Torqway as a family business has operated since 2014, but the very idea of creating a vehicle powered by human muscle power in a standing position, in movement imitating walking, started in the Sobolewski family five years earlier. Inspired by the segway show, Andrzej Sobolewski and his son Bartosz drew a vehicle that had never existed before. He showed the sketch to his wife Beata and together they decided that they should do something with this idea of great potential. In 2011, they patented the construction and three years later established a company with the financial participation of the Jagiellonian Center of Innovation Venture.
This allowed the Sobolewski family to finance the prototype of Torqway Sport, the first machine of the Toruń brand. Having a physical copy, they set off into the world and started to show it at numerous competitions and innovation festivals. They won, among others, gold medal in the Sports category at the most important event of this type in the world, i.e. the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva. - The positive reception lifted us up and assured to further develop the product - says Łukasz Darka, brand manager at Torqway. In addition to the above-mentioned events, Torqway’ products was very enthusiastically received at the fair in Pittsburgh (United States) and in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.
Hybrid for the mature
However, everything seems to indicate that a breakthrough moment in Torqway's development was the award of a grant under the EU Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020 - receiving these funds was a success in itself, as only a small percentage of all submitted applications is granted. Going through this very rigorous selection, which was certainly facilitated by Torqway's falling under the category of smart cities and the Electric Mobility Europe initiative, confirmed to the Sobolewski family that their undertaking has a great chance of success.
Thanks to financial support from the program Horizon 2020, which amounts to nearly EUR 1.6 million (the total value of the project is EUR 2.3 million), they could start a completely new project - Torqway Hybrid. The drive is different from the previous versions. The vehicle will be driven both by muscle power and with the assistance of electric motors, having a choice of three modes of use: fitness (manual drive), nordic (electrically assisted manual drive), kinetic (electric drive).
Usually hybrid and electric drives are associated with millennials or even younger groups of customers, but it is not with them in mind that the Toruń hybrid is being created. The vehicle is aimed primarily at mature people, that is at the age of 55+, who want to maintain physical fitness for as long as possible while enjoying it. The creators of the vehicle have already found a name for the physical activity carried out by means of a hybrid Torqway - nordic riding, combining the values of nordic walking and personal means of transport.
Why will the first serially produced vehicle from Toruń be targeted at seniors and middle-aged people? Over the next thirty years, the number of people aged 65 and more will double, with more than three hundred million people in Europe alone. - This is a huge market for development. As consumers, these people will have their needs and expectations. Moreover, it will be the largest group of consumers of all age categories - says Łukasz Darka.
More and more companies are beginning to emerge, which base their business model on providing services to mature people. Torqway is one of them, although, as the head of marketing of the Toruń company points out, the offer for senior citizens will certainly not end there - the Hybrid model is the first vehicle in the series they plan to create. Further models would increase the number of users, as they will be targeted at other age groups as well.
We are not compromising
- The most capital-intensive aspect is the development of the product itself. This is our biggest challenge. We deal with various technological nuances, for example in the field of electric motors, which we have to combine with functionality and design of the vehicle - points out the brand manager Torqway.
However, this is not the only challenge faced by the Toruń company. Another one is to establish contacts with business partners. As this type of vehicle is an absolute innovation, and Torqway has no direct competition, since nobody manufactures such products, it is not at all that easy.
The company receives support in the development of Torqway from other enterprises and institutions. One of them is the Warsaw University of Technology, with which they test and consult their solutions in the field of vehicle technology. The eye-catching design comes from Zbigniew Dubiel, a designer specializing in designing widely understood means of communication, a graduate of industrial design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. He is responsible for the aesthetics of the vehicle. - In our opinion, the final result of this cooperation is more than satisfactory - explains Łukasz Darka. The handle contains a subtle control panel and an electronic display on which the key driving parameters will be presented, and the lever itself has been given a bionic shape to make it fit in the palm of your hand as well as possible.
They are still wondering what production model to adopt, but the most probable scenario will be the production of selected components abroad, which will be then assembled in Poland into one vehicle. - The final production and preparation for sale will take place in our factory in Toruń - he announces.
The verification of companies that could act as suppliers to Torqway is underway. At this stage, it is still difficult to talk about where specific parts will be made. - We are in the process of selecting key suppliers for mass production - says the head of marketing.
The product is highly innovative, so they don’t allow themselves to use cheap materials, because it would not be consistent with the image of a modern vehicle and could ruin its reputation in the eyes of the market. As Łukasz Darka says, an innovative product must stand for itself in terms of quality, so they’re uncompromising when it comes to selection of components.
Marketing in advance
During the process of product development, they are also actively involved in promotion and marketing activities, which is in fact required by the program Horizon 2020. First of all, they plan to commercialize their product on the EU market and then in the United States. They are currently looking for partners and distributors on target markets. What does the United States and the EU have in common in the context of Torqway? An aging population characteristic for highly developed regions. - It is on these markets that the greatest need for activation of elderly people is seen so that they can continue to participate in social life - he says.
The company operates both online and offline. The first channel includes website and profiles on social media. - We are very active both on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - explains Łukasz Darka. They also have a channel on Youtube, where they post videos promoting Torqway.
When it comes to activities taking place outside the Internet, these are mainly personal meetings with potential business partners. They also take part in trade fairs. Of course, they are well prepared for them - they have their own stand and printed promotional brochures, addressed primarily to business customers. They also participate in various events organised by the Enterprise Europe Network or the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, as well as other institutions (e.g. within the SME Instrument). - We participate in trade fairs, as well as all innovation festivals and matchmaking events. We also take part in pitching sessions - Łukasz Darka points out. What is most important, such activities, at least in the case of Torqway, bring measurable results - they have already managed to establish business contacts with several partners, and others are also interested in future cooperation with the Toruń-based company. Market players see great sales potential in Torqway.
Currently, at fairs and exhibitions, they present a 1:1 model, which represents the final Torqway, but you cannot travel with it yet. - However, the feedback is enthusiastic, because people have never seen anything like it before. They ask: "What is it, what does it do, how does it work and what health benefits does it bring?” - says Łukasz Darka, pointing out that, in comparison to products or services offered by most startups, their product is democratic, because the benefits of physical activity are potentially enjoyed by each of us, and potentially every one of us can use Torqway.
Move as fast as possible with production
So far, everything has been going according to the timeframe adopted under the Horizon 2020. Eighteen functional prototypes will be tested in the first phase. When the test phase is completed, the owners of the Toruń company will want to start the production and sale of their hybrid vehicle as soon as possible. Currently, they are looking very intensively for distributors who would create a sales network in selected markets. They are running in-depth analysis in France, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. They are in advanced talks with intermediaries in order to acquire distributors. - These meetings will certainly intensify in the coming months. The contacts we initiated some time ago are beginning to turn into meetings and arrangements. No vehicle, even the best one, can do without servicing, so Toruń's employees are working intensively on the strategy of providing maintenance services.
How much will Torqway Hybrid cost? The market price has not yet been finally calculated, but the end customer will pay around 2.2 thousand euro for the vehicle. - For a Western European, this is not
a very high price. The same amount, or even more, cost middle-class electric bicycles, recently more and more popular - says the head of marketing of the Toruń company.
They will sell in the B2C model, i.e. to individual customers, as well as in the B2B model. In the latter, they see huge sales potential. Business customers can include tourist destinations, bike rentals, the event industry, and spa & wellness centers, for which Torqway could be an interesting addition to the offer.
Text: Eryk Rutkowski
Photos: Torqway Sp. z o.o.