To demonstrate how well the Vectrix handles, Dana DeCosta weaves the electric maxi-scooter along a coastal road. “It’s very stable going side to side,” DeCosta, a project manager for the Massachusetts company building the vehicle, explains to me over his shoulder. “But,” he adds as he twists the throttle, “you get a pull going forward and back.” Suddenly and silently, the Vectrix accelerates against the sea breeze, bringing tears to my eyes and white to my knuckles as I grip the rear-panel handles (which, fortunately, are designed to withstand more than 800 pounds of pull), and convincing me that the scooter can, as the company claims, sprint from zero to 50 mph in less than seven seconds.
The Vectrix, which is priced at about $11,000, weighs a hefty 462 pounds—thus the company’s use of the term maxi-scooter to classify the vehicle. Nearly 200 pounds of that weight belong to the nickel metal hydride battery that powers the scooter to a reported top speed of 62 mph and gives it a range of 68 miles or about five hours of city driving. The scooter plugs into any standard electrical outlet and takes two hours to charge (which, depending on electrical rates, translates to about 50 cents per charge). The Vectrix has a unique braking system that slows the vehicle and sends power back to the battery when you reverse the throttle. The company reports that the feature can extend the battery’s charge by 10 percent to 15 percent and that it also reduces wear and tear on the hand brakes.
With financial backing from Lockheed Martin, for whom he had helped develop the F-22 stealth fighter jet, Andrew MacGowan formed the Breeze Acquisition Corp. in 1996 at the aircraft manufacturer’s facility in Marietta, Ga. (He changed the name to Vectrix in 1997.) The company has since relocated to a converted, century-old textile mill in New Bedford, Mass., which is much closer to the Newport, R.I., home of MacGowan, who also is a former America’s Cup sailor. In 2003, MacGowan hired former Ducati CEO Carlo Di Biagio as his chief operating officer.
Vectrix has built 50 prototypes at its New Bedford headquarters, but when it begins mass-producing the vehicle this spring, it will do so in Poland. The company, which officially introduced the scooter in November at the International Motorcycle Exhibition in Milan, Italy, initially will market the scooter to Europeans. The vehicle is street-legal in the United States, and you can order one through the company’s web site, although Vectrix is not yet offering any delivery-date estimations. The company’s long-range plans call for it to produce vehicles for American customers at the New Bedford facility once the demand for the scooter is sufficient. “We’re not a two-wheel society,” says Vectrix vice president of technology Peter Hughes, explaining why the company first will focus on the European market. “In Europe, people grow up on scooters.”
The concept for the Vectrix grew from MacGowan’s desire to build a scooter that, like the Piaggio Vespa, would appeal to Europeans living in cities plagued with traffic problems. More recently, a battery-powered scooter has become even more marketable because it does not emit any greenhouse gases. “It was by luck, a sweet spot that the world grew into,” Hughes says of the growing appeal of environmentally friendly vehicles. “It’s not bad being lucky every once in a while.”