Image source: Fabi, Youtube
By Marc Amblard, Founder & Managing Director, Orsay Consulting
The industry is scrambling to bring electric vehicles (EV) to market quickly to meet tightening CO2 emission and CAFE standards, or OEMs will pay hefty financial penalties. However, this should be done with the smallest investment possible given the remaining uncertainty as to the life volumes and ramp-up curves of these new vehicles. Non-traditional vehicle manufacturers as well as large fleets are also considering custom made EVs to serve their specific needs, whether it be to move people or goods. However, volumes do not always justify the development of a specific platform.
Over the past year, several products — and startups — have emerged that enable companies with limited expertise or resources to build full EVs or have them built under contract. Modular, electric rolling chassis, a.k.a. skateboards, are specifically designed to be “mated” with bodies of varies types and shapes, in an approach that is reminiscent to the coach builder industry of the 1930s. The concept was first introduced about 20 years ago by then GM’s VP of R&D Larry Burns and his team.
Two players have emerged with a pure skateboard play, namely AEV Robotics and REE. Rivian and Canoo have first developed vehicles, and now make their EV platforms available for other applications. A pair of complementary Tier 1 suppliers, Bosch and Benteler, are leveraging their parts bins to offer a full-fledged electric skateboard. Lastly, supercar maker Rimac will develop and manufacture high performance EV subsystems for the industry. What are these companies actually doing, and how can they contribute to the electrification of mobility across the globe?
The Australian startup presented its connected, autonomous, electric platform at CES 2019. AEV Robotics pitched it as a skateboard upon which a variety of goods and people movers can be designed and built with partners. This skateboard is the only one I know of with the promise to integrate autonomous driving capabilities, though this part of the value proposition may be a long shot for AEV. The base design offers steering with both front and rear wheels.
No partnerships with OEMs or major suppliers have been announced yet.
Based in Israel, REE came out of stealth mode in mid-2019. The uniqueness of the company’s skateboard resides in its corner module, which was developed with Tier 1 suppliers. The compact subsystem integrates power, braking, steering and suspension. This design allows for easy interchangeability, which can be leveraged to maximize a fleet’s availability. The modular architecture offers between 60 kW (two motors) and 180 kW (four motors).
In late 2019, the REE announced a partnership with Japanese truck market Hino Motors. The two companies showcased a full electric, 6 wheel flat bed concept building on REE’s technology. Partnerships with Mitsubishi and supplier AAM have also been announced.
Established in Michigan in 2009, the well-funded startup — over $3B raised to date — will launch the battery electric R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV at the end 2020. Rivian developed the vehicles from the ground up and will manufacture them in-house. Fitted initially with one 174 hp motor on each wheel, the modular platform has an industry leading battery capacity of up to 180 kWh — the next highest capacity is 100 kWh on Tesla Model S and X.
Amazon, which led a $700M investment round in 2019, recently ordered 100k cargo vans to be designed on the same platform (above) and built by Rivian, with first deliveries in 2021. The platform’s modularity will make it possible to adapt the number of motors and the battery capacity to various use cases, e.g. 4 motors for regions with harsh winters.
Ford Motor and Rivian, in which the former invested $500M a year ago, will be co-developing a Lincoln-badged SUV on the R1T/R1S platform. This will likely be Ford Motor’s only 2nd purpose build battery EV, following the recently introduced Mustang Mach-E. This is certainly an accelerated way for the blue oval OEM to pick up steam in the electrification of its range. One can also suspect that the Mach-E platform was under spec’d for this new Lincoln EV.
Based in Los Angles, Canoo has designed from the ground up a 7 seater EV that will be distributed under a subscription model with an expected 2021 launch. The vehicle is designed in collaboration with mega supplier and vehicle assembler Magna. Most of the development work went into the EV platform. Designed with either 2 or 4 wheel drive and up to 300 hp, the modular skateboard offers up to 80 kWh of battery capacity.
Hyundai Motor and Canoo announced recently that they will jointly develop an all-electric platform based on Canoo’s skateboard for upcoming Hyundai and Kia EVs. Given that the Korean OEM already has battery EVs in its product line-up (e.g. Kona), this move demonstrates Hyundai Motor’s strategy to accelerate its electrification. This is further supported by Hyundai Motor’s investment in both Rimac (see below) and British electric cargo van startup Arrival.
Rivian and Canoo will definitely benefit from the volume boost generated by their respective partnerships to amortize their investment faster and negotiate lower costs from their suppliers.
At CES 2020, the two German suppliers introduced a jointly developed, twin motor EV platform. With scalable battery storage, this skateboard is ready to be mated with upper bodies adapted to various applications. It should be noted that the two suppliers announced a collaboration with Automobili Pininfarina last September.
The joint skateboard presented at CES certainly reminds interested parties that incumbent players have the technology depth and breadth to fully serve the industry’s needs. However, will they have the flexibility of smaller companies to bring vehicles to market as fast and efficiently?
The Croatian startup has brought to market the low volume, C2 electric supercar which has demonstrated the company’s technical expertise. Whereas Rimac intends to continue producing exclusive vehicles, they will also leverage their expertise to become a Tier 1 supplier of high performance EV sub-systems to the automotive industry.
It is worthwhile noting that Porsche and Hyundai Motor have both invested in the company since 2018, and have acquired respective stakes of 15% and 14%. We can expect that Rimac will supply components and assist the two OEMs in the development of their EVs.
These solutions will not only enable smaller OEMs to more quickly bring EVs to market, but they will also lower the barrier to entry for new mobility players. This is a good thing as the resulting vehicles are fully electric. Nevertheless, full-fledged OEMs must fully embrace the development of electric platforms. Otherwise, their scope will shrink drastically, unless they successfully pivot to become mobility providers, but that’s another issue altogether!