VanMoof makes a move: Lavoie acquires the e-bike startup out of bankruptcy for 'tens of millions' of euros

VanMoof, the flashy e-bike startup that skidded into bankruptcy this summer, has gotten back on its bike, so to speak. Today it was announced that Lavoie, which makes electric scooters, has acquired the business out of administration. The company plans to invest in the brand and relaunch the business, it said. That will include providing services to VanMoof's existing customers, from the looks of it, and from what using some of the tech VanMoof had built for its bikes that it never launched due to going bust.

Sources close to the deal tell me Lavoie paid a price in the "tens of millions" of dollars. That represents a huge drop on VanMoof's estimated valuation from its last round in 2021: Dealroom puts that figure at between $512 million and $768 million.

“With its next generation of e-bikes, smart technology, innovative design, and loyal customer base, VanMoof and Lavoie fit together perfectly," said Eliott Wertheimer, Lavoie CEO, in a statement. "VanMoof has 190,000 customers globally and our commitment is to continue to keep those riders on the road whilst we stabilise and efficiently grow the VanMoof business and continue to develop its world-class products.”

It's really a remarkable save for VanMoof.

VanMoof had raised more than $200 million as an independent, venture-backed startup. In its vertically-integrated model it managed the design and manufacture of its e-bikes and the app to operate their features; the distribution of the bikes through its online store and a chain of physical retail locations; and a servicing network -- effectively the only way to fix its custom-designed bikes when they needed maintenance and repair.

VanMoof attracted a huge following with its slick design, and because its bikes were so expensive, there was a certain cachet attached to being able to afford one to use as your city runaround.

But despite the great look, the e-bikes often turned out to be riddled with problems and it proved to be tedious, and expensive, to repair them -- both for owners and VanMoof itself, which was losing money on every bike it sold because of the glitches and subsequent servicing burden.

One in every 10 bikes was being sent back by customers, and in 2021 repairs cost VanMoof nearly $9 million (and it posted a loss due to that and other costs, eg in its retail business). That dire business model, combined with the current climate for fundraising, meant that the startup couldn't find suitable financing.

When VanMoof went bankrupt earlier in the year, it left a string of supply partners, its own retail operations, and customers with bikes on order and/or being repaired, all hanging in the wind. We've asked but have been told it's too soon to say what happens with creditors and customers with unfilled orders.

We have reached out to Lavoie to ask about retail and servicing operations, which would potentially also cover older VanMoof models, and we have confirmed that there are no plans to relaunch the direct physical retail and servicing operations, with the firm instead switching to a third-party distribution and repair model for these.

London-based Lavoie comes from very different stock. The business is a division of McLaren Applied, which itself was formerly a part of the McLaren Group that builds parts for the McLaren F1 and other vehicles. It was divested during the lean years of Covid-19, and it is now wholly-owned by Greybull Capital. (Greybull itself is buyout firm that has courted some controversy around risky turnarounds: among them, back in 2019, British Steel struggled and was eventually sold to Chinese buyers that are trying to rebuild it now; years before that an airline, Monarch, went bust.)

We've asked if the plan will be to move VanMoof from its older HQ in Amsterdam to London as part of the deal, and whether the Carlier brothers, who co-founded and led VanMoof, will stay on in any capacity.

Pointedly, there are no VanMoof execs quoted in the announcement of the sale today, nor any mention of plans on that front, but there is a reference to Lavoie ready to "tap into the leadership of independent technology pioneers McLaren Applied."

Lavoie says that the acquisition is part of its strategy to build out its urban mobility business. That will include e-bikes -- hopefully models less riddled with the bugs and other glitches that led to VanMoof's earlier downfall -- as well as scooters. Lavoie launched its first and only scooter model, the Series 1, in December last year. Like VanMoof, Lavoie's premium are priced at a premium to other electric devices on the market, with the basic Series 1 priced at $2,400 (its "Max" is more max at $2,800).

“The acquisition of VanMoof underscores our commitment to strengthen and grow our world-leading e-mobility business. We see a huge potential to transform the way people travel around the congested cities of the world in a more active and enjoyable way," said Nick Fry, McLaren Applied chairman, in a statement.

“This exciting deal helps us to accelerate global growth, allowing us to increase the scale and quality of products and services we can offer to our customers. We are fully committed to being leaders in manufacturing premium e-mobility products that are redefining the category with each ride.”