End of the road for home-grown motorcycle

Local firm which manufactured the A Bike winds up after 4 years

Alife chief Devan Nair with the A Bike when it was released in 2015. He said production stopped early last year due to high rental and labour costs, and a shareholder dispute.
Alife chief Devan Nair with the A Bike when it was released in 2015. He said production stopped early last year due to high rental and labour costs, and a shareholder dispute.ST FILE PHOTO

A Singapore company, which was the only one to produce motorcycles here in recent years, is closing down after four years.

Alife Air Automobiles, which had a showroom and assembly plant in Bukit Batok, was producing its own brand of motorcycles and started with a scooter called A Bike Knight. A recent check with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showed that the company is undergoing a court-ordered winding-up and being liquidated.

It had an order book of about 300 scooters, which were assembled from parts mainly imported from China and an engine from the United States. But so far, Alife has managed to deliver only 20 of them.

Alife president and group chief executive officer Devan Nair said production stopped early last year due to high rental and labour costs, and a "shareholder dispute".

He declined to elaborate on the dispute. The company vacated its Bukit Batok office later in the year.

"Things happen in business. We successfully delivered our first model and we had a lot of supporters," he added. Mr Nair declined to discuss the company's financials, saying the matter was in the hands of the liquidators.

Fleet owner SH Cycle, which received the 20 A Bikes, had ordered 300 from Alife but managed to register only three of them due to Alife's closure. Its director, Mr Royston Ho, said: "It put me in a difficult position because I was looking to replace about 100 of my motorcycles which were going to be scrapped. I had to source for other brands."

  • $5k

    Price of the A Bike without COE

  • $3k

    Approximate price of an Indonesian- or Chinese-made motorcycle of the same capacity

Alife made headlines after becoming the second Singapore company to make its own motorcycles. The now-defunct Tiger Motors was the first. When the A Bike was launched two years ago, Mr Nair said he was working on incorporating a rotary engine into a motorcycle - a radical departure from the piston design of almost all motorcycle engines.

Alife signed a $600,000 contract with American firm Freedom Motors for the project. Freedom Motors, which made the rotary engines, told The Straits Times that it received an initial $150,000 and three scooters from Alife, and completed the integration.

"Unfortunately, it appears that Alife ran out of funds before Freedom Motors could pursue EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) certification and undertake the engineering required to put its motorcycle into volume production in Singapore or China," said Dr Paul Moller, president of Moller International, which runs Freedom Motors.

Freedom Motors added that it was also not paid for work done to to integrate the rotary engine into a three-wheeled tuk-tuk.

" It is unfortunate that the cooperation had to end because the company winded up. I plan to relook the agenda of Alife after this episode," said Mr Nair.

When it was first launched in 2015, the A Bike received positive reviews. A report in The New Paper in 2015 said the scooter - which comes in 125cc and 150cc models - was "easy to operate and maintain".

A motorcycle industry veteran, who declined to be named, said that Alife likely lacked the experience. "They were planning to sell 200 units a month, which is more than what the major players in the current market are doing. It was not possible," he said.

High labour and rental costs would have made manufacturing motorcycles here challenging, he added. "The major Japanese brands have established their plants in markets with lower costs, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam."

Other experts pointed to the A Bike being too expensive at $4,988,without a certificate of entitlement. Indonesian- or Chinese-made motorcycles of the same capacity cost under $3,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'End of the road for home-grown motorcycle'. Subscribe