WOODSIDE, Calif. — Giampiero Testoni straddles the sleek Energica Ego motorcycle, hits a few buttons and nothing happens. Dead silence.
"Impressive, no?" he says with a smile.
Before getting an answer he's suddenly off, rocketing down curvy Skyline Boulevard with a reporter clinging tenuously to his midriff. Instead of a snarling exhaust, there's only the sound of a faint metallic whine and the rush of the wind. Impressive, yes.
Electric car pioneer Tesla was the first to extol the glories of a battery-powered engine with a linear torque curve capable of neck-snapping acceleration. Now, Energica, a company based in Ferrari's northern Italian hometown of Modena, hopes to do the same for lovers of superbikes, those track-ready cycles that are all about looks and raw speed.
"Our customers aren't really those looking for electric scooters, but rather those people who love motorcycles and high-tech," says Testoni, chief technology officer of Energica, which brought a small cadre of executives and motorcycles to the Bay Area for a series of demonstration rides.
That's a smart marketing move, considering the $100,000 Tesla has found particular consumer favor in its Silicon Valley backyard. And much like the Tesla Model S, the Ego — which is capable of a 60 mph sprint in three seconds — is a pricey piece of tech hardware.
The base Ego costs $40,000, while 45 limited-edition Egos featuring upgraded parts start at $67,000. (By comparison, a top-of-the-line gas-powered Ducati Superbike 1199 Panigale S runs $25,000.) Features include high-end touches such as Marchesini aluminum wheels, Brembo brakes and Marzocchi and Ohlins shocks.
The special Egos will be delivered in the spring of 2015, with the standard model following a few months later.
High-end electric motorcycles are gathering momentum. Harley-Davidson is currently touring dealerships with its Project LiveWire electric motorcycle, which remains in the test phase. Lightning Motorcycle of San Carlos, Calif., recently unveiled its monstrously fast Lightning Superbike LS-218, the number referring to the bike's top speed.
Energica is projecting sales of 500 Egos its first year, with a target of 1,200, and 5,000 in subsequent years. The break-even point is sales of 2,000 bikes annually, says company CEO Livia Cevolini, whose grandfather started Energica's parent company, industrial tech concern CRP Group, nearly half a century ago.
CRP made its name manufacturing custom high-tech parts for Formula One and other racing disciplines; CRP USA, based in North Carolina, works extensively with NASCAR racing teams.
"We felt it was time for CRP to be known for a specific product that showcased what we can do, but it couldn't be a car, because that's who our clients are," says Cevolini. "After a few years of testing (one-off) electric bikes at races, we knew this was it."
Motorcycle-loving America is a key market for Energica. The company has plans to open Tesla-like boutiques in San Francisco and New York, and is eyeing Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas. That's in addition to storefronts in Monte Carlo, Rome and other European hot spots.
"It is a difficult category, because in Europe, electric vehicles are still ridiculed a bit; people say they're cute things for kids," says Cevolini. "But our goal from the beginning was to make something sporting and real."
She adds that parking the company's large RV at a famous Skyline Boulevard intersection known as a mecca for sportbike gatherings was una grande sfida, "a great challenge" to see if their Ego would be accepted by enthusiasts. Judging from the number of curious bikers stopping by recently, Energica seems to have passed that test.
"It's been hard work starting the company, but then you're here seeing people who appreciate what we have built and often don't realize it's electric until we point it out," she says. "That makes it all worth it."