Exposed: Thousands of SONDORS Metacycle bikes abandoned in China, bills go unpaid

The SONDORS Metacycle electric motorcycle, once the darling of the burgeoning commuter e-motorcycle market, has suffered repeated setbacks since its original launch. Deliveries slowed to a trickle earlier this year and by many accounts appear to have since ceased. Reservation holders, some who have been waiting for years, have been left in the dark.

Speculation has run rampant regarding SONDORS’s current precarious financial situation. With the brand seemingly entering radio silence, we’re now getting more details than ever before from an unlikely source. One of the company’s factories in China tells Electrek that the California-based e-bike and e-moto company has stopped paying its bills, abandoning thousands of partially and fully-assembled motorcycles in the factory’s storage warehouses.

The story actually starts a few years ago when the SONDORS Metacycle electric motorcycle shocked the industry during its unveiling in 2021. With just a $5,000 price tag, the company’s founder and CEO Storm Sondors promised the motorcycle would reach highway speeds and offer 80 miles (130 km) of range. SONDORS is well known as an early player in the budget electric bicycle category, and so the industry had high hopes for the brand’s first electric motorcycle.

The Metacycle project overran its timeline by nearly a year but eventually started delivering dozens followed by hundreds of motorcycles in late 2022. The completed motorcycles didn’t quite live up to their promised specifications, though many riders still praised the light electric motorcycle as a handy commuter.

Deliveries never truly picked up steam the way the company promised. It is unclear how many Metacycles have been delivered to customers, though SONDORS’s China-based factory tells Electrek that “nearly 2,000 Metacycles” were imported to the US.

Against the backdrop of unclear delivery figures, online forums are bursting with reservation holders claiming they still haven’t received their bikes. Most have waited many months, with some having waited for years. Still others have received refunds, though lately many riders have been more successful with credit card chargebacks as SONDORS appears to have stopped responding to requests for refunds.

The first SONDORS Metacycle delivered to the public in August 2022

To make matters worse, the trickle of deliveries appears to have ended earlier this year even as SONDORS continued to sell the bike, bringing in more revenue without any additional Metacycles reaching the US. As of today, the Metacycle is still currently available for order on SONDORS’s website.

But as Electrek has learned, production for the motorcycle ended a year ago.

According to the factory in China that was hired to produce the motorcycle on contract for SONDORS, the Metacycle assembly line has been mothballed due to what the factory claims are several breaches of contract by SONDORS and nonpayment for produced and delivered motorcycles.

The factory’s representative agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, providing internal documents from the factory and photographs of the Metacycle’s inventory, components, and the stalled production area.

sondors metacycle in factory packaged
Completed and packaged SONDORS Metacycles, untouched for nearly a year in a Chinese factory

According to the factory, there are currently around 500 completed Metacycle electric motorcycles that have spent nearly a year sitting on the factory floor. Many of them are already packaged for shipment, while hundreds more sit in rows waiting to be crated.

In addition to the completed motorcycles, the factory says it has enough components stacked up on site to manufacturer another 1,500 completed Metacycles. Some components number much higher than 1,500 and most have been piling up for over a year.

But those bikes and components haven’t just been gathering dust. The factory added that they have been consistently maintaining the bikes at their own expense even while SONDORS has stopped making payments.

The rows of complicated cast aluminum frames and the mountains of components have been left untouched for so long because SONDORS hasn’t paid its bills for over a year, the factory representative explained.

sondors metacycle motorcycle in factory
Rows of completed SONDORS Metacycle electric motorcycles in a Chinese factory

“In June 2020, Mr. Sondors, [the] boss of SONDORS Inc. approached us to find a producer for Metacycle, an electric motorcycle concept he designed. At the time, the journey from concept to product was long, with many technical issues unresolved. We devoted our resources to this project, eventually establishing a production system for Metacycle and turning his concept into reality. In November 2021, he gave us the first purchase order (“PO”) for 2,000 [units] of motorcycles, but the balance is not paid fully till now.”

