A new motorcycle brand springs from a computer

December 8, 2016

WHEN the covers of the Vanguard Roadster are removed at the New York Motorcycle Show on December 9, the moment will mark the launch not only of a new muscle bike, but also of a new brand with big ambitions. Vanguard is a bold startup that believes it can use the increasing digitization of manufacturing to ride with the pack of long-established bike companies, such as Honda, Yamaha, Harley-Davidson, BMW and others, who are ready to sell some 500,000 motorcycles. and scooters in America this year.

This may sound laughable. So far, Vanguard has built a grand total of one machine. At around $30,000, with a 1.9-liter V-twin engine, its price is top of the line (although well below the price of some superbikes, which can cost three times as much). But if Vanguard is successful, within a few years it will be selling several thousand motorcycles a year from a range of several different models.

What allows a startup to aim so high is how digital technologies reduce the cost of entry for manufacturing companies that were once considered the preserve of giants. This is especially the case in the long and expensive product development process. From sketches and clay models to component engineering and testing, it took an automaker five years or more to bring a new vehicle to market. It’s just as slow for bike manufacturers.

Some automakers can now do the job in just two, using three-dimensional computer-aided design, engineering and simulation systems. Indeed, the product – a car, motorcycle or even an airplane – exists in digital form where it can be sculpted and tested long before anything physical is built. It is also possible to simulate production methods.

This is the approach of Vanguard, created in 2013 by François-Xavier Terny, a former management consultant, and Edward Jacobs, a motorcycle designer. Despite the large producers’ lack of resources – at the moment the company has only a handful of employees – it used software (in this case Solidworks from Dassault Systèmes, a French company) to design a digital motorcycle before turning it into a real one. These systems benefit from falling prices and increasing performance in computing power. “We now have the same level of design and engineering tools as the big guys, which would have been impossible ten years ago,” Terny says.

Digital designs also give the company easier access to global suppliers who will offer the best prices for the parts they need. Design files can simply be emailed to a large network of engineering firms that offer their services online.

After road testing and further development is complete, production of the Roadster is expected to begin sometime in 2018 at a renovated industrial unit at Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, which is now home to a number of manufacturing companies. This is another feature of how factories are changing rapidly: with digital engineering, cheaper automation and new production techniques such as 3D printing, it may be possible to speed up manufacturing in town centers.

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Digital rider”