When entrepreneur Horace Luke first landed in Taipei two decades ago, the first thing he noticed were the motorcycles. Then, like today, the streets were clogged with millions of two-wheeled vehicles, their ambient roar background noise anywhere in the city, even indoors.
During his time working for companies like Microsoft and HTC on projects like the Xbox gaming system and Android phones, Luke mulled over the idea of mobility. In 2011, he pitched the idea that would form the core of his company Gogoro: an electric vehicle that didn’t have to take up space and time charging its batteries, but instead relied on a network of batteries that could be swapped at roadside stations, like filling up a gas tank. Multiple investors and vehicle makers told him the idea was impossible.
Today, Gogoro battery-swapping stations are as common as gas stations in Taiwan, and the network supports nearly 400,000 battery swaps a day, by over 526,000 riders. Last year, according to the Taiwanese government, 12% of all scooters sold in Taiwan were electric, and over 90% of those relied on Gogoro batteries. But in order to make the battery network a reality, Gogoro didn’t have to develop just the batteries but also the vehicles that use them, along with an internal management software that encompasses everything from the supply of vehicle parts to the number of charged batteries at stations to how far riders can go before their next swap. The company has pilot projects in Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Korea, including a line of shared vehicles.
Now, Luke is betting that this data-intensive internal management system will be the key to the company’s success outside of Taiwan. In December 2022, Rest of World sat down with the Gogoro founder and CEO at the company’s Taipei headquarters, just weeks ahead of its pilot project launch in India with logistics company Zypp Electric. Like in the case of its other pilot projects with Gojek in Jakarta, Luke is betting that giving delivery drivers first access to the Gogoro battery network will give the company the data on driving habits and road conditions it needs to successfully target consumers.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Did Gogoro start building electric vehicles in order to help the idea of the battery-swapping network catch on?
Yeah, battery swapping was really the core. We’re not selling just a commodity component. We’re not selling a part. Even a cellphone is a part. But we’re selling the network, the cellphone, and all the repair systems with it as an entire product.
Everything from a dealer management system to if you tip your vehicle, my cloud gets a notification that tells a workshop — that most likely is the workshop that you’re going to — [to] ready the parts, so by the time you go in, the part is there. The service portal tells you exactly what screw, what part, what processes [are needed] to service that vehicle. That entire loop is Gogoro-developed. It is also the system that Yamaha and Suzuki use today for their vehicles that use our battery swapping.
I knew that electric mobility was inevitable. And while the world had talked about electric vehicles, no one had really made it happen. My thesis was that lighter-weight vehicles had a better chance to convert to electric. I started the company thinking it was a systems company. That [we] would build the batteries, the vehicles, the stations, and create artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology to control and extend the life of the materials and create consumer convenience.
Where did your interest in mobility come from?
The aha moment was when I came to Taiwan for the first time in 1998. My friends asked me what Taiwan is like. I said, it’s like scuba diving, but instead of fish, you see motorcycles. And the gas spewed onto your face, the heat you feel from the sidewalk, the noise — it’s just mind-boggling.
I went to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia — everybody in developing markets had two-wheelers. A developing market is so underrated. [Entrepreneurs] do not want to focus on it. And the economics are challenging for two-wheelers. But the higher the barrier, the more difference you can make.
Mobility happens to be the largest consumption of energy in your lifetime … Sustainability has been a top focus in Europe, in America, but not really in Asia. In Asia, it was always about industrialism, it was always about making technology, but nobody really talked about how that capability can be turned into using that force for good.
Are Gogoro’s motors and vehicles built in Taiwan?
Designed and built. The only thing we don’t do is a little battery cell, we buy those from SDI and LG. To me, that’s the chemistry side of the business. Where we start is from the components side.
Running the battery-swapping network is not just what you see on the surface level. Below it, there are a whole bunch of tools and systems that were only possible [to develop] because we ran the network with 400,000 battery swaps every day. That “swapability” created a lot of problems, honestly. Because users swapping [that many] times a day — each one holds it differently, uses it differently, smashes it into the station differently. All this information went to the engineering team, to create software as well as hardware.
