CES Update: Panasonic Automotive Powers First UL-Certified eBike with Totem USA

Regular readers will know that I have been following the e-bike sector for many years. It’s been fascinating to see the equivalent of Moore’s Law benefiting the e-bike sector. As with most technologies, they get better and cheaper over time. I was intrigued to see that Panasonic has entered the e-bike market, but was not surprised after conferring with Steve Zaroukian. We connected while he was in Las Vegas at CES, overseeing Panasonic’s launch with its partner Totem USA.

Steve clarified for me the Panasonic has actually been in the e-bike sector for nearly 30 years, mostly in Japan. Panasonic first attained a foothold in the sector by working with partners, including drivetrains provided by Panasonic in Europe. “It was a logical move to North America,” Steve explained.

I asked him to describe more about the new partnership with Totem. “The synergies were kicked off by UL standards around safety. We look at total system safety, not just the battery, but the interconnected motor and circuits.” In 2019, Panasonic received the industry’s first e-bike safety standard certification from UL (UL2849), a not-for-profit safety standards development organization and leading safety science company. 

Since then, Steve explained, Panasonic had been certifying different vendors, which led to the current partnership.

Totem USA is located in McKinney, Texas and is a division of the Golden Wheel Group, the fourth largest manufacturer in the world of bicycles and e-bikes.

Further to Panasonic’s interest in safety, the new Zen Rider from Totem is offered as pedal assist only, “so the motor won’t get away from me,” as Steve put it. The bike’s design aesthetic leans toward versatility across age and city / suburban settings.

Steve and I shared our similar observations, that e-bikes extend biking activity into later years for people. We also concurred that e-bikes have saved many retail shops. Indeed, research from NPD indicated a growth rate for electric bicycles of 240% in the 12 months leading up to July 2021, with sustained interest expected after the dramatic growth seen in cycling and sporting equipment amidst consumer pandemic spending.

I asked for more insight into Panasonic’s strategy. Steve indicated that “scale helps with attractive price points. Each iteration helps. We are constantly watching the market for what is desired. We see connectivity as a growing feature.”

The Zen Rider sports the following specs:

  • 2-Axle motor + battery e-bike system 
  • 75 Nm of max torque, and a 404 Wh battery 
  • Pedal assistance up to 15mph (perfect for city / local ordinances with 15mph speed limitations)

Steve expects a March launch with a price point of around $2500, and Panasonic is taking orders now. 

I can’t wait to check it out.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.