The Hidden Cost
What’s the true cost of poor planning? Sometimes it takes failure on a massive scale to put things into perspective. Let me explain…
When the company I worked for prior to starting for bikes began, we placed a big 500-bike order for an affordable step-through ebike that we would use to generate early sales, test marketing approaches and generally buy us time until our flagship product would be built and ready for customers. This was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as you’ve probably already read about, shipping delays kept these bikes from arriving in the States until about 3 months before we were forced to shut our doors and find new jobs. As one of my last tasks at the old company, I was asked to investigate a couple of the bikes that weren’t able to take or hold a charge. After prodding around with a multimeter and talking to a battery engineer and friend in town, I realized that the packs were 100% dead. Well, about 99% to be exact but in any case it was dead enough to never safely function again. We found this problem in 4 out of 4 bikes that we assembled and are being asked by the battery manufacturer to open 100 more to see if they really are all gonners. That’s 500 batteries, each weighing 5.7lbs for a grand total of 2850lbs of e-waste, about the weight of a Honda Civic.
Then there’s shipping of replacement batteries from Taiwan, 3 months of storage fees while we wait, flights and hotels to run failure analysis and individually unboxing, swapping and repackaging the replacement batteries. Who looses here? Well, fortunately not the bike owners. They get a working new battery and are on their merry way. It’s probably not our old company either, as the batteries are being replaced under warranty. The manufacturer will loose most or all of their margin after replacing all these batteries, but we’re small fish and they’re one of the biggest battery manufacturers in Taiwan. It all works out alright, doesn’t it?
Except for those 500 batteries, 24,000 cells, 1 Honda Civic’s worth of hazardous chemical waste that is (hopefully) headed to the recycling depot, along with millions more every year from batteries that we don’t have a need for. The ebike boom is in full swing but we haven’t yet had to reckon with the long-term impacts of our purchases and the waste that comes with it. We are learning this lesson as a business at the perfect moment, at a time where we are making key decisions about who to do business with and what to offer our customers. We want to do the least possible harm in bringing electric transportation to our customers. We will strive to make decisions that are durable and wise with the benefit of hindsight, not 1-2 years down the road, but 10-20 years and longer.
Hopefully with careful planning and with the support of an informed community, we can make something that people will buy once and ride until the wheels fall off.
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1. The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something
2. A distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something
Most of the time, I think companies use the first definition. I mean, who wouldn’t want a high degree of excellence in the things they buy and use? I love that definition for it’s versatility but it’s just so damn vague.
I don’t mean to narrow my audience too much when I ask if you’ve ever had the pleasure of choosing a name for your child.
If you have, you’ll remember the mountain of stress that comes with writing that final decision on the government form that will (ideally) identify them for the rest of their existence. I say this as a father of two who, along with my partner, had not named Baby Sartee #1 until about a week before the Canadian Government felt it was prudent to start assessing fines to get things moving along.
About a week ago I found out that the company I am working for is closing its doors in less than a month. This was an unexpected wake up call and a first for me. I’ve spent lots of days at my desk thinking about leaving a job, but this is the first time the job has left me, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a relief.