Japanese electro-bikes will not outrun the Zeta, vows inventor

People & Business

There was potentially bad news for Sir Clive Sinclair yesterday when Honda and Yamaha announced plans for cheaper ranges of their electric bicycles. Sir Clive, you may remember, invented one of the earliest electrically powered bikes when he launched the Zeta in 1994. This is a power unit that, when attached to the back wheel of a bike, turns it into a mini- moped. Puffed-out cyclists flick a switch to get battery-powered assistance when climbing uphill.

Honda will launch a Racoon series of electro-bikes in Japan in February at prices starting at 79,500 (pounds 421). Yamaha is also getting in on the act with a lower-priced range in January.

Sir Clive remains unfazed, however. "I'm not in the slightest bit worried. Their products will probably be much more expensive than ours - too expensive for the volume market, I suspect. But they will give credibility to the marketplace."

Sir Clive says he has sold 15,000 Zetas so far, priced at a Honda-whipping pounds 145.

So pleased is he with sales that he hopes to increase the marketing spend next year. Hopefully things will go more smoothly than at one press test at the time of the launch. Then, a pre-production Zeta surprised its rider when it shot backwards and crashed into a bus shelter.

Sir Malcolm Field, the former chief executive of WH Smith who stepped down a year ago, has found an appropriate new berth. He has picked up a non-executive directorship at the Stationery Office, the old HMSO. Also signing up for duty is Sir Michael Partridge, the former permanent secretary of the Department of Social Security. Sir Malcolm, who presided over a calamitous profit warning at WH Smith last May, will at least find himself in familiar territory. The Stationery Office is also trying to rid itself of its old public sector ethos. And if anyone wants to know anything about manila envelopes and Basildon Bond writing paper then he must be the man.

Still on WH Smith, the newsagent group has found a new director of corporate affairs after an 18-month search which followed Kevin Hawkins' departure to Safeway. The new man is Tim Blythe, formerly of the financial PR firm, Brunswick.

A youthful-looking 41, Mr Blythe found the offer (and the money) too tempting after two and a half years' honest toil at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Previously he was head of corporate affairs at Dairy Crest and head of PR at NatWest Bank. "I always wanted a top job in-house. And my mother never let me do a paper round," he said.

Like a true Stakhanovite, he chose to take no time off between jobs. He cleared his desk at Brunswick on Friday and was installed at WH Smith's head office yesterday. Sadly the receptionist didn't seem to know this. "Sorry, we don't have him listed."

The Berkeley Playhouse, the Mayfair table-dancing club which is raising funds via the Enterprise Investment Scheme, has caused a flurry of cheque writing in the City. The group has already raised pounds 1.6m of its target pounds 2.1m, with new funds coming in at the rate of pounds 50,000 a day.

The largest investment has come from one gent who has put in pounds 100,000 (a definite lifetime free membership there).

Though the original deadline for applications for investors was 24 December, the operations director, Edward Sunley, says he has received several requests from City bankers and dealers asking him to extend the deadline until they get their Christmas bonuses. "We will probably oblige. It would be churlish not to."

A big row is brewing in the Cotswolds over who should be granted the honour of cutting the turf at the start of the long-awaited Broadway bypass. Michael Heseltine, no less, was drafted in by local Tory councillor John Cole. Councillor Cole was no sooner crowing about his coup than it all went horribly wrong.

The Labour-dominated council intervened, saying that Deputy Prime Minister though Mr Heseltine may be, he was not the man for a local job such as this. Councillor Cole is angry that his networking is going to waste. "I shall be quite upset if we don't get him here."

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