Brian Wismann, design director for Brammo, demonstrates the Enertia, an electric motorbike that’s brought the Ashland company attention from around the world and a commitment of $10 million to expand production. - Jim Craven

Enertia gears up

ASHLAND — The buzz surrounding Brammo Motorsports LLC's Enertia electric motorcycle reached a fever pitch last week as word spread through the tech world that Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Best Buy Capital have committed $10 million to expand production.

Reports of the Enertia funding surfaced in Europe and the Mideast in German, Italian and Hebrew, underscoring the fact Ashland entrepreneur Craig Bramscher has a hot commodity on his hands.

The question now is how fast Brammo can accelerate from a mom-and-pop start-up into a mass-production manufacturer with more than 100 employees.

The goal is to expand the company's head count to 30 employees by this Christmas, then to 130 by the following year, says Bramscher, Brammo chairman and chief executive officer.

The big jump is contingent on the city of Ashland backing Brammo's request to create an enterprise zone for the 8.46-acre site south of town where the company plans to build its manufacturing plant.

Businesses within an enterprise zone can apply for three years of tax abatement, paying taxes only on bare ground. New buildings and equipment wouldn't be taxed for three to five years, depending on the wage package offered employees.

Bramscher's Enertia, a 280-pound bike capable of going 45 miles per charge, comes with Global Positioning Unit, is Internet-enabled and can top 50 mph.

"It's the right vehicle for where the technology is today," Bramscher says. "When we first started out we were more focused on educating people how this could be part of the transportation change from oil to electrons. I took a lot of heat a couple of years ago when I said in a few years, 70 percent of new cars would run on electricity; now it's looking more that way."

Bramscher is hoping the city will endorse Brammo's long-term presence there. A call to Ashland officials was not immediately returned Thursday.

Larry Holzgang of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department has been pitching the project to the city, whose approval would give Brammo the green light to ask Jackson County to include portions of Ashland in its enterprise zone.

"The investment dollars that come from outside are a great benefit to the state," Holzgang says. "When you're developing a project, buying equipment and hiring employees, those wages reside here in the state. Ashland is a moderate-size community and this is a big project when you consider the city's size."

The state is ready to kick in $900,000 for infrastructure and paving work to complete Jefferson Avenue at the Brammo site.

Bramscher, 47, grew up in Overland Park, Kan., before migrating in 1990 to Southern California where he built a successful Web systems company and sold it before the dot-com implosion took it down.

He moved to Ashland in July 2001 and soon began developing an electric car concept. Last year, the Enertia sprung to the fore, attracting as many as 100,000 potential buyers to the company Web site. The interest has also made his green company a favorite among economic developers around the country.

That's made waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to move forward all the more difficult, Bramscher says.

"It is a little bit of a struggle, considering I get calls weekly from people dying to have us move our business to places in California, New Mexico and North Carolina," he says.

"We're getting a lot of support from the state, concerning the enterprise zone, but I don't know how much support we have from the city. Hopefully, once they find out more about the business we'll have it. This needs to happen pretty quickly, if at all possible."

Bramscher has been wooed by other areas of the state, but he has resisted.

"I live by Emigrant Lake and I'm not interested in commuting long distances," he says. "I think this is a great town to build a small business. As part of our due diligence the board of directors has been in discussion with other places. We have to look at all the possibilities."

He said the bike has been crafted in such a manner to keep production in the U.S.

"Traditionally, there would be pressure for offshore production," Bramscher says. "But we solved that issue, by designing products with a very low indirect labor component. The final assembly costs less than shipping from China, allowing us to build them here. By reducing the part count, we're making the vehicle very supply-chain friendly."

The first bikes will cost about $15,000 when they come off the line later this year. Subsequent versions are ticketed for $12,000.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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