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Electric 2-wheeler manufacturer grows Michigan presence

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Electric two-wheeler manufacturer Mahindra GenZe plans to increase its presence in Michigan, home of the American automobile, with the launch of a new scooter.

The California-based company, with production operations in Ann Arbor, will start retail production next month of its all-electric GenZe 2.0 scooter. It plans to expand its 57-worker U.S. workforce to upward of 100 people by year's end and increase awareness of its products through community and university partnerships.

"We think we've got something very interesting for American consumers," said Mahindra GenZe President and CEO Vish Palekar during a recent interview at the company's production facility in Ann Arbor.

"We're very excited to launch this vehicle."

Vish Pelekar, president and CEO of Mahindra GenZE, talks about the company’s electric scooters at its facility in Ann Arbor.

The new scooter isn't like a traditional Vespa that Americans are used to seeing. Besides the instant torque, 30-mile range and 0-30 in less than eight seconds thanks to its electric powertrain, it also features a unique aluminum frame, seven-inch touchscreen and utilizes a mobile app for information on navigation, charging and other specs.

Sales of the all-electric scooter will start in California, Portland and Michigan.

They could expand to other states as well as Europe in the next 12-18 months, Palekar said. The company is taking pre-orders for the scooters online for an introductory price of $2,999.

And while Michigan isn't ideal for year-round scooter riding, Palekar said the company located production in Ann Arbor because of its supply base and experienced workforce that helped develop production of the scooter, including a unique circular assembly.

"It's a highly manual operation, but we've got a very advanced digital backbone, ensuring all the components meet the line when they should," said Mahindra GenZe head of manufacturing Bill Canning, who has worked nearly 20 years in auto manufacturing. He added it's a flexible assembly line, so adding new products will be easy.

The 37,000-square-foot facility, with space to expand, plans to start at about 3,000 scooters per year. It could expand to 12,000 annually.

Mahindra GenZe, a subsidiary of multibillion India-based Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, opened the Ann Arbor facility less than a year ago with hand-built electric bicycles.

GenZe is part of the Mahindra's mission to become a global mobility company and build brand awareness in the U.S.

"It starts somewhere," Palekar said. "We're starting with two-wheeler options and I'm sure we'll keep adding to this portfolio and keep growing."

Unlike the scooters, which are designed to be all-electric, the $1,499 e-bikes have different electrification modes as well as traditional gears found on mountain bikes.

The electrification modes range from all-electric, with a top speed of 16 mph, to five electric pedal-assist modes that help propel the bike. The range of the electrification for the bike varies based on setting. Without peddling on all-electric, the bike can go 20 miles. If the battery dies, it can still work as a regular bicycle.

"People in the United States are comfortable with bicycles," Palekar said. "It's a very nice way to introduce people to the pleasure of driving electric vehicles."

Charging the removable batteries for the bike or scooter can be done in less than four hours in any traditional 110-watt outlet found in classrooms, homes or coffee shops.

University of Michigan sophomore Connor Genther is part of an ambassador program for the e-bike.

"It just makes everything easier," said the 20-year-old Grand Rapids native, adding it's significantly cut his commuting time. "I love it."

Besides UM, the company has student ambassador programs at Michigan State University and Detroit's College for Creative Studies.

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