Kymco’s New Ionex BMU, BaaS Will Boost Electric Scooter Adoption

Kymco introduced its Ionex electric scooters in 2018, but its the 2023 updates that should escalate EV adoption.

Kymco chairman Allen Ko stands with a handheld Ionex battery for electric scooters. The battery can be recharged in the bike, on a separate charging unit or swapped for a fully charged pack at an Ionex station. (Sebastian Blanco)

Taiwanese powersport company Kymco believes we have finally entered the time of the EV. During the 2023 International Motorcycle and Accessories Exhibition (EICMA) held each year in Milan, Italy, Kymco chairman Allen Ko repeatedly mentioned “the inflection point of the electric era” as he introduced three new technologies for electric mobility.

Kymco chairman Allen Ko poses with his company’s new battery metering unit (BMU) at EICMA 2023 in Milan, Italy. (Sebastian Blanco)
Kymco chairman Allen Ko stands with a handheld Ionex battery for electric scooters. The battery can be recharged in the bike, on a separate charging unit or swapped for a fully charged pack at an Ionex station. (Sebastian Blanco)

Kymco has been at these supposed crossroads before. The company started in 1964 as a parts supplier for Honda but started building scooters in the 1970s. In the 2010s, BMW used Kymco motors as the range extenders for its i3. In 2018, Kymco introduced the Ionex brand of electric scooters with swappable batteries and big dreams. The Ionex brand is a, “game-changing electric scooter solution that eliminates all barriers to go green,” the company said at the time.

It’s a new generation of these scooters, with an upgraded Ionex platform and associated EV powertrain advancements, that Ko believes will expand Kymco’s e-scooter sales and turn the corner — or at least a corner — on electric mobility. At EICMA, Kymco introduces the Ionex Battery-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution for energy companies, the Ionex Battery Metering Unit (BMU) for EV manufacturers, and the Ionex Energy Station for Battery-swapping network operators.

Kymco’s new battery metering unit (BMU) is key to the company’s electric scooter expansion plans. (Sebastian Blanco)

“The vision is still the same,” Ko told SAE Media at EICMA in November. “We want to bring the true arrival of the electric era. That’s what we wanted to do five years ago. That’s what we want to do today. The only difference was that five years ago, we had this vision, and then we launched the Ionex [scooters] and said it’s an open platform. But then we realized that it’s actually a very difficult process.”

Ko said that one of the keys to success this time will be the new BMU and the Ionex Common Battery. The BMU connects to compatible batteries and can distinguish where the energy in the pack came from. Ionex scooter batteries can be charged using a stand-alone home charging unit or an onboard charger. The batteries can also be swapped with a fully charged unit from an Ionex Energy Station, battery vending machines placed at appropriate locations. The Ionex system can then charge riders the appropriate amount based on the service, simplifying payments for drivers and companies.

Ko said that multiple battery cell companies, which he did not name, have already indicated a desire to work with Kymco on Ionex BaaS efforts. That’s because battery standards allow multiple companies to work on technologies that can interact with those standards, similar to how an Android developer can get an app to work with multiple phone models if they all use the same OS, Ko said. Current-generation Ionex batteries should have a lifespan of between five and seven years, Ko said, and Kymco is already discussing end-of-life possibilities for these batteries.

Keyless for cheap

The Ionex App allows riders to access information about their electric scooters, including charging status and location. (Sebastian Blanco)

Kymco’s Ionex BMU has a low-energy Bluetooth connection that can connect with a smartphone and turn any electric scooter into an EV with keyless start capabilities. Just as any company can use the Ionex Common Battery in its electric scooters, Kymco will offer the BMU to other manufacturers so they can sell electric scooters with these technologies at a lower cost.

“It’s important [for the BMU] to do a lot because it offers value for the EV manufacturer, not just a connected battery,” he said. “Think about the cost savings. If you have a BMU, you can have keyless, and you get OTA firmware upgrades and things like that. So [the BMU] comes with a lot of features that the traditional EV manufacturer would otherwise require a lot of resources to develop. That gives them more incentive to use the Ionex BMU.”

Ko said the other parts of the Ionex plan also call for a more collaborative approach, including looking for retail and BaaS partners.

“We received a lot of interest in the past few years, but we realized it’s impossible for any single company to do everything by itself. It’s just impossible,” he said. If Kymco went alone on battery swapping, Ko said, it would have to produce around two packs for every electric motorcycle it sold to keep the stations well stocked. If it tried to offer its BaaS plan by itself, it would be too expensive. That’s why Kymco is looking for partners — an energy or oil company to work on the BaaS, for example, or a retailer like Walmart or 7-11 to install swap stations — to spread the Ionex technology this time.

“Over the past few years, we learned that in order for the whole thing to work, we have to make everything standardized,” Ko said. “We have to have a standardized solution tailored to different needs of different stakeholders. And we have to come up with a solution that really addresses their pain points and their challenges. Then it becomes something that we don’t really have to promote.”