Interview with Yann Vaudin, Founder of VOLTRA

This week, we sat down with Yann Vaudin, the founder of VOLTRA e-motorcycles. VOLTRA is a pioneer in the e-moto industry, the first Cambodian e-motorcycle brand in Cambodia. Yann makes it a priority to keep the company local – when he retires he wants the company to have an all-Cambodian staff. Since breaking into the market in 2014, Yann steadily improved his motos and has sold different models to several public institutions, including ministries and foreign embassies. DHL Express and SMART Axiata also use VOLTRA motos. Read on to hear how Yann got into the world of EVs and how he sees the future unfolding.

Brian: Could you tell us a little about your journey to Cambodia?

Yann: I arrived in March 2013, and knew for a long time I had wanted to leave my country. In France, you grow up and it's hard to start a company and grow quickly when you come from a low-income family. It’s difficult to find success in Europe, even if you have great ideas. Many people go to America to find success because if you have an idea there, you can convince investors to give you money.

However, I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go. I booked an open flight ticket and went on a world tour for one year, visiting ten countries. South East Asia really charmed me. The people are really nice here, the weather is nice. Actually too hot at first! But the body acclimates.

I had a rough time at the temples in April, 2013. I was biking around Angkor and the heat really got to me, I basically passed out and needed to be helped.

Then an idea came to me while I was in Australia, the last country on my world trip. I had this flash. A man was riding an electric bike by the coast, and I thought about my experience at Angkor Wat. I realized I wasn’t the only one who might prefer riding an e-bike to cycle through the temples, and I thought this could be a big business opportunity. In 2013, countries were starting to prioritize going green as well. For these reasons, I knew Cambodia would be the place I wanted to invest my time and effort.

Brian: How did you make this concept a reality?

Yann: In Australia, I started working on the idea. Before I had left Cambodia, I had submitted my CV to the CCIFC office, and as chance would have it, I was contacted by them to work as Technical Director for a company to design and install 400m2 of solar panels inside the Angkor Wat area. It was so funny but also a sign of destiny. Finally, on returning to Siem Reap, I learned by signing my contract that I was going to participate in the development of electric buses, partially charged by solar panels! My new life had officially begun.

In 2014, I started Green E-bike in Siem Reap, which was the first carbon-free tourist rental service in Cambodia.

It was like a UFO landed in Siem Reap! The whole city said what is this guy bringing? It was a great success. I did this for two years, and it was great but I wanted something bigger. I noticed there was no Cambodian-based electric motorcycle company, and I really dedicated myself to using my skills to create this, and I was able make it happen.

The idea of VOLTRA started at end of 2015 with R&D, business travel, logo brand design, then the VOLTRA trademark was officially recognized in 2017, after more than one year of applications, and that’s how the brand was born.

Brian: Could you tell us about your latest product?

Yann: We started off with an OFF-ROAD model before moving to the MATRIX, our flagship bike. We found that the off-road model wasn’t appealing to Cambodian customers, the aesthetics had a more Western feel, and we had to change that to reflect a preference for heavier, bulkier bikes.

We’re currently on version 3 of our MATRIX model since 2019 and I’d say we’re about 97 percent satisfied with it. I say 97 percent because we did sell one to a Secretary of State recently and he did give us that rating, which was a pleasure to hear!

Our current price is only $1,590, cheaper than normal motorbikes. We are the only company to provide a two- year warranty on electric motorcycles, including our lithium battery (SAMSUNG cells) and five years on our electric engine. We also provide two years TPL (Third Party Liability) insurance from FORTE to complement our 1-year free maintenance. This demonstrates that our quality is the best on the market.

The third version has a top speed of 65 kmph and can last 100km in a single charge. We conducted a study and found that 90 percent of people travel about 25km per day in Phnom Penh, meaning they only have to charge every four days. This turns out to be about 12 riel per kilometer.

Brian: Could you give an assessment of the e-bike market?

Yann: Unfortunately, there is a market that exists of very cheap ($350) e-bikes. These are cheaply made products and I try to mention this to stakeholders in public and private sector meetings when I’m asked about EV. We need to come up with a way to launch standards on these products, as they can also be dangerous too.

Many of them come in the informal sector and are sold on Facebook. They are not professionals, they do not pay taxes, they import illegally and make very small profits. They don't have spare parts and don't know how to repair vehicles. The batteries don’t last long, and they can pose dangers to users.

This also affects perception of e-bikes as a whole. People will not trust electric products, if they have a bad experience with these cheaper products. I would recommend that the government implement quickly measures to control the situation regarding these imports, to make sure they are legal and reach certain standards.

I do believe that motos should be incentivized in the same way the electric motor vehicles have incentives. Currently, Cambodia reduced import duties on electric cars in 2021 to about 50% lower than taxes on traditional internal combustion engine vehicles but not on electric motorcycles. However, there are 10 times more motorcycles than cars in Cambodia.

Bigger players are coming into the market, and I would like to see incentives for companies that prioritize Cambodian workers and industry. For example, if you produce a certain percentage of the electric motorcycle in Cambodia, making other local companies grow, you should receive some kind of incentive. VOLTRA will for example from April 2023 produce all its frames, handlebars, center stands and other metal parts in Cambodia by a local factory.

As a business, VOLTRA wants to remain all-Cambodian, for many reasons. I want to give back to the community and provide a sustainable job and future for Cambodians, and I also want to reduce my carbon footprint. Sourcing as much as possible in Cambodia is important in this aspect, and reduces emissions produced through imports.

Brian: How do you see the market evolving?

Yann: There’s more and more interest now, especially since the government has been embracing green technology. I've been happy to cooperate with the government on e-mobility initiatives and have helped develop the market with their support. I see the concept is becoming more mainstream now as well, due in large part to the ministries supporting e-mobility.

They asked us to develop the market, and we can’t do it without them. Many times, people will follow the government, not the private sector.

So the government’s embrace of green tech has helped increase sales and interest in e-bikes.

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