If you’ve ever been to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, or basically any big city in Vietnam, you’ve seen that they have a lot of motorbikes and bicycles. This just means that you need to look both ways before crossing the street.
What it also means is pollution and a common problem found all across the region – increasing risk of global warming and environmental damage. To help combat this, at least in Vietnam, is Dat Bike. In April 2022, Dat Bike raised 5.3 million USD in Series A funding to further its goal of becoming a leading Vietnamese manufacturer of electric vehicles.
To find out more about their vision and how the industry is changing, we spoke to Nguyen Ba Canh Son, Founder and CEO, Dat Bike. He has a strong technical background with stints as an engineer at some of the top companies in Silicon Valley, including Microsoft. Influenced by his experiences, he left to start his own company tackling a very local problem in Vietnam.
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Dat Bike also recently announced the launch of Dat Charge, an ultra-fast charging station for its electric bikes.
Charging time has generally been a disadvantage for EVs as charging can take hours due to limitations of technology and infrastructure, as compared to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles that can be refilled in under 5 minutes. This will cut the EV charging time by a third, by charging 100km in 20 minutes as compared to 60 minutes or more for ordinary EV charging stations.
The charging points are currently being trialled at the Saigon Innovation Hub (SiHUB), and Dat Bike aims to install Dat Charge ultra-fast charging stations across key cities in Vietnam and set up a network of hundreds of fast charging stations.
How has adoption been for Dat Bike since you started in 2019?
The monthly demand for our latest model, the Weaver 200, equalled the total demand of our previous model, Weaver, in the last 12 months. This demand has seen a month-over-month increase, especially during periods when the price of gasoline was at its highest. We also observed that our community of users grew by 20 times during the same period. We have plans to release new models later this year and are expecting 10 times higher demand for the upcoming product lines. While the high demand has proved to be a challenge for us, we have managed to shorten buyers’ waiting time from 8 months to a month, and we will soon be able to accommodate instant buying.
What have been some of the biggest challenges to scaling Dat Bike in Vietnam?
The biggest challenge for us is scaling efficiently while keeping up with the high speed of product iterations. There is a saying within the manufacturing sector that “more variations mean less throughput”. What this saying means is that people in manufacturing traditionally care about how to make as many copies of a product as efficiently and as high throughput as possible.
However, Dat Bike is not a manufacturing company. We are a product company that focuses on making better products. What this essentially means is that we have to constantly make incremental, rapid iterations because this is the best way to make good products. While our products are always changing, this also means less throughput.
This trade-off between scale and iteration speed is something that we pay utmost attention to. And just like how most manufacturing and engineering problems come down to picking the right trade-off, it is crucial for us to have the right balance here at each stage of the company’s growth.
Have you faced issues with consumer education?
Mass consumers in Vietnam generally still have some concerns about electric vehicles (EVs). There still exists some scepticism as to whether EVs, or in this case, e-bikes, can be as high-performance as traditional gasoline bikes in terms of mileage and charging time. Additionally, consumers are also sceptical about battery technology as they are used to low-quality lead accumulators from old e-bikes and are not ready to pay a higher price for an e-bike.
Dat Bike is solving those concerns through our products. We are making high-performance e-bikes that are better and faster at an affordable price. Since our inception, we have built a positive reputation and Dat Bike is now well-known because we have the best performance-to-price ratio in the industry.
In the next 24 months, how do you see the overall landscape of transport in Vietnam changing?
Yes, we foresee that, over time, there will be a general shift in perception about EVs. The government has recently announced a series of upcoming initiatives to help combat the issue of the pollution emitted from traditional gasoline bikes and encourage the Vietnamese public to adopt more sustainable transport solutions. These initiatives include the development of carbon-neutral public transport systems and promoting the production of EVs by 2030. Foreign automotive manufacturers are also shifting their strategies to producing e-bikes. Therefore, we expect that the EV market will be crowded in the next 2 years in anticipation of this change. We are sure that there are more people who will be willing to switch, and the government will continue to introduce more policies that will be beneficial for Vietnam’s EVs market.
What’s next for Dat Bike?
We have just launched the first “Dat Charge” – our ultra-fast charging station in Ho Chi Minh City and aim to install more across key cities in Vietnam. At the moment, our bikes’ recharge time speed at home is already the top one in the market with 1 hour for 100km and 3 hours for 200km (full charge). We decided to challenge ourselves by cutting our EV charging time by a third: charging 100 km at an unbeatable 20 minutes at Dat Charge, compared to 60 minutes or more for ordinary EV charging stations.
We also aim to set up a network of hundreds of fast charging points connecting with businesses to create a friendly ecosystem for all Dat Bike owners. What we are doing is to eliminate the gap between gasoline-powered bikes and electric bikes which can travel longer distances and charge faster.
Understanding the need of the market, we also have plans to launch new models at the end of this year. This will provide customers with more choices for their daily commute. We are also looking at international expansion in the future as part of our ambition to convert all gasoline bikes to electric bikes not only in Vietnam, but the greater Southeast Asia region.