The iconic Czechoslovakian scooter is getting a hipster reincarnation as the latest in clean, electric vehicle technology.
By BOHEMIST STAFF
PRAGUE – Some called it a land tornado, some called it less flatteringly, a pig. Despite the less-than-savory pet names, the charm of the Czechoslovakia-produced Cezeta scooter is enduring. So enduring that Briton national Neil Eammon Smith is bringing them back to life in a new electric model that can be run for as little as 26 Ǩc per 100km. We think it beats those 24 Ǩc tram tickets.
The Cezeta burst on to the automotive scene in the 1950s — its uniquely elongated body a sharp contrast to the bubble shape of the Vespa and other popular scooters of the day. The characteristic shape came from placing the fuel tank over the front wheel of the bike, a feature that has been kept in the modern incarnation but replaced with a zero emissions, clean, electric motor, marketing manager Matěj Oliva told Bohemist.
The original Cezeta 501, 502 and the limited supply ‘rickshaw’ 505 set a new standard for scooters from 1957 to 1964. However, communist politics ceased production, leaving less than 130,000 scooters in existence.
The new incarnation – the 506 – bears all the markings of the original iconic design. And truly all the markings. The prototypes for the electric update were reconstructed by Smith by hand from original 501s and 502s.
“This is the comeback of the Cezeta, next year will be 60 years,” since the first prototype, Oliva said.
“Czech people know the scooter from younged years, but in Europe it was not a very strong brand,” he said from the Cezeta showroom on Na Příkopěin Prague Centrum. “In the 60s we had communism and it was impossible to buy a Vespa and so the scooter was built for Czech people.”
The rebirth of the Cezeta as an electric scooter was a feat in mechanical engineering. Most popular polls showed people preferred to keep the retro shape of the Cezeta with modern safety additions like better suspension and ABS brakes, Oliva said.
The scooter’s main market competitor is the nostalgic Vespa, with one major difference, being the Cezeta’s electric motor.
“You will be stopped at a traffic light and the motor will be dead, and then zero to 100 take off is faster in the electric scooter,” Oliva said.
While Prague does not boast a significant scooter culture now, the Cezeta team predict in future there will be more demand.
“I think in five years’ time cities will be closing city centers for petrol and diesel cars,” Oliva said. “London wants to close the city center in 2020. Diesel engines are a big problem in the city center.”
Prague already offers significant scooter parking spaces and the Cezeta team will announce a network of cafes, restaurants and shops were the electric mobile can be charged.
For Oliva, the chance to jump on the Cezeta team was a golden opportunity to quit his day job as a motorcycle industry journalist.
“I got a bit bored of the journalist work and writing about people who are making something new and interesting,” Oliva said. “So it was a change to be (involved) from start to finish in this project and come with something new, something physical that you can touch.”
Importantly for Oliva, the entire length of the Cezeta production will take place in the Czech Republic.
“We know we can do it cheaper in China, but we want to be here the next 20, 30, 50 years and you must have a high quality product,” he said. “It will be good for the future because electric batteries will get better and better and we can replace the batteries in the future.”
Oliva is someone who takes his two-wheeled transport seriously.
“People are comparing Cezeta with Vespa. Vespa is cheaper but not too much (cheaper), because they have an engine,” he said, referring to the ongoing petrol costs of a Vespa surpassing the minimal ongoing maintenance costs of the electric Cezeta.
“People are a little bit bored of Vespa, you are not special if you have Vespa, you are just a sheep,” he said with a cheeky laugh.
Currently there are no comparable electric scooters in the European market. The Cezeta will retail for between 6,000 and 7,000 euros, less than a third of the BMW evolution and the Austrian KTM electric scooters, which retail for around 26,000 euros. Which few of us would have lying around the house.
“There are Chinese scooters for about 2,000 euros but they are not quality scooters, not the range like we have,” Oliva said of the Cezeta’s 100 kilometer driving distance between charges.
“In the future I see big brands coming to the market with electric scooters.”
There are already 200 people on the waiting list for the Cezeta when it officially hits the retail market in February 2017.
“The strongest market is Holland,” Oliva said. “About sixty percent of electric vehicles in Europe are in Holland. Norway has a plan to sell 50% electric vehicles in 2020.”
However, unlike Netherlands, the Nordic countries, Spain and Portugal, there are no tax cuts or incentives for Czech citizens to take up electric vehicles.
The bike itself sits low and long with the equivalent of a 350cc engine power and comes in at about 130 kilograms with additional options to add on carrier boxes and windscreens. It’s a big scooter, but not a difficult one to drive, the driver only needing an A1 licence in the Czech Republic.
“It’s very practical, for driving every day, not just sunny Sundays,” Oliva said.
You can Check out the Czech Cezeta (see what we did there) yourself next Saturday when it will make a rainbow-colored appearance in the Prague Pride parade.