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Business trends

Kymco chases leader Gogoro in Taiwan's electric scooter market

Rivals race to release bikes, install chargers to cash in on vehicles' popularity

A rider tops up her scooter's battery at a charging station in the city of Tainan, Taiwan, in July. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu) 

TAIPEI -- Competition is heating up in Taiwan's market for increasingly popular electric motor scooters. The business landscape, which has been dominated by a single player, is giving way to one where multiple competitors battle it out.

Upstart venture Gogoro has propelled the electric scooter market since entering it in 2015. Authorities in air-pollution-plagued Taiwan have been keen to offer incentives to reduce the cost of purchasing emissions-free electric scooters, and government support has played a key role in the company's rapid growth.

But others are jumping in. Taiwan's biggest conventional scooter manufacturer Kymco launched an electric version backed by a network of battery charging infrastructure as part of a major effort to overtake the leader.

Gogoro's vending machine-shaped charging stations are visible all over Taipei at convenience stores, parks, gas stations and other locations. Riders simply insert their used-up battery packs into slots resembling slightly larger-than-normal milk cartons and in a few seconds get a fully charged unit.

''I don't feel there is any inconvenience compared with gasoline scooters,'' said 29-year-old Hsieh Hao-Hsiang, who purchased a Gogoro two years ago. ''And it's cool.''

Taiwan's overall new scooter sales stood at 86,000 units in July. Electric models accounted for 14%, with Gogoro taking 90% of that. With its more than 1,200 charging stations throughout Taiwan, the company might appear to have a dominant hold on the market, but Kymco is pushing aggressively to chip away at Gogoro's leadership.

At the beginning of September, Taiwan oil major CPC Corporation announced the results of bids to set up electric scooter charging stands at its network of gas stations. Kymco won 146 of the total 194 locations on offer, while Gogoro secured just 48. The figures illustrate the effort Kymco is exerting, given that Gogoro had had a virtual monopoly on charging infrastructure. 

In 2018 Kymco launched its Ionex electric scooter and a network of charging stations. That marked the full-fledged start of its plan to establish a system of 2,000 such facilities to go up against Gogoro.

Gogoro, however, isn't standing still. At the end of August in the northern city of Taoyuan, it started a share service whereby users can freely drop off electric scooters. The company started with about 1,000 scooters but plans to steadily increase that number and expand into other regions including Taipei, the island's largest city, since Oct. 21.

Startup WeMo, meanwhile, has drawn attention for its success in the market for shared electric scooters in Taipei. If its expansion to other regions overlaps with Gogoro's, a fierce battle for customers is certain. And since WeMo uses Kymco scooters, that would mean an indirect showdown between Gogoro and Kymco.

Intensified price and service competition is risky for these companies, but it also pushes them to evolve. For Taiwan, which sees electric scooter exports as a new industrial driver, that is a stage the sector must pass through.

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