Can you tell us about the current situation concerning electric motorcycles?
It’s been two years since we started our electric motorcycle business. The size of our company is small, yet our share in the market is No.1 in Japan. The electric motorcycle market is still growing, so we need to continue to expand the market itself. In corporation with different companies, we are working on advertising and spreading the electric motorcycles. Thanks to our supporters and partner companies, we are able to develop our business further.
I heard that you’re expending your business to overseas….
The market of electric motorcycles is bigger in overseas than in Japan. In South-East Asia, you see many people driving motorcycles on the streets. People in those countries have to pay for the gas. On top of that, the exhaust gas makes the air polluted and is said to cause global warming as well. One of the solutions to those problems is to use electric motorcycles.
We are promoting our products in countries such as Vietnam, Korea and China. We receive good reputation for our products’ capability of running without gas, its comfortableness, good design and our affordable price. Our company’s mission is to promote our products and contribute to the betterment of the environment.
What kind of life have you been leading?You must have had the childhood times full of hope and dreams.
Well, actually not really. I didn’t have much hope or dreams in my childhood days. I did okay in my class but it was just “okay”….
Tsubame Group, which the Tsubame E-time belongs to, started from the small gas station in Iwakuni. My mother and father owned the gas station and we, the family of five, used to live on the second floor of the gas station.
Back then, I didn’t have any plan to succeed my father’s business. I didn’t have any dreams or plans for future. My father used to scold me a lot and kick me out from the house and I had to spend many nights with our dog getting bitten by mosquitos. Those experiences made me think that I was useless and had no good qualities to live life.
Then what made you want to take over your family business?
I graduated from local high school in Iwakuni and went to Tokyo to go to college. When I was about to graduate from college, my mother got sick and could not continue to help our family business. My mother used to tell me to take over our business so I decided to take over. After learning other businesses, I returned to Iwakuni and joined Tsubame Sekiyu when I was 29 years old. When I joined the company, we had only one office and a gas station. I was happy when our customer complemented me on my work since I had no self-esteem about myself. I gradually grew to have my own dream, which is to make our company No.1 in Japan. Back then, all the gas stations were selling gas at a same price, so it depended on our performance and service whether we can get good sales results or not. We tried our best and we were able to achieve incredible sales result in the area.
What motivated you to develop electronic motorcycle business?
When I joined Tsubame Sekiyu in 1996, the government abolished the law, which used to protect local oil companies. It was part of the government policy of deregulation. Before the abolition, all the gas stations were selling gas at a same price, however, after the law changed, each station started to set their own price for the gas. Small-sized gas stations started to suffer financially.
Tsubame Group begun to create a new business style, which offer services of car inspection, damage repair, car insurance, and rental car business. It was a new business model, which deals with all services related to automobile. However, I still could not stop worrying about one thing. It was a fundamental problem of our gasoline market, which is we always get affected by the oil market and laws, no matter what we do or how we try. When I turn 40, I became the CEO of our company and started to think that we need to work and create business, which can contributes to the future of Japan and the world.
In my business life, I tried more than my best to fulfill our customers’ needs. When the customer is satisfied, I was happy and motivated to learn more. As time goes, I was able to build networks with many customers and companies and I learned not only about things related to automobile but also about our society, economy, politics and education. I gradually became to think that I wanted to do something for the society.
One day, when I was taking classes about electric car maintenance, I learned that electric cars are produced without much financial funds or special technical skills compared to normal gasoline cars. However, it was still difficult to produce electric cars. And I thought…what about electric motorcycles?
It took 6 years to actually start our motorcycle project. On January 4th, 2014, I got one call from my high school teacher and was recommended a book written by Toru Tokushige, the CEO of Terra Motors. I was shocked to know that he already started doing what I wanted to do for my business.
So your electric motorcycle business started in 2014…and your business holds No.1 share in the market! What a successful launch!
Well, in the beginning, we really had s smooth launch from manufacture to sales. However, in order to realize this, we had to work hard and take risks. First, we needed to make our financial need meet for our project. In the beginning, we didn’t have much fund and could not take risks financially since we had to support our workers.
We were able to take that risk because we got financial support from our local banks. They had invested in the future possibilities of our project. We also had support from Mr. Tokushige, the CEO of Terra Motors, who is also from Yamaguchi prefecture. Car Conveni Club Co. had offered sales support for us as well. Without all these support, we could not have achieved what we have today.
Please share with us your visions for future
We would like to expand our sales volume up to 100 billion yen by the year of 2020. We would like to be listed on the stock as well. Some might laugh and wonder if a small local company like us could really achieve such a goal. We believe we can do it and we will achieve our goal. Compared to a large-scale company where you cannot be flexible, there are more possibilities in a smaller company like us where we can be flexible and meet our customers’ needs and offer products at a reasonable price. In the old days, automobile companies had to be responsible for all the process, from manufacture to sales. Today, you don’t have to take care of all the process. You can order all the parts in foreign countries and assemble them in Japan.
We want to prove that a small company like us can create a business that can expand to the market abroad, and can contribute to the solutions to the environmental problems of the world. We would like to become a leading business model for other small and middle-sized companies in Japan.
Our electric motorcycle business not only protects our environment, but also can be a new path and a guide for the future of small enterprises and the future of Japan’s economy.
July 2016 interview by Yasuhiro Fujii（crouton）