The factory representative laid out the rest of the timeline, explaining that “in May 2022, Mr. Sondors discussed an order of 8,000 units.” Due to price fluctuations of parts and components, the factory says that he made a smaller purchase order for 2,000 units in June 2022 and made a prepayment at that time, agreeing that the balance would be paid before delivery. “Later, he requested an increase in production to 7,000 units per month. Trusting him, we prepared parts for more than 2,000 motorcycles, hired over 20 additional staff, and invested big money to build a new automatic production line.”

In a letter provided by the factory to Electrek, SONDORS is accused of being in breach of contract after first pressuring the factory to ship more Metacycle motorcycles before receiving the outstanding payments, then pushing the factory to lower the price of the Metacycles after they had been produced, effectively attempting to renegotiate the contract.

“From September 2022, Mr. Sondors began delaying his payments, requesting delivery of motorcycles before his payments. Considering our working relationship, we sent him three containers of 120 motorcycles, for which he has yet to clear the payment until now,” explained the factory. In October 2022, the factory representative said that they “stopped all production due to the risks he posed to our business.”

sondors metacycle frames in factory

The factory went on to detail how after the production and delivery of more Metacycles ended, Mr. Sondors visited China in March 2023 and “made unreasonable demands to reduce unit cost regarding all the delivered and undelivered motorcycles or threatened to replace us with another manufacturer. We believe he was attempting to transfer his risk to us and lower his costs by reducing the purchase price. We refused these demands as they were essentially requests to alter the existing contract. Since March 2023, our relationship with him has deteriorated due to his failure to honor our agreement and his unreasonable demands.”

According to the factory, they have discovered that their experience with the company is not unique, adding that “several other suppliers (e-bike suppliers) have had similar encounters with Mr. Sondors.”

Around that time in March 2023, Electrek hosted Storm Sondors for an interview on our Wheel-E Podcast where he put on a positive face for the company and claimed almost 2,000 Metacycles had been delivered. While we weren’t aware of the extent of these SONDORS production woes at the time, we likely should have pushed him harder at the time on specific issues and complaints regarding slow deliveries.

But the saga didn’t end there. “Since May 2023, Mr. Sondors has been pressuring us to agree on prepayment deliveries,” explained the factory representative. “His attempts to harass us in China and defame us to our suppliers have been relentless.”

The factory claims that since July of this year, Mr. Sondors has “erroneously claimed that no contracts existed between SONDORS Inc. and us and demanded a return of the prepayment.” The factory indicates that it has since sent three formal letters clarifying the existence of their contracts and the ways SONDORS has breached those contracts.

Electrek also received a copy of a “Letter of Censure and Warning” from a major electric bicycle industry association in the Chinese city where SONDORS contract manufacturing occurs. The local industry association, which represents many large electric bicycle factories in the area, made several claims against SONDORS.

The association indicated that SONDORS “failed to comply with contracts, made false promises, defamed enterprises in the electric vehicle industry and their senior management personnel, spread false information within the electric vehicle industry, and instigated unnecessary lawsuits between enterprises in the electric vehicle industry.”

Multiple requests for comment were sent to Storm Sondors, but no response was received by the time of publishing.

All of this comes during a period of extreme uncertainty for the company. SONDORS canceled an attempt at an IPO earlier this year and appears to have lost many of its employees as more clues to financial issues have stacked up. However, no official statement has come from the company regarding the fate of the Metacycle project.

Recently a verified now-former Sonders employee posted in a Sondors Facebook group to let everyone know his situation. The post was deleted soon after.

The claims of a deteriorated relationship between SONDORS and the Metacycle factory, as well as the reported financial distress of the company, seem to imply dim prospects for the company.

However, SONDORS has a history of bouncing back from major problems, and it is not inconceivable that the company could pull one more rabbit out of its motorcycle helmet with a major cash infusion or by selling the company.

If this is truly the end for SONDORS, it will mark the last major blow in an unfortunate slow fall from grace for the often-acclaimed low-cost electric bike provider that quite literally kickstarted the budget e-bike trend in the US back in 2015 with its $500 fat tire e-bike, as well as inspired many with interesting designs while even venturing into three-wheel automobiles.

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