2-27-09enertia

The electronics chain is getting into the motorcycle sales business, with plans to sell Brammo’s $12,000 Enertia in five West Coast stores in May. Best Buy Venture Capital invested in Brammo last year, and Brammo’s CEO wants to sell his motorcycles in thousands of Best Buy stores.

Best Buy is getting into motorcycles – think Geek Squad in mechanics’ coveralls.

The consumer electronics store chain is going to start selling the Enertia electric motorcycle made by Ashland, Ore.-based startup Brammo at five of its West Coast stores in May, CEO Craig Bramscher said Friday.

In time, Bramscher envisions the $12,000 Enertia, as well as Brammo’s upcoming lighter-duty and heavier two-seater models, being sold across Best Buy’s chain of 1,200 U.S. stores, as well as some of its 1,500 or so stores in Europe and its 270 stores in China.

Speculation that Best Buy would sell Brammo’s motorcycles began back in September when Best Buy Venture Capital participated in a $10 million investment in the Ashland, Ore.-based startup. Chrysalix Energy Ventures was another investor (see Funding Roundup: Solar and Wind Startups, Along With Tesla Motors, Seek Capital). Contributions by Bramscher himself raised that total to $12 million, he said.

The idea of selling motorcycles at an electronics store isn’t as crazy as it sounds, Bramscher said. Many Best Buy stores are built with two garage bays that are “underutilized,” he said at the Pacific Crest Clean Technology Conference in San Francisco.

Also, given features like a built-in Web server and APIs that Brammo is opening to third-party application developers, “What we’re selling is a lot closer to consumer electronics than to transportation,” he said. He envisions add-ons like on-board cameras that can download images to travel blogs.

Brammo is among a number of startups seeking to supply electric two-wheelers to the mass market – others include Vectrix and Zero Motorcycles. Others like Mission Motors are making expensive, high-performance models.

Setting up distribution channels is a key challenge for startups like these, Bramscher said. That’s why Best Buy could be a coup, he said.

After all, all the motorcycle distributors in the United States see about 7 million customer visits per year – the same number that Best Buy sees at a single store in West Hollywood, he said.

And yes, Geek Squad employees will perform what Bramscher called “level one” repairs on parts like brakes, tires and electronic components on Enertia motorcycles, he said.

For more complete repairs, for example “if you crash one,” the motorcycles will go to a small number of central distribution centers Brammo is planning, he said. (The company is seeking a second round of funding, he said, though he didn’t specify how much).

The Enertia now has a 45-mile range and a maximum speed of 53 miles per hour, using a lithium-ion-phosphate battery provided by Valence Technology that takes about three hours to charge using a standard outlet, he said.

But those range and speed limits are all right, considering that most people Brammo surveyed about their driving habits say they travel less than 25 miles per day for commuting and errands, he said. The Enertia is highway-legal, he added, and Bramm has about $3 million in pre-orders.

Brammo’s two-seater motorcycle is expected to have a range of about 100 miles and go 75 miles per hour when it’s released next year, he said

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