It’s an understatement to say that James Chan has an illustrious career.
He has more than 15 years of working experience, sitting across all three sides of the table — as a public servant and industry developer with Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (now known as IMDA), as a venture capitalist and angel investor at Neoteny Labs and Silicon Straits (his personal holdings), and subsequently as a serial entrepreneur focused on software, robotics and fintech.
Besides Silicon Straits, his business ventures include GreyOrange and Wecash Southeast Asia. He has since exited his stakes in both companies and sold his Vietnam team to Grab at Silicon Straits.
Now, he is mainly focused on running ION Mobility, which he co-founded in October 2019 together with Joel Chang, whom has since left the company in July 2021 to pursue other opportunities.
Headquartered in Singapore, ION Mobility is a tech-automative company that aims to create and deliver affordable and sustainable mobility.
It champions electric mobility and complementary energy storage solutions, with a mission to create and deliver smart electric motorbikes and energy storage solutions to offer a desirable alternative for motorbike riders.
Bridging the gap for an electric mobility solution in SEA
ION Mobility was started up following the “lack of a viable electric mobility solution” for Southeast Asians.
James described SEA as the “land of the ubiquitous motorbike”. It is home to the third largest motorbike population in the world with over 200 million motorbikes in the region. Out of this, Indonesia owns the biggest slice of the pie with 112 million motorbikes.
Having grown up in Singapore, James realised the significance of motorbikes when he lived in Jakarta for three years from 2017 to 2019.
The father of three further noted that Indonesia is a very competitive market for traditional internal combustion engine motorbikes, but when it comes to electric motorbikes, it is still pretty much a “greenfield”.
We were quickly drawn to the immense potential of Indonesia when in early 2019, the Indonesian government was calling for the development of electric vehicle (EV) and battery industries. They had ambitious targets on EV development and were moving towards what I’d say is their own “full-stack development”.
We felt compelled to tap into SEA’s upcoming transition from petrol to electric energy. We were convinced of what we could deliver to hasten the consumer’s inevitable transition towards electric motorbikes in the coming years, with our end-to-end, full-stack approach.– James Chan, founder and CEO of ION Mobility
He cited that motorbikes collectively emit up to 16 times more hydrocarbons, three times more carbon monoxide, and a “disproportionately high” amount of other air pollutants compared to passenger cars.
They figured that there are no compelling options for riders in SEA to switch away from traditional combustion bikes — they are either short-ranged and low-powered, too expensive, or not designed for their daily use in terms of form factors.
As consumers continue to face significant barriers in switching over to an electric motorbike, ION Mobility wants to help ease that transition by designing an electric motorbike that is not just desirable, affordable and a joy to use, but also an “end-to-end lifestyle brand and service solution”.
“Our vision is to be SEA’s leading tech-automotive company designing, building, and supporting our electric mobility and energy storage products across SEA for our customers,” he said.
Meet ION Mobius, their first smart electric motorbike
In June 2020, ION Mobility set up offices in Jakarta and Shenzhen at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The following month, it started conceptualising and designing its inaugural smart electric motorbike called ION Mobius, which was recently unveiled on December 2 at JTC’s Launchpad@one-north in Singapore.
ION Mobius is built with the latest technology in powertrain, battery, and vehicle control systems.
The electric bike scales up to a peak power of 12.5kW and a maximum torque of 50Nm. It has a top speed of up to 110 km/h and accelerates from 0 to 50km/h in under four seconds.
“You get the instant torque with the purr of an electric motor, and zero tailpipe emissions,” said James.
He added that one of their key goals in designing the Mobius is to help users overcome the dreaded range anxiety and adapt to recharging, instead of refuelling.
As such, there are three different riding modes on the Mobius which allows users to hit anywhere from 120km to over 200km on a single charge, depending on their riding style. It takes three hours for a full charge from a standard electrical socket, and a quick-charge from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in just an hour.
Apart from the electric motor and battery pack, the bike is also fitted with a vehicle computer that’s paired with a high-fidelity and super bright seven-inch TFT display.
“This triple-CPU vehicle computer is the ‘brains’ of the motorbike, and has more computing power than what first landed on the Moon,” said James.
It also allows the bike to directly connect to the internet over LTE and pair with the rider’s smartphone via Bluetooth using the ION app.
The app will allow users to customise various settings on the Mobius, as well as review their ride data and analyse their riding style based on ride-to-energy efficiency statistics.
Through ION Mobius, we are making it easier for them (riders) to switch from the ubiquitous motorbike to a more affordable, viable and environment-friendly alternative.– James Chan, founder and CEO of ION Mobility
Recounting the unveiling event, he described it as a “great success” and said that they received plenty of positive responses from various stakeholders, which is a testament to their hard work and effort for the past 18 months.
“The unveiling is only the beginning, but it’s an important feather in the cap that rallies the team and our partners towards the upcoming marathon ahead of us to bring the Mobius into production,” he added.
Indonesia will be its first go-to market with plans to start pre-orders soon, and it expects to start in-country assembly operations in the Greater Jakarta by the first half of 2022.
It also has plans to make ION Mobius available in Singapore, which is currently pending approval from the Land Transport Authority.
Breaking into the EV market amid Covid-19
Building a company from scratch and breaking into a young industry is undoubtedly a journey fraught with challenges.
