MANATEE -- Port Manatee hopes to rev up its reputation as the home of international corporations by wooing an electric bike manufacturer from Spain to set up operations here.
Port officials on Thursday hosted representatives from Oto Cycles, a Barcelona-based maker of high-end electric bikes that blend the look of classic European motorcycles with modern technology. The company is exploring its options for setting up a manufacturing and distribution facility in the United States and studying the market feasibility for the handmade bikes, which retail for around $5,000 each.
"We think South Florida could be a natural market," said Ivan Mutis, CEO for GM&L Strategic Consulting for New Markets in Palmetto, which is advising Oto Cycles in its push for U.S. expansion.
The electric bikes appeal to two types of clientele, Mutis said: high-end buyers who just want something flashy and unique to show off, and those who are serious about eco-friendly commuting but still want to ride in style.
"It's a very beautiful bike, but it's a very useful bike," Mutis said.
Oscar Tornero, creator and designer of the bikes, spent 15 years as a building engineer in Spain, but when the industry took a downturn a few years ago, he decided to try something different. He turned to one of his passions.
"I love cycles. I love bikes," Tornero said. But when it comes to electric bikes, "we think most are boring."
Tornero's bikes are anything but boring.
He starts by hand-crafting a polyurethane model, using a computer program to assist in the design, then producing the steel frames, which come in dozens of colors. The bikes have a speed of up to 22 mph, and the 36-volt motor, housed in a tank in front of the seat, offers a range of 35 to 50 miles. Sensors turn the motor off when a rider brakes or pedals, conserving bat
tery life. It fully recharges in four hours with a simple plug-in adapter.
No two Oto Cycles are alike, Tornero said. He draws inspiration from the classic look of motorcycles and uses recycled motorcycle parts in features like the handlebar grips and tank caps.
Oto Cycles have only been on the market for about a year. The company has sold about 70 bikes so far, mostly in specialty shops in northern Europe and through custom orders online.
By Tornero's conservative estimates, the company could start by producing 100 bikes in his first year at a U.S. facility with a three- or four-person operation. But Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, said he thinks Oto Cycles could "easily" start producing 1,000 bikes and sell them up and down the East Coast. The company has a business plan for producing about 480 bikes in the next year or so.
The port could accommodate a space anywhere from 10,000- to 100,000-square-feet for Oto Cycles, Buqueras said. The area also boasts access to Manatee Technical Institute, which could supply the technical base of engineering needed to produce the bikes here, he added.
Bringing in Oto Cycles would also help further Manatee's reputation as a place of international business, following Spanish luxury car maker AD Tramontana, which plans to import parts at the port and open a manufacturing facility elsewhere in the county.
"We're trying to think outside the port fence," Buqueras said.
In addition to port officials, Oto Cycles had meetings set with the Sarasota-Manatee Manufacturing Association and Sarasota company Trailmate, which makes recumbent bikes and tricycles.
As for Manatee County itself, it's made a positive impression on Tornero already.
"This weather," he said Thursday with a grin.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.