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Moto Morini Plants US HQ in Irvine, Adding to OC's Vast 2-Wheel Hub

Orange County’s electric bike and motor enthusiasts can look forward to new offerings from an international motorcycle company with decades of history to its name, and from one of OC’s largest upstart EV automakers.

Italy’s Moto Morini—a maker of high-performance motorcycles—opened its U.S. headquarters in Irvine last month as the city’s own Rivian Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: RIVN) reportedly plots its entry into the bicycle lane (see story, page 44).

“We’ve got different subsidiaries and networks set up around the world,” Moto Morini U.S. COO Chris McGee told the Business Journal, adding that the company has ramped up in Europe, Malaysia and Argentina.

“It was time to come to the United States.”

Moto Morini joins popular e-bike maker Super73—which is launching its first motorcycle—motocross and mountain bike apparel retailer Fox Racing, e-bike company Pedego Electric Bikes and motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA, among other companies in OC’s hub of two-wheeled rider businesses.

“While the brand is known in Europe and around the world for its history of designing and producing high-quality performance motorcycles, it’s a new Italian brand for the U.S.,” Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) VP of market expansion Cinnamon Kernes said in a statement on Moto Morini’s U.S. debut.

Officials expect the U.S. to be Moto Morini’s largest growth opportunity. The company last year saw global sales climb 260%, though McGee declined to disclose exact numbers.

Moto Morini, founded in 1937, is owned by China’s Zhongneng Vehicle Group, which acquired the company for an undisclosed amount in 2018.

Its new U.S. headquarters runs 4,500 square feet at 220 Goddard in Irvine. The office serves as a sales and marketing center and includes a private showroom. The company’s U.S. manufacturing center is in Riverside County.

2nd US Entry

The new Irvine headquarters marks Moto Morini’s second entry into the U.S. market.

The company previously manufactured bikes in the ’70s for Indian Motorcycle, which calls itself America’s first motorcycle company. Moto Morini made Indian’s Mini Mini Bambino, a motorbike for kids. The vehicle was McGee’s his first-ever motorbike he owned at 4 years old.

“Unless you were in the know” of Moto Morini’s initial entry to the U.S. market, “you probably wouldn’t recall the name,” McGee said. “So instead of re-educating everybody about the brief engagement with the market, we’re branding it as a launch.”

The company remained active in the U.S. for a few years, but did not continue operations in the country due to its inability to keep up with the market’s high volume. It instead turned its focus on other markets, such as Italy and India, among other Asian countries.

South OC Hub

In announcing its re-entry into the U.S. market, Moto Morini called Irvine “the heart of the motorcycle industry.”

Irvine is home to the MIC, the trade association for the industry. Moto Morini is not yet a member but plans on joining the group this year, McGee said.

Other factors that drew the company to Irvine include the city’s proximity major freeways, John Wayne Airport and other international motorcycle and automotive brands, such as Kia America and Mazda North American Operations.

Beyond Irvine, South OC is known by motocross enthusiasts across the world as an international racing hub, particularly because of Saddleback Park. The 700-acre motocross racing venue, which opened in 1967, once drew professional racers from all over the world. Local manufacturers also used the park as testing grounds for their motorcycles. The venue eventually closed in 1984 after it was denied insurance for several deaths and injuries.

“The motorcycle industry remembers Saddleback Park as one of the most iconic venues for motocross racing in the country,” McGee said.

Ready for High Volume

Moto Morini focused on ramping up its operations in other international markets before re-entering the U.S.

“We wanted to make sure that the brand was solid and trenched,” McGee said. “We knew America is going to be our largest volume.”

Now that it’s ready, Moto Morini aims to reach national exposure by working with dealers in all 50 states. It’s also looking to enter the Canadian and South American markets.

Moto Morini USA offers riding apparel, accessories and motorbikes, which are specifically designed for the U.S. market.

Motorbikes in the U.S. are often used for leisure or sport, whereas in Italy and other countries, motorcycles are a popular means of transportation for work commutes, McGee said.

That’s why American bikes need to be more versatile than their Italian counterparts—fit for highway riding but also durable enough to handle gravel and dirt roads, according to McGee.

The cost of a Moto Morini bike runs under $10,000 per vehicle.

Rivian Touts an E-Bike

Rivian Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: RIVN) is reportedly looking to join the two-wheeled market in the U.S., as it gears up to release its first e-bike.

In a companywide meeting this month, CEO RJ Scaringe told staff of the automaker that Rivian has a small team of engineers working to develop an e-bike. It was unclear if the vehicle would be an electric motorcycle or an e-bike, but the company currently owns patents for e-bike designs and components.

Rivian representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The news of the company’s potential e-bike comes as Rivian is preparing to cut another 6% of its workforce, following a previous layoff of the same size last summer. The company currently counts around 14,000 personnel.

The downsize will help Rivian focus on ramping up vehicle production and reaching profitability, Scaringe told employees in an email.

Rivian has been struggling with production output and supply chain issues for the past few years, most recently falling about 700 vehicles short of its 25,000 year-end production target for 2022.

Four of Rivian’s high-level executives left the company last year and early this year, including former General Counsel Neil Sitron and VP of Body and Interior Engineering Randy Frank.

According to the Rivian spokeswoman contacted by the Wall Street Journal, the staff changes were meant to ensure the company has the talent it needs to increase production. Rivian did not provide the WSJ any comment on the individual circumstances of the departures.

At press time, shares in Rivian were $19.91 and a $18 billion market cap. The company’s stock is off 72% from its 52-week high last February.

—Kaitlin Aquino

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