Organic Transit to add West Coast solar-powered trike assembly operation
Before Toyota Motor Corp.’s hybrid Prius was available at a dealership, David Jamieson-Drake said he ordered one online.
And when the Durham-based company Organic Transit was in the early stages of production of its new solar-powered, electric and pedal-operated tricycle earlier this year, he was in line to buy one.
Now the Durham resident commutes to and from Duke University for work on his green Organic Transit ELF, cruising at about 30 mph, using both the vehicle’s motor and its pedals. He said it feels safer than riding a traditional bicycle, and he expects it to pay for itself in a short time through gas, parking and other cost savings.
“I’ve just always been really interested in lower energy consumption transportation, and had a fabulous experience with the Prius. This is like the next step,” said Jamieson-Drake, who is Duke’s director of institutional research. “I felt so fortunate that they started making the ELF right here in Durham so I could support a local industry and basically take and see what’s going to happen next in transportation for the world.”
Jamieson-Drake’s ELF is one of about 75 vehicles that Durham-based Organic Transit has shipped so far. That includes the 51 vehicles that the company sold through an online fundraising campaign held on the Web site Kickstarter.
The company has another approximately 150 orders, said company founder and CEO Rob Cotter. They’re now priced at $5,000 each, Cotter said, adding that the company has brought in about $1 million in revenue in the first half of the year.
“It’s pretty darn good for the first six months or so for a company to be in business…,” he said. “We’re just moving forward at a very progressive rate.”
To continue its growth, Cotter said the company is working to raise more investment dollars. Part of his expansion plan is to open a facility in San Jose, Calif., where the company could assemble ELF vehicles and also handle customer maintenance issues.
There’s great interest in the ELF in California, Cotter said.
To start an assembly operation there, he said, the company plans to partner with Good Karma Bikes, a San Jose-based nonprofit. The organization got its start by repairing bicycles for homeless and low-income people, and offers bicycle-repair training.
The company plans to lease space from the nonprofit, Cotter said. It’s more expensive to ship finished ELF vehicles than to ship the bodies, seats, solar panels and bicycle components and have them assembled on location.
Currently, he said the company is able to make one to two vehicles per day. He said he hopes to see six to eight vehicles built per day in San Jose after the location is online.
“We’re very encouraged to have this kind of relationship going into the community, and hopefully just staying at a very positive level in people’s lives,” Cotter said of the nonprofit. Attempts to reach an official with Good Karma were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Changes also are in the pipeline for the company’s Durham operation. Organic Transit plans to move to a larger facility at 311 Corporation St. from its location on East Chapel Hill Street, where it got its start in 2011. The 7,500-square-foot former plumbing warehouse is near Durham’s Central Park District.
The company now has about 15 workers in Durham, said Cotter, who started building prototypes of the vehicles in his garage.
He joined Durham’s Startup Stampede, a program that offers mentorship and other services for entrepreneurs by the Greater Durham Chamber and Downtown Durham Inc. He met an angel investor – the founding principal of Durham-based Alliance Architecture -- to help him get off the ground, and drew in partners with expertise in industrial design and in the bicycle industry to help with the vehicle design. He said they went from paper to prototype in six months.
The ELF, legally a bicycle, can travel on bike paths and roads without a driver’s license, according to a news release. It can carry up to eight bags of groceries or 350 pounds.
“Not too many things that people can participate in (can help) climate impact, personal health, and help the local environment and community, and not to mention the savings and money by not buying fuel and that sort of stuff,” Cotter said. “That was our mission, fortunately customers and investors have that same viewpoint, and they’re coming on board pretty strong.”