Brammo plans to keep jobs in Rogue Valley
TALENT — Eight months after Brammo, Inc. moved into its cavernous new quarters, the message is clear — the electric motorcycle maker has room to grow in multiple directions. And that manufacturing growth will occur at home rather than overseas.
Playing host to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden on Wednesday, the 70-employee staff showed off its latest battery technology, manufacturing line and ambitious plans in the former Walmart store just off Interstate 5.
A couple of years ago, Brammo saw eastern Europe as a logical manufacturing base to deliver products to hundreds of millions of potential customers. But international economics changed, and Chief Executive Officer Craig Bramscher said the company now builds all of its models in Talent and produces batteries for a growing global clientele as well. That means more jobs — high-paying jobs — will stay in the Rogue Valley.
It also helps to have friends like Wyden in Washington, D.C. They can help steer legislation through Capitol Hill that would enhance Brammo's status when it comes to matters such as enterprise zones and tariffs.
"We're in charge of tax policy," Wyden said. "It seems If the finance committee on a bipartisan basis gets it right as it relates to innovation and small businesses growing, then it seems this building has opportunity to have a lot of folks from Southern Oregon working in every nook and cranny.”
On top of the senior senator from Oregon’s list is restoration of tax credits for buyers of electric motorcycles.
That would work well for Bramscher, who has consolidated far-flung operations essentially under one roof. Bikes once built in Hungary are now built here and shipped overseas. Cost efficiencies, he said, failed to align with hopes, partly because demand wasn’t great enough. At some point, he said, bikes headed for Asia will be assembled there.
“We plan building all products for North America and Europe here, going forward,” he said.
The firm has growing distribution channels and American dealers are typically the kind also selling Ducati and BMW bikes. Marketing and Sales Director Adrian Stewart said northern Europe, especially Germany, is a growth region.
For Bramscher, however, the surest thing about tomorrow is that it won't look like today. His 12-year-old firm, melding digital and transportation sectors, has been in a constant dance to changing tunes as markets, competitors and components morph and evolve.
"Initially you always hope you can build a consumer brand that becomes the next Nike, Apple or Tesla," Bramscher said. "We still have a vision for that, but we're finding is that expertise we've developed in trying to build a product like the Empulse and bringing it to market, is that we've created a set of skills and capabilities that are beyond motorcycles. I didn't really think we'd get into business-to-business side and start supplying batteries, motors, controllers and a complete solution to other companies, but that's actually a very big growth area for us."
The company has continued to attract financial backing from investors, allowing it to create new consumer products, expand manufacturing efforts, push into new markets, continue research and development, and branch into business-to-business operations.
"We have a bunch of things on the whiteboard we'd like to bring into production," Bramscher said. "The Empulse was an evolution from the Enertia and then we've got more products coming."
The greatest impact locally, however, comes from the array of companies seeking the expertise Brammo has developed during the past dozen years.
"We're talking to companies that produce utility vehicles, ski boats, helicopters and golf carts," he said. "Almost anybody that has a vehicle that moves from A to B is either considering electric or going electric, or wants to be prepared, if and when it goes electric."
The battery lab capacity far exceeds those needed for its motorcycles. Within two years, Bramscher said, 50 percent of Brammo's business will revolve around batteries, creating a job boom locally for electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and software engineers.
"Fortunately, the valley is kind of neat place to recruit people to," Bramscher said. "As long as you can get them here, they usually fall in love."
The desire to prove Brammo belonged in the same conversation with racing bikes led to a series of battery advancements, which in turn, suited production models.
"We were buying batteries from other people," Bramscher said. "We realized ours were quite a bit better, we just had to figure out how to get the cost down. We tried really hard not to produce the batteries ourselves, because we thought it would be too capital intensive, but eventually we ended solving that. It's one of those things that feels like an epiphany. But when you look back you've been doing it for nine months; it's been a gradual education. “
Minnesota-based water and snow sports vehicle maker Polaris has partnered with Brammo since the fall of 2011. Although the Polaris name goes on the outside, Brammo technology provides the blood and sinew.
"We would build the drive-train, assemble the batteries and all the electronics here," he said. "Then we would ship that to them and they would do the final assembly. Any vehicle that has a Brammo brand on it, any motorcycle will be fully produced here."
Just as iPhone technology has advanced, he said electric motorcycles are evolving rapidly.
“You will see faster bikes, higher performance bikes, faster charging bikes, and hopefully cheaper bikes,” Bramscher said. “That’s the big challenge, to get to high volume is to reduce the cost and increase the performance. The day a new bike from Brammo is better, and cheaper, than a Ducati — and it’s coming — it’s going to be a little more of a niche than a mainstream product.”
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.