How do you handle all the data you collect?
In India, we comply with the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]. Taiwan also has a privacy rule. We utilize Amazon’s back-end to store all the data, so we localize content. There are two types of data that we take. One is personal data: credit card number, name, address, things like that, but we do not ever take [data about] where you go. We don’t know where you go. We do, however, know where the battery goes. The battery has what we call machine data or equipment data. That allows us to say “Okay, that battery touched these stations in this pattern.”
Is the data anonymized?
It’s not personalized data, it’s equipment data. [Our internal system] watches every cell inside the battery pack as to the performance, the temperature, the internal resistance. Our AI watches those data for patterns and then learns from those patterns.
Are the batteries themselves internet-enabled? When do they upload the data to the cloud?
The swapping stations are connected to the cloud, the batteries are wirelessly connected to the station. Our GoShare vehicles are always connected to the cloud, or if you’re connecting as a consumer through the app to the vehicle, we pull data from the battery every 10 minutes or so to make sure you’re okay. [For example], on the side of the street, if somebody tipped over your bike and propped it back up, you wouldn’t know, right? But in the app, we know.
Have there been negative reactions to that level of monitoring?
We take privacy really seriously. In the app, for example, I can show you where I park. I can lock and unlock the vehicle, open maps and GPS to it. But that location is not stored in my server, it’s stored in your phone. I don’t ever pick up that data. The only thing we do is track how much energy you use, and where you swap, and that’s it. Other than that, it’s your privacy.
What is Gogoro’s approach to new markets?
Our first philosophy is, go in with a pilot in all these markets so that we can get data back and we can fine-tune our technology. What we’re doing, for example, in Jakarta with the Gojek guys — we deployed a pilot, with a couple hundred vehicles. It’s B2B use, and B2B usage on average is 6–10 times more kilometer usage and swap usage than our B2C customer. That way, I can accelerate all my data gathering and usability quickly. Everything from testing the durability of the vehicle, and the durability of the battery to whether or not I’m charging the battery at the right rate given the weather condition, the temperature conditions, the usage conditions. Jakarta has done great. We have a lot of data.
Before Jakarta, we were in Korea. Today in Korea, we have 65 swapping stations with a couple hundred more going in next year. We have close to a thousand vehicles doing B2B with a company called BikeBank. Next year, you will probably hear a lot more noise about Korea and how we are going to go big in Korea.
Recently, we announced India, with Zypp Electric, which is the largest all-electric-logistics company in India. The Indian government has been putting very strong demand on conversion to electric, it’s quite progressive. In Delhi, by the end of 2024, no gas vehicle can be used for logistics, it has to all be electric. Same thing is happening in Hyderabad, and the same thing is coming up in discussion in a lot of other cities.
The problem is, if you go electric and you have to charge, how are you going to charge? You can’t charge. Because now, there’s downtime. So instead of working 8 hours a day, maybe you’re working 12 hours a day to make the same amount of deliveries, so the only way they can go all-electric is through battery swapping.
So with that headwind coming from a policy perspective, Delhi is going to be the first pilot.
Some of the electric vehicle companies that have recently launched in India have a track record of safety issues. How does Gogoro plan to address that?
Batteries are never going to be 100% safe, but [the question is] how do you manage it, have a baseline so that you can predict when things are going to happen? Not only is our battery designed for disasters, but if something should happen, it can contain all that energy inside. When you charge the battery, that’s when it’s the most dangerous, not when it’s idling. Instead of having a whole bunch of batteries charging in an apartment building, [our system is] consolidated and away from where people sleep at night. And even if something should happen at a station, our entire cloud system has watchdogs.
The battery is designed to sustain 10 tonnes of crush — [without] fire, no smoke, no explosion. If the station identifies a battery as a potential risk, the guy gets a red alert on his phone. No matter what time it is, he has to get there in 10 minutes, do an emergency SOP. That allows us to sleep at night — knowing the network is not only being watched by people, but by an entire AI system that learns from all the mistakes that could go wrong, and consolidates those, and puts in new rules.