The news coming out of the Santa Cruz area today is that there’s been a management shake-up at Zero Motorcycles, as multiple people at the top of the company’s leadership have been given pink slips, including company Founder & CTO Neal Saiki. Recently talking to‘s John Adamo, Zero Motorcycles CEO Gene Banman denied that Saiki had been let go from the company, saying that Saiki’s absence at the company was due to his child’s recent birth and Saiki’s desire to spend time with his newborn.

However multiple sources close to the company have confirmed to Asphalt & Rubber that Neal Saiki was a part of a larger management shake-up that was precipitated by the company’s lead investor. With many of the terminations expected to be finalized next month, and spanning more than one division at the California-based startup, there appears to be a considerable personnel and culture shift occurring at Zero at this point in time.

Zero Motorcycles’ 2011 product line appears to be an extension of this shift at the Scotts Valley company, with the 2011 bikes receiving upgraded components, new designs, and stronger chassis designs. These product design changes go counter to Saiki’s controversial bicycle-inspired designs that focused on bringing strong but light components to electric motorcycles.

The electric news lately has been dominated by Zero, as the company just finished raising another $2 million in funding, announced expansion of its production facilities, and signed a deal with Mexican distributor Dofesa Aventura.

2011 Zero Motorcycles Zero S:

  • Mark

    So how does the founder of his own company get a pink slip?

  • He loses control of the BOD, likely from giving up more than a majority share in stock.

  • Mark

    I wasn’t aware that Zero was a public company yet, when did that happen?

  • It’s not a publicly traded company, but privately held companies can still have a board of directors, stock offerings, etc.

  • Mark

    Correction, I guess you don’t need to be a public company to sell shares in a company.

  • Bruce Monighan

    Taking venture capitol money is like selling your soul to the devil. You use their money to develop a product or idea you are passionate about and as soon as the income potential arises you are out on the street. Usually it is about the integrity of your idea or your passion to make something better and the investor seeing a chance to make a buck. And sure as hell they got majority control of your company in exchange for the funding. Great ideas and products are littered with this tragedy. Remember Eric Buell? There is a reason that the “venture” as in venture capitol sounds suspiciously like “vulture”.

    Corporate greed wins again and the rest of the good guys suck wind.

  • @Bruce – There is no reason to be suspicious about the similarity of sound of “venture” and “vulture.” Venture’s origin is from aventure – risk of loss. Vulture is supposedly from the Latin vellere, “to pluck and tear.” Without VC money, none of these companies would have gotten much farther than showing prototypes of designs… or rendered drawings of prototypes. I don’t even think it’s fair to consider VCs as a necessary evil. Necessary? Sure. Evil? No – they are the ones who are risking the loss of their money. What’s the alternative? Federal or other public grants? They come with strings attached, too.

    The hope, of course, is that the product will be successful in the marketplace and the investors will get paid back, earn a profit on their investment, and invest some more to keep the ball (or the bike) rolling. What’s wrong about the VC “seeing a chance to make a buck”? Would you invest in a company if you knew there was no chance to make your money back? That’s not venture capitalism, that’s charity.

  • brij

    Well put brammfan! I agree with you totally. I hope this dream lives on and the only way that can happen is if the company shows some profit.

  • Looking forward to an official statement on this.

    I’m also wondering where Neal will end up next.

  • Will


    Spoken like a lawyer.

    Funny, it always sounds so reasonable when lawyers speak. But words like ethics, trust, faith, belief, the words that are behind the great accomplishments of our civilization, never seem to come out of the mouths of lawyers….except in their own defense…..

  • @Will Spoken with the ethics, trust, faith and belief of an anonymous poster during a drive-by attack on an entire profession. What, specifically, do you disagree with in my post about venture capitalism? Surely you didn’t drop in just to slander lawyers.

  • Marc

    Sad news. While I had my critiques of Neil’s approaches, he was first to market and a true innovator. Every electric motorcycle to follow owes him a debt. It’s upsetting to see him forced to leave his own creation. I wish both him and Zero the brightest futures.

  • @Will & @Brammofan:

    It’s caveat emptor when dealing with institutional money like venture capital and private equity funds. Sadly in entrepreneurship, like things regarding law, the unexperienced and naive usually end up getting eaten by the meat-grinder of veteran players.

    There’s a joke in here somewhere about how it’s not possible to slander (libel?) a lawyer with derogatory words, only positive ones. ;) This of course coming from someone who has worked in venture capital, and holds a law degree.

  • Will


    Well spoken.

  • Stevil_Knevil

    Looks like a good point in the conversation to start a rumor:

    Neil Saiki has left Zero to work for Honda!!!

  • David Larson

    How does a founder get a pink slip? The only way I know is by selling too much of the company to others. It happens….ask Erik Buell.

  • Zerofan

    Sounds promising. Regarding the mediocre advances of Zero towards the market so far, there might be a chance to improve things at Zero. The product is superior, the service inferior.

    It’s a pity. But sometimes I really wonder: who has taught the guys at Zero marketing and sales. They do have a great product, so it is very hard to understand why they do not succeed. Maybe that low margins for sales people and demo bikes, long delivery times even on spare parts, lack of financing for dealers and an overpriced product are just not the right way to get fast results. Hopefully the start to rethink their approach to the market.

  • Alfonso Rodriguez

    What a pile! A 500 two stroke twin would be much lighter and hellaciously more powerful. I’m sorry, but this electric bike crap does “Zero” for me and I long for lightweight and Fxxking fast two strokes. Yamaha, can you please bring back the TDR but in 350, or better yet, 400 cubic centimeters? Please? Put direct injection on it so it will not “destroy” the environment like big diesels do and the tree huggers should not complain too much. Hell, Al Gore (if he is a motorcyclist) might even buy one!

  • We shall see if a rubber-band drive train and some silly plastics make or break them this year…. pretty typical upper management blame here”we all screwed up…. lets blame the brain”.

    Neal has some good things locked in his head…. to bad the newbies at Zero didn’t care to show him respect. These Ex Failing Gas MC Company Execs rolled in and think they know how to reinvent the wheel.

    Good Luck Neal EVMC Builders owe you big time!

  • haha neal!

    neal – good riddens!

    it is about time – 1st his wife, now neal!