REVISED July 31, 2008 Given the reluctance of the big four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers to sacrifice their existing markets by introducing electric motorcycles, the window of opportunity for small and innovative manufacturers to work with the Chinese manufacturing powerhouse to create pollution-free motorcycles that run at negligible cost is wide open. A new electric-only motorcycle manufacturer hit the scene this month in Thailand, moving the country ahead of many first world countries in the quest for sustainable transport. It borrows quite a bit from what has been before, but it looks the goods.

Toyotron is a new Thai company with three electric motorcycles in its range and plans to add two more in the very near future. Now we're not suggesting for a moment that the name has any relationship to that other well known brand which sells more motor vehicles than Ford and General Motors, but ... well, check out the company's logo.

Apart from the name and logo, the company's range topping Hunter is not exactly an original concept either - when I saw it in a motorcycle shop in Thailand, I was very impressed with the integrity of design and the styling and functionality of the entire package. It seemed original, but within a few hours of posting the story, a reader alerted us to the similarity to Honda's Big Ruckus, which had not sold in the motorcycle markets I was familiar with. Since we posted the story a few hours ago, we've now added pics of Honda's Big Ruckus in the gallery section and the Toyotron Hunter is as similar to Honda's Big Ruckus as the logo and name is to that of Toyota.

No, it doesn't have a 250 gas-burning engine but everything else about the machine is somewhere between similar and ... well, you decide by looking at the pics.

The top-of-the-range Hunter is selling in Thailand for THB 59,000 (about US$1750) and can run around 70 kilometres on a single charge from a standard power outlet – the company claims that the cost to drive the Hunter a kilometre is approximately seven satang (that’s one hundredth of a Thai Baht) based on Thai electricity rates and that comes in at a staggering one fifth of a United States cent. While we’re not sure about that claim, its clearly ridiculously cheap to run wherever you might be and whatever you get charged for your electricity.

The Hunter has a top speed of around 70 kmh (43 mph) which is more than fast enough for Thailand in general and Bangkok in particular, where speeds rarely exceed 60 kmh anywhere but the expressway.

Whatsmore, Thailand could well leverage its massive motorcycle marketplace (currently 900,000 motorcycles are sold each year) to develop a very profitable home-grown industry.

The motorcycles are produced in the Bangkok Free Trade Zone with more than 40 per cent local components, with the remaining 60 percent of the motorcycles produced China and Japan. The aim is to increase the local content of the bikes over time, with production ramping up for export within 12 months.

The company intends adding two more bikes with greater range and higher top speed in the near future and further innovative luggage-carrying capacity can be expected with the new machinery.

The bike looks the goods, but as we pointed out in our article on Maxtra and the way the Japanese, then Korean, then Chinese manufacturing industries have flaunted Intellectual Property laws in their initial stages, it appears the budding Thai motorcycle industry is to go a similar route, and this may seriously inhibit it's abilities to export.

Mike Hanlon

View gallery - 19 images