Ford Motor Co., as part of its commitment to putting more lower-emission vehicles on the road, has done a deal with California-based electric bicycle company Pedego.
The result: a Ford-branded beach cruiser powered by an electric battery that buys the rider up to 20 miles of pedal-free operation -- or longer, if the rider pedals part of the time.
The original impulse, the auto company said, came from Executive Chairman Bill Ford, who has encouraged the company to reimagine the future of transportation.
"He has tasked us with looking into the future, and how we're going to make sustainable products and be profitable," said Erica Klampfl, the company's Future Mobility manager. "We can no longer just think about being an automotive product company."
Two years ago, a Ford representative approached Pedego and asked the company to build a bike.
Pedego Electric Bikes got its start in 2006, when co-founder Don DiCostanzo bought an electric bike so he wouldn't have to pedal uphill on his way back from the beach. He didn't like the bike he bought, so he built his own.
He formed the Pedego company in 2009 with his former college roommate Terry Sherry. (The two men were also fraternity brothers and best men at each other's weddings.) Operating from a single shop in Newport Beach, Pedego eventually became the largest electric bike retailer in the U.S.
Eight years later, Pedego has sold more than 20,000 electric bikes, about 80% of them in the U.S., and about half of those in California.
The plug-in electric bikes, which retail for about $2,000 to $3,000 (the Ford Super Cruiser is $3695), are designed in Irvine, pre-assembled in China from parts built there and elsewhere in Asia, then finished in California. The City Commuter, DiConstanzo said, is the company's best seller.
Riders can use a "throttle" to make the bikes roll at speeds up to 20 mph, or can use a combination of pedal and throttle to extend the range.
DiCostanzo said he thinks an electric bicycle is the "gateway drug" to an electric car. In his case, he said, he started with an electric bike and is now on his second Tesla S electric car, with an order in for the company's anticipated next edition, the SUV-style Model X.
The Ford deal is another way to market the bikes, DiCostanzo said, and marketing is the company's biggest challenge. Traditional bike riders have treated the electric bike segment with suspicion, or worse.
"They think it's breaking the rules, like somehow we're cheating or something," DiCostanzo said.
For Ford, Klampfl said, the branding deal is just another way for the automaker to further Chairman Ford's push to think beyond the automobile.
"He's told us we need to think about not just being a part of the problem, with putting more cars on the road, but how we can be part of the solution," she said.