Merlin Motors to move Valley assembly facility

Company plans to roll out three-wheel motorcycles for consumers this month

By Linn Parish

Merlin Motors Inc., the young Renton, Wash.-based maker of Merlin Roadster three-wheel motorcycles, plans to move its Spokane Valley assembly facility into larger quarters as it ramps up production and prepares to release to consumers its high-end, high-performance trikes.

Ron Keto, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, says Merlin Motors has leased 5,800 square feet of manufacturing space in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park, at 3808 N. Sullivan, and plans to move its assembly operation there next month from smaller quarters at 3519 N. Eden, where it has operated for about a year. The company currently has no other assembly facilities.

The Merlin Roadster is a reverse tricycle, with two wheels in front and one wheel in back, and has a one-seat, open-air cockpit with scissor doors that open upward, rather than outward. The vehicle has a motorcycle’s engine and an automobile’s transaxle, Keto says. Retail price is about $30,000.

The company plans to begin filling customer orders next month. Up till now, all of the vehicles that have been built have been used only for promotional purposes and as displays in dealership showrooms.

Keto says the company already has a backlog of 800 vehicle orders from customers throughout the U.S. It expects to make 270 Merlin Roadsters this year and another 1,500 in 2006.

The assembly facility currently employs eight people, and Keto says that likely will increase to as many as 15 workers by year-end.

As production of the Merlin Roadster increases, the company plans to contract out the assembly of its standard vehicles to a manufacturer in Detroit, Keto says. After that occurs, the Spokane facility will continue to make custom roadsters and prototypes of new models, he says.

The Merlin Roadsters are being sold through a variety of types of dealerships in different parts of the U.S., including some Harley Davidson Inc. dealerships, custom-motorcycle or “chopper” shops, and other motorsports outlets.

The vehicles appeal predominantly to aging Harley riders who are becoming less comfortable on a two-wheeler and want a vehicle that’s more stable, Keto says.

A younger group also has emerged, consisting largely of hip-hop artists and basketball players who are interested in the roadsters. For example, he says hip-hop artist Sean “P. Diddy” Combs has requested two Merlin Roadsters to use in an upcoming music video.

Merlin Motors refers to the vehicles as motorcycles, cars, and trikes in different instances, but their designation for licensing purposes will vary from state to state, Keto says. In Washington state, three-wheeled motorcycles are licensed as tricycles, separate from conventional motorcycles and cars. In most states, though, they will be licensed as motorcycles.