Bultaco has announced plans to reinvent itself as an electric motorcycle manufacturer. The historic Spanish marque, which ceased production in 1983, has revealed its Rapitan and Rapitan Sport – electric-powered prototypes which it claims are “close approximations” of EV models which it will bring to market in 2014.
The reborn Bultaco’s origins are traced to the Spanish engineering firm LGN Tech Design, founded in 2010 by José Germán Pérez, Raúl Pérez, Juan Manuel Vinós, Gerald Pöllmann and Jorge Bonilla. The company, which was created with support from University Carlos III of Madrid, produced an EV racebike to compete in the FIM electric world championship. That LGN project developed into the new company, officially named Bultaco Motors.
This new Bultaco does claim direct legitimacy from the Bulto family. Daniel Oliver Bulto will serve as Head of Business Development for the new company. A former Spanish racing champion, Bulto is the grandson of Francesco “Paco” Bulto, who founded Bultaco in 1958. (Daniel Bulto is also cousin to former MotoGP racer Sete Gibernau). Alvaro Bulto, the son of Francesco Bulto, is listed posthumously as a board member for his contributions to the new venture. (A daredevil and television personality in Spain, the 51-year-old Alvaro Bulto died in August 2013 during a wingsuit jump in the Swiss Alps.)
Bultaco claims 30 workers, with its leadership team consisting of the original LGN founders, as well as Bulto and former managers from Derbi. Another historic Spanish marque, Derbi, which is now owned by the Piaggio Group, shut down its Barcelona factory in 2013. Bultaco’s Lead Project Engineer, Nick Schoeps, is a former engineer for MotoCzysz – the Portland, Oregon-based EV firm which has dominated the Isle of Man TT Zero race with its E1pc sportbike.
Two prototypes are teased by Bultaco: the Rapitan and Rapitan Sport. The first looks like a naked standard, while the latter features flat track/scrambler-ish lines, with a numberplate and MX-style bars (if you ask us, it looks like the EV doppelganger of Husqvarna’s MOAB Concept
An air-cooled brushless motor powers both prototypes, with Bultaco claiming 92 lb-ft of torque and 53.6 horsepower. Batteries are Lithium-ion, though storage capacity is not specified. The company does cite a range of 124 miles (200 km) in the city, 68 miles (110 km) highway and 87 miles (140 km) combined. It also lists a top speed of 90 mph (145 km).
Bultaco touts its proprietary Drive Train System (DTS), which it claims is “unlike other electrical two-wheeled vehicles, enables the maximum energy performance to be yielded from regenerative braking. This is possible because the technology applied to the chassis maximizes the rear wheels’ adherence during braking, which enables a considerable electrical braking torque to be applied.”
This explains the most distinctive feature on the Rapitan, its unusual Hossack-type front end suspension. The anti-dive effect of the Hossack system, Bultaco explains, is beneficial for energy regeneration as it “maximizes the rear wheel load in all riding circumstances, increasing the rear wheel braking potential and hence the overall braking recovery capacity.”
Another wrinkle in the Bultaco approach to energy recovery is the system “combines a lithium-ion battery and ultra-condensers.” Ultra-condensers, aka, ultra-capacitors, store electricity, like batteries, but in different ways. Where batteries are slow to charge and discharge, ultra-capacitors are quick to charge and discharge, but lack the energy density of chemical batteries. Scalable production of high-density capacitors is the potential Holy Grail breakthrough for EV technology (with some promising development in recent years with graphene-based designs). Existing capacitor development makes them impractical as a primary power source for vehicles, but their rapid charge/discharge properties are applicable to braking regeneration systems. While Bultaco does not divulge details, it claims its energy accumulation system is “yet another feature that ensures performance far superior to that of other comparable vehicles.”
A tubular steel trellis frame and swingarm form the Rapitan chassis. The Hossick-style front fork is mated to a more conventional monoshock rear. The prototypes sport single disc brakes, front and rear, with a two-piston caliper front and single-piston rear. Seat height is listed at 31.5 inches, with claimed weight 416.7 pounds. Unique to the non-Sport Rapitan is a storage space in the traditional fuel tank area, large enough or full-face helmet.
Based off its press announcement, Bultaco’s production plans aren’t entirely clear to this author. The company states the Rapitan and Rapitan Sport are “close approximations to the Bultaco motorcycles that will be brought to market in 2014.”
And the press materials go on to state that: “In early 2014, Bultaco will bring an electrical Light Bike to market, various versions of which will be developed. In the middle of that year, the Electrical Urbanmotard will be launched, which anticipates the Rapitan prototype.”
Early 2014? Maybe something got lost in translation from espanol to ingles, because it’s already mid-May. (But in Spain they eat dinner at like 10 p.m., so I suppose we should wait until June is in the books before that deadline is officially blown… )
The company’s press statement continues on immediate development plans stating: “The Bultaco engineering team is already working on another kind of vehicle using the technology shown in the prototype, and on other future developments, as well as on other propulsion systems.”
On that “other propulsion systems” note, R&D Director and cofounder Jose German Perez, while touting the benefits of electric power, confirms that the company is “also currently working on other solutions, such as hybrid propulsion, to cover other needs.” Press material goes on to state: “Today, no form of propulsion for a two-wheeled vehicle that could be brought to market by 2020 is being discarded.”
So electrics, hybrids or whatever Bultaco decides to produce, the designs will come from its Madrid innovation center and production slated for its Barcelona plant.
And production plans are ambitious, to say the least. Bultaco forecasts staffing “for 2015 consists of 150 people, including direct and indirect employees, for an initial production chain of 2000 units. With the rise in production, and because the majority of suppliers are Spanish, forecasts are to reach 500 jobs, either direct or indirect.”
Any new job creation in a nation where unemployment hovers at 25% is sure to garner some good will, but Bultaco’s projections sound, at best, optimistic. And will these new Bultaco’s venture across the Atlantic? The company says initial sales networks will be organized in “Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
More promises… But can Bultaco can deliver?