Full Speed Ahead

Craig Bramscher, chairman and CEO of Brammo, shows off his companyís Enertia electric motorcycle.Jamie Lusch

In Brammo's evolution from sports-car manufacturer to electric-motorcycle pioneer, the missing link stands on the second floor of the company's Ashland headquarters.

Recently returned from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the silver Enertia 001 cycle is shopworn from extensive testing.

"We just prototyped this in a short period of time," said Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher as he pointed to the bike's carbon-fiber frame.

At the time the prototype was developed in 2007, the Ashland company's revenue came from assembling the British-designed Ariel Atom for the American market. The ultralight, buggy-like sports car appealed to the likes of Jay Leno and other enthusiasts who could afford $35,000 to $70,000 for a car sans windows, roof and traditional body panels.

Although the Atom was a gas-powered automobile, Bramscher looks back at the car as the beginning of a paradigm shift. Brammo was founded in 2004 with the goal of building an American super car, and Bramscher initially took on the Atom project to gain manufacturing experience toward that end. But he learned different lessons in the process.

"When I first started the company, it was to build a super car that a pro athlete would ride in," Bramscher said. "So the idea was to build this half-a-million-dollar, 1,000-horsepower monster."

But the Atom was different.

"It was about using as little resources as possible to have as much impact as possible," he said. "That definitely flicked a switch for me."

The Atom used a fairly traditional engine, and Bramscher considered electrifying the car, but licensing costs made the idea cost-prohibitive. His next idea was to turn the super car they were developing into an electric vehicle.

"But no matter how I looked at the numbers, it was going to take a billion-five to two-billion dollars," he said.

So he came to the conclusion that building a production car would be too daunting.

"But we started down the wormhole on electric, and then it's kind of like you can't unlearn certain things," he said. "You realize we are going to run out of gas at some point. You realize electric is 90 percent efficient and gas is 35. And which one's better for the planet?"

So began a side project that would change the company.

"So this is the first Enertia, which is pretty similar to what the production version ended up being," Bramscher said of the Enertia 001. "When we first rode it, we realized, 'Wow, we've really got something there.' "

But the new product required a less-than-straightforward business model.

"Most investors were confused by, 'OK, you've got this Ariel Atom, and you're going to build a super car, and you've got an electric ...'

"We needed to focus," Bramscher said. "So we divested everything else and focused 100 percent on motorcycles."

The company went full-bore into electric motorcycles in 2007 and has been growing ever since. Brammo purchased an old Walmart store in Talent in 2012 and is in the process of moving its operations there from Ashland. The company is having a major impact on the culture and employment base in Southern Oregon, with 62 employees and plans to add about 130 new jobs at its Talent operation.

Bramscher's decision in 2001 to build his company and make a home for his family in the Rogue Valley started, oddly enough, with guns.

"I was living in Malibu, and I had a couple of incidents where I was exposed to people with guns," he said.

He remembers one incident in particular. Bramscher, who owned a dot.com company called DreamMedia, was driving his convertible down Pacific Coast Highway when another vehicle playing loud music drove near him. Bramscher thought nothing of rolling up his windows.

"Apparently rolling up my window disrespected him and his music," he said. "All of a sudden he was leaning out the window with a nine-millimeter gun pointing at me. I thought I was going to die."

He thought of his wife and children — he had two kids then and four now.

"I think, in retrospect, I had post traumatic stress disorder because I just had an irrational need to leave Los Angeles," he said.

He spent the next year on a spreadsheet he called "Project Nirvana," which analyzed crime, jobs and available manufacturing talent in about 50 cities around the country.

"I was predisposed to the Pacific Northwest because I like the outdoors — I like to fly fish," he said. "The other (criteria) was how many rivers are there within a half hour."

The Rogue Valley filled his need for rivers, and the area's lack of congestion makes it an ideal place for test rides.

"We put a lot of miles on motorcycles around here," he said. "A lot of the guys ride 320 days out of the year."

Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.



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