. Currently, the battery is a kind of round and square shape, so if it’s dropped, it won’t roll away. It even feels comfortable to hold,” Wang explains. While known best for its scooters, Gogoro actually views itself as an energy management company. “The batteries are very important to us. They supply the electricity, and are also products in themselves. They need to look attractive even when just sitting there.”
Gogoro Smartscooter participated in the EICMA (Milan Motorcycle Show) in November 2015, and attracted a lot of attention from European designers and car manufacturers. Many of them assumed that Gogoro was a German, Italian or Japanese brand; people were shocked when they heard the scooter was actually designed and made by a Taiwanese company. The Gogoro offering even garnered a complement from the chief designer of Ducati, one of the world’s leading motorcycle makers.
As Wang points out, Taiwanese designers are actually very talented. They often win awards abroad, and are in a good position to take advantage of Taiwan’s sophisticated manufacturing ecosystem. He believes that what holds back local designers is the fact that industries and employers do not give them the opportunities and freedom they need to unlock their potential. “Most employers only care about cost. They are not willing to take risks or innovate. They just want to make products similar to popular products already on the market. It’s such a shame,” he laments.
Nicknamed the “Tesla of scooters,” Gogoro’s Smartscooter is environmentally friendly and full of integrated technology. Its birth can be attributed to CEO Horace Luke’s adventurous, visionary leadership. Taiwan has the biggest number of scooters per head of population in the world: there are 15 million scooters on the island, and, on average, each family owns 2.5 scooters. While they may be convenient to use to zip around Taiwan’s narrow city streets, they contribute significantly to air pollution. It is not likely people in Taiwan will ditch their scooters any time soon, so it looks like Gogoro’s drive toward a zero-emissions transport option is a solution for the future.
About Walter Wang
Walter Wang is the chief designer at Gogoro. From brainstorming, defining and designing prototypes to manufacturing, he is in charge of the entire design process for all of Gogoro’s products. Also in his team are 15 motion graphic and visual communication designers who are responsible for the videos, animations, and images for the company’s website, on the Gogoro® App, and any other Gogoro marketing materials or channels.
Wang has more than 15 years of experience in the product design field in Taiwan and abroad, and for 10 of those years, he has been working with products that have two or four wheels. His work can be seen in markets in Taiwan, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and at shows like eCarTec Munich. Wang was the eighth founding member of Gogoro, invited by Horace Luke. Today, Gogoro is a listed company, and Wang has played a crucial role in getting the company to where it is today.