From pavement to paddock, UBCO’s electric utility bikes demonstrate Kiwi ingenuity at its best. It’s this kind of innovative thinking that inspires us, and we’re proud to have been UBCO’s business banking partner since 2015.

The quiet revolution being driven by Kiwi innovation

This is innovation our way

The original UBCO – a two-wheel electric utility bike initially designed to supplement traditional farm vehicles – made its first appearance as a prototype at the Fieldays Awards in 2014. The annual expo is the southern hemisphere’s largest agricultural event and a famous launching platform for farming technology and innovation. The versatile, low cost, quiet, UBCO motorbike turned quite a few (petrol) heads as they passed the exhibit.

It was the sector’s first look at the bike modelled on the classic Honda CT90 – renowned for its utility, ease of use and lightweight – just with a battery powered engine instead of petrol. After launching to the public in 2015, the UBCO bike won the Fieldays 2018 International Innovation Award as an eco-friendly and safer alternative to traditional farm transportation.

From the farm to the world

In typical Kiwi fashion, that original idea has now turned into something with a bigger cause – an on and off-road electric adventure vehicle (EAV) platform that is opening up adventure to more people than ever before.

Today, UBCO is a global group of seven companies with its parent organisation based here in New Zealand. They have almost 100 staff worldwide, with around half of those in New Zealand, UBCO’s global centre of excellence especially for its 2X2 vehicle development. The company’s Kiwi roots are an essential part of the UBCO brand story too – one based in equal parts on farming, tough design and environmental innovation.

“I was finally able to travel and meet some of our team in the US recently, and a few said they literally joined the business because of its New Zealand origins,” says Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance.

Part of our success as we grow from our Kiwi entity to a global entity, is how important New Zealand's story is. It's the embodiment of the brand and the product, and it's the perfect market to test a truly versatile, rugged multiuse, lightweight environmentally friendly product.”
Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance, UBCO

But the UBCO 2X2 vehicle is designed to be much more than a farm bike. UBCO’s global success has come from the versatility of the design’s use. As well as farmers, the bike is popular with hunters for its quietness, with the Department of Conservation and local councils for its ability to go places where combustion engines are banned, and increasingly as an outdoor adventure vehicle. It’s also road legal and a popular commuter vehicle that can be used off road on the weekend. It’s even being used for food delivery.

We launched our first production bike in 2017 and today we've got nearly 4,000 bikes in the wild globally, as we like to say."
Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance, UBCO

“Our origins come from utility and off road, and now our Adventure 2X2 models can be registered to be road legal in most main markets in the world. Having real products in market, and in good quantities, gives us an advantage over new entrants and our closest competitors because it strongly informs and improves our product design.”

Riding shotgun

While New Zealand has been an essential part of UBCO’s success, it’s also a difficult environment to launch a product like an electric utility bike. Traditionally, the investment community has focused on software where high returns on low capital investment are possible. Hardware and manufacturing businesses like UBCO can be really capital-intensive businesses – and that can be hard to find.

“Hardware has traditionally been really hard to do, especially out of New Zealand, because we have this real gap between very early seed stage capital and the larger VCs, which makes it tough to break through that to get to the next stage,” says Swinehart.

Kiwibank saw the huge potential of that local ingenuity to become something much bigger and we’ve been involved with UBCO from day one since they were first incorporated as a company. As they’ve grown, they’ve had the same business manager – Nick Hosking – along for the ride the whole way.

“He's our champion of the business. He's based here in Tauranga and he is as passionate about our business as we are,” says Swinehart.

Kiwibank has supported us from a very early stage during times when most other banks wouldn't traditionally want to provide any sort of facilities, particularly in New Zealand for a hardware and manufacturing business.”
Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance, UBCO

That support has allowed UBCO to understand the business potential of their great idea and turn it into a global success story. From the initial stages of taking the concept to market to turning investment into a viable business model, we’re still there beside them.

A banking partner like Kiwibank is so critical to get through those early periods. But even though we've grown quite considerably now, and we are moving into bigger capital and larger lines of credit, we're still dealing with the same bank manager.”
Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance, UBCO

Always ahead of the curve

Innovation continues to be an essential part of UBCO’s future and the company is invested in improving both its functionality and environmental credentials as the EV battery technology develops. The electric vehicle and micromobility sectors have significant forecast growth curves and UBCO wants to stay ahead of that. 

Our aspirations are to be the global leader in our EAV category and continue to tell that New Zealand story. We have such an unrelenting belief in our product and that we are doing something that nobody else is focusing on.”
Tracey Swinehart, Vice President of Finance, UBCO