Officially Official: Neal Saiki out at Zero Motorcycles

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You can file this one under “news we broke a month ago,” but Zero Motorcycles has finally officially announced the departure of company founder Neal Saiki, despite sending an email to its employees last week that Saiki had not been sacked from his position.

According to Zero Motorcycles, Saiki is leaving his position to enter into the Igor I. Sikorski Human Powered Helicopter Competition, which Saiki first competed in while attending Cal Poly as aeronautical engineering student in 1989. However, our sources have told us Saiki’s departure was prompted by a fundamental shift in the company, precipitated by the Zero’s financial backers.

Interestingly enough, Zero’s press release includes a statement from the company’s largest investor, which is entirely out of the ordinary on a press release like this, and raises some interesting eyebrows to say the least. We’re sure it has nothing to do with previous reports about the company’s role in Zero’s management shake-up:

“Neal had the vision, the talent and the courage to launch an electric motorcycle company before there really was an electric motorcycle industry, or even a market. His vision and hard work have helped make Zero the industry leader,” stated long time Zero Motorcycles Board Member, Aflalo Guimarães, Managing Director of The Invus Group, Zero’s largest investor. “We are grateful to Neal and will continue to rely on his vision and counsel.”

Over the past months Zero Motorcycles has been adding a bevy of senior staff to its ranks, and its 2011 line-up is already showing some shifts away from the direction Saiki originally set-down for Zero’s product line. So far the changes seem prudent, with beefier components and a more refined build quality hitting Zero’s motorcycles.

Zero’s management hires also suggest the company could be headed to a more conventional dealership model, abandoning the current model that one insider called “two bricks short of a pyramid scheme.” The current distribution model used by Zero Motorcycles sees individuals, often Zero motorcycle owners, as independent sales reps, who sell motorcycles in their locale.

All-in-all today’s news is pretty standard stuff from a tech startup, which often mature to a point where the founder is replaced by more seasoned staff. And it’s also not surprising to see the people holding the money making the shots, as is often the case in VC/PE-backed ventures.

However you’d just think that for a company full of smart people, Zero could come up with a better story than Neal leaving to go fly a human-powered helicopter. Note: Asphalt & Rubber stopped receiving press materials after our initial report on Saiki’s departure. We’re not expecting to receive subsequent press releases after this story either.

Source: Zero Motorcycles