The Vectrix VX-1 scooter was the first zero-emissions powered two-wheeler with genuine freeway-friendly performance. Jay Leno owns one. So does Leonardo DiCaprio. The NYPD bought four. Magazine editors and test riders everywhere loved it. Sales should be booming, but Vectrix is finding that fortunes aren't made on green performance alone.
Founded in Rhode Island in 1996 by former Lockheed Martin design engineer Andrew MacGowan, Vectrix spent a decade and upwards of $50 million bringing the VX-1 electric scooter to market in 2007.
Determined to show the possibilities of electric power, Vectrix followed the VX-1 with the Rob Brady-designed rMoto Electric Superbike at the Milan Show that November. The Superbike was hailed as the vanguard of a brave new world, but the superstar prototype hasn't translated into showroom reality as Vectrix struggles in a shaky market.
Despite high levels of VX-1 customer satisfaction, a flawed distribution strategy coupled with a high retail price and the consumer credit crunch has hindered Vectrix's success. In '08, Michael J. Boyle replaced Andrew MacGowan as CEO and Chairman, dropping the VX-1's $11,000 price by $2250, laying off half the company's workforce and increasing distribution outlets by a staggering 321 percent. Vectrix didn't give in, introducing a second, entry-level model under the VX-2 label for $5195 and continuing development of its 3W prototype, essentially an electric version of the Piaggio MP3 three-wheeler.
Unfortunately, all that work provided only a temporary uptick in sales. Earlier this year, most of the Vectrix staff was laid off, and the few remaining are reportedly preparing bankruptcy paperwork in the event a solution, such as a merger or outright sale, cannot be found. Still, there's no denying the firm's impact. "The auto industry has proven that even if you invest a billion dollars in a project, it doesn't ensure success," said MacGowan before his departure. "We invested a fraction of that, and look what we've done in the two-wheeled world."