Daniel Kim may well become the Steve Jobs of personal transportation.
Not that he'll ever tell you that. The soft-spoken founder of Lit Motors is far too polite for such braggadocio. But the fact is, Kim -- who, like Jobs, dropped out of Oregon's Reed College -- is barreling down an iconoclastic highway whose destination is a revolution in the way we move.
"My end goal is to have a big, positive impact on the world in terms of carbon emissions and providing a safer and more enjoyable commuting experience," says Kim, 33, whose venture recently was the subject of a flattering Harvard Business School case study. "One day, I hope that anywhere I travel, I'll see a C1. I know it can happen."
The C1 is a two-wheeled, fully enclosed, all-electric vehicle that's a motorcycle in name only. Its game-changing technological leap sits under the single-passenger's seat: two powerful computer-controlled gyroscopes that keep the vehicle upright, whether stopped or in motion.
The way Kim sees it, the C1 is the perfect choice for most U.S. commuters who drive to work solo and prefer the safety of a car but lust after the advantages of a motorcycle. But his vision is global. "If my travels throughout Asia taught me anything, it's that there, the world rides on two wheels," he says. "For them, these are just a safer, better set of wheels."
Although the C1 may look like a vision from a Jetsons future -- a sleek white egg mounted on massive black tires -- Kim is aiming for the present.
He has enough funding from angel investors to spend this summer hunkered down with his staff of 15 constructing a production model for a January 2014 unveiling at the Consumer Electronics Show. So far, he says Lit Motors has pre-order commitments for three-quarters of its first 1,000 C1s, to roll out in 2014.
The initial price point will be $24,000, which, after tax credits, should drop below $20,000, Kim says. But if production numbers grow, Kim hopes he can bring the price to around $12,000 for a 200-mile-range machine capable of hitting 120 mph and rocketing from 0 to 60 mph in around 6 seconds.
Build it, and ...
Will buyers come? If they can overcome a "technical and psychological hurdle," says Bill Moore, publisher of EVWorld.com, an online magazine monitoring the electric vehicle market. "Will motorcyclists who enjoy that open-air feel be OK switching to something that has them enclosed in a cocoon? Will four-wheel people be interested in riding on two wheels that feel like four? My gut reaction is Kim is on the money, but we'll have to wait and see," says Moore, adding the lower the price, the higher the chances of success.
As for Kim's use of gyroscopes, Moore says the idea "has been around, but Kim's genius was in realizing that finally, technology and electronics had progressed to the point where the concept could work."
And how. One Lit Motors video shows the C1 tethered to a hulking Land Rover, which suddenly accelerates but fails to make the two-wheeled conveyance tip. The heavy gyroscopes constantly move, and with inputs from a sensor, counter any falling movement the C1 is experiencing. Kim says this feature extends to the driving experience itself.
"In a motorcycle, you lean to steer, but with my vehicle, you turn a steering wheel and the C1 knows to lean itself, so in that sense you just operate it as
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