They started out by building the “atoms” product and the electric motorbike, and are eager to explore the “bits” side of the business as more ION Mobius hits the roads of Indonesia.
Commenting on the Singapore landscape, James noted that the city-state never had an automotive OEM (original equipment manufacturer) industry, much less an electric OEM business.
As such, the sad reality is that hardware companies just don’t get the same level of attention and valuation as software or even blockchain companies from investors.
A lot of people tell me I’m crazy, we’re crazy to be trying to do this out of Singapore — a country with no prior automotive OEM DNA. What all of them don’t realise is the importance of our cross-region talent and supply chain collaboration, working off each country’s strengths to come together and create something that we think is truly amazing amidst pandemic times.
As a startup, we lack the industrialisation scale and operating capital that incumbent petrol players have, [but] we make up for [it] by leveraging on our agility, talent diversity, and advantages in product design and technology.– James Chan, founder and CEO of ION Mobility
“It was not a straightforward endeavour. Whenever you go against the grain in an attempt to achieve the seemingly impossible and/or to disrupt the status quo, we’ll always face challenges. As you can imagine, Covid-19 made it even more difficult,” he added.
A downside of the pandemic is that it has caused global supply chain disruption and crunch, which greatly affected their operations.
While supply chain disruptions are indeed problematic, he feels that it is not something that planning, innovation and strategic thinking can’t solve. In fact, it forced them to think out of the box and be resourceful.
They focused on building strong relationships with their chip suppliers in Singapore and China, which was crucial for an up-and-coming company like them that has yet to reach volume production.
Its teams across three countries, especially in Shenzhen and Jakarta, were also able to solve some of these bottlenecks as they were nearer to source markets and hence able to handle it in person despite the lack of business travel.
“With all that in place, we’ve put in our buffer orders and continue to keep a close eye on the situation as it sorts itself out into 2022,” said James.
He revealed that ION Mobility is still at the “pre-revenue stage”, but he expects to start rolling in revenue for the business next year.
It’s setting up a small-scale EV production line in S’pore
Although Singapore is more of a car market, there are still over 141,000 motorbikes and scooters here.
“We’re not China and do not have the luxury of bicycle lanes for such lower-powered devices,” remarked James.
He further described China as the “capital hub of EV”, but noted that the EV industry in Singapore is still nascent as it still lacks expertise in motorbike designing, engineering and production.
“With the support of our Shenzhen team, we can transfer skills and knowledge from China’s EV industry to upskill our designing, innovation and production work, increasing our rate of success,” said James.
Currently, Singapore serves as ION Mobility’s corporate and design engineering headquarters, and is also home to its first pilot production line for the ION Mobius and its battery pack.
Apart from its initial Singapore office at JTC Launchpad@one-north, ION Mobility has a second facility at the same location dedicated to the assembly of Mobius motorbikes and battery pack to accelerate its local efforts in production engineering and assembly optimisation.
There’s also an adjacent space spanning over 600 square metres earmarked for future expansion.
In its current Phase 1, ION Mobility will support the assembly of up to 500 ION Mobius motorbikes and battery packs each month. Its current and planned infrastructure supports the scaling of up to 1,500 assembled Mobius motorbikes across Singapore and Jakarta by the second half of 2022.– James Chan, founder and CEO of ION Mobility
In Shenzhen, ION Mobility already has a low-volume battery pack production line that can produce up to 100 Mobius battery packs a month.
ION Mobility’s Jakarta assembly line with be the primary assembly line to support its go-to market in Indonesia, and its Singapore capacity will help support the demand in Indonesia in the foreseeable future.
The company has already shortlisted several locations and is designing its Indonesia CKD (completely knocked down) assembly line within the DKI Jakarta metropolitan area.
Aims to be profitable within next 5 to 7 years
Although ION Mobility is not the first electric bike company around — in Singapore or regionally — it is not the least bit deterred.
In fact, James feels that the presence of competitors augurs well for the sector and points towards greater attention and emphasis on electric mobility, and its impact on the environment and sustainability as a whole.
As the Singapore government doubles down on its EV efforts and the Singapore Green Plan, it is a clear recognition of the importance of electric mobility to the future of urban transport.
There’s still a “long road ahead” in terms of EV adoption in Singapore, but such nation-driven initiatives are crucial to advancing the EV landscape in the country, and can spur significant investment and industrialisation in the relevant sectors.
ION Mobility had recently concluded its US$6.8 million seed round in October 2021, which will be used to fund its ongoing design, research and development, engineering of ION Mobius.
I know of many software-only companies that have raised far more capital than we have with less to show for it. Our US$6.8 million raised thus far won’t be enough for us to realise our vision and achieve our mission.
I think we’ve punched well above our weight to do a lot with very little, but I expect to be fundraising for additional capital in the coming months so that we’ll have the necessary resources to execute our plan and deliver the Mobius to our customers from Indonesia.– James Chan, founder and CEO of ION Mobility
With the investor support, its strong and diverse team, and tireless execution, it has definitely helped bring the company to greater heights.
To date, ION Mobility has built a team of over 44 spanning three countries across Asia — namely Singapore, Shenzhen and Jakarta — with more than half forming its operations here.
“My goal for ION Mobility is to be profitable within five to seven years, and to be listed on a leading exchange. We may also venture beyond motorbikes to design, develop and launch another electrically powered vehicle within the next 10 years.”
Featured Image Credit: ION Mobility