Sondors, the firm behind the incredibly successful affordably-priced e-bike crowdsourcing campaign, revealed their anticipated crowdsourced 3-wheeled EV in prototype form at the LA Auto Show yesterday.
The car is intended to start at just $10,000 and have options for 75, 150, and 200 mile range battery packs. It will have three seats, quick electric performance with a 0-60 of 5-8 seconds (presumably depending on battery pack), and be sold online with direct customer delivery. Sondors is targeting 2019 to start delivering vehicles, assuming fundraising goals are met on time.
A three-wheeled affordable startup EV is not a new concept, but Sondors does have a fresh take on it. The reason for going with three wheels instead of four is because the cars can be sold as motorcycles, allowing manufacturers to skirt certain regulations which add to the cost, weight, and complexity of four-wheeled passenger vehicles. Also, three-wheeled vehicles don’t require a motorcycle license, so they can still be driven by everyone.
Sondors’ take is fresh is because both the exterior and interior looks quite well-designed, spacious, and “normal” insofar as a three-wheeled electric vehicle can be considered normal. It looks pretty much like a car sans one wheel, the interior is fairly spartan but still nice, and it packs an impressive three seats into such a small space (which is one more seat than my much larger, four-wheeled Tesla Roadster).
The interior seems more spacious than you would expect out of a tiny vehicle, though Sondors was not allowing anyone to sit in it at the show. More on that in the coming weeks when we will get an opportunity to take this car out for a spin.
Sondors plans to incorporate all the comfort and safety features you would expect on a modern vehicle – air conditioning, power windows, airbags, traction and stability control, etc. They even would like to eventually add autonomous drive to the car, and be able to stow the steering wheel away. Despite intending the car to be fun to drive, founder/CEO Storm Sondors claims that he “hates driving” – an attitude that the monotony of rush hour traffic between LA and his home in Malibu could inspire in just about anyone (trust me, that part of PCH during traffic is the worst).
Sondors says this impressive little prototype was actually built in just 7 months. When I drove the 2009 MINI E, BMW engineers were proud of the fact that they had taken that car from napkin-concept to production in only a year – but they’re a big company and they already had a vehicle platform to utilize. Sondors bringing this car from teaser image through crowdfunding and all the way to early prototype in just over a year, with the prototype itself being built in 7 months, is an incredibly impressive effort.
This is still very much a prototype, though. Specs are light, and we don’t really know much more than what was stated on the backsplash (nothing about motor power, battery size etc.). The hood can be removed, but does not open easily on a hinge. There is currently no dedicated storage space in the car, but Sondors claims they’re thinking of adding a bit of cargo space under the hood. And while the final product is intended to be highway-capable, the prototype is currently limited to low speeds because, well, they don’t want to break anything on it.
But that hasn’t stopped founder/CEO Storm Sondors from dreaming big about the company’s future. He plans to use contract manufacturing (starting in Italy for the first run, then elsewhere) to build the car, to find people who are experts at manufacturing instead of setting up his own manufacturing venture, but he claims that he’s not interested in selling “just 60,000 or 100,000 cars a year.” The idea of making a limited production vehicle – and the numbers he gave as examples of “limited production” seem quite high already – “bores” him. He wants to make a car for everyone, with a price everyone can afford, which can be used for all the trips to the coffee shop which nobody needs a GMC Yukon for.
To get to this point, Sondors will build on their prototype crowdfunding campaign with a further crowdsourced equity offering, intended to raise an additional $20 million in funds. The full SEC filing for the offering is here. Since this is not a full IPO and is being offered per the Obama-era Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, individuals do not have to be “qualified investors” to participate. (Note: this is not investment advice, and Electrek does not endorse any investment. Crowdfunding startup campaigns are considered high-risk investments, so proceed with caution)
Interestingly, they are not taking deposits and do not plan to until the car is ready for production, which is different from most other companies which have tried similar plans in the past.
And as for that purchase price – expected to sell for just $10,000, this is more affordable than even most other small, three-wheeled EVs. It’s actually a little bit hard to believe – and that could very well change, but anywhere in that ballpark would be nice.
More impressively, Sondors does not take into account any incentives when quoting this expected purchase price. He claims that he “isn’t interested in politics” and has not attempted to approach any government officials about being added to the list of qualifying vehicles for incentives. So these could bring the purchase price down even lower, should it ever qualify for incentives (edit: since a few comments have gotten excited about this – if it’s registered as a motorcycle, it’s unlikely to qualify for car incentives, and motorcycle incentives, where they exist, are smaller than car incentives, so this is unlikely to be a “free car”).
Those of us who have been around EVs have seen many three-wheeled startups promising low-cost EVs come and go. One of the highest profile attempts was the Aptera, a car with both gas and electric options which was announced around the time of the original Tesla Roadster (2006) and took pre-orders from California buyers for many years, until the company eventually folded in 2011 without producing a car (those with deposits did end up getting refunds, eventually).
There are many others in the pipe right now at various stages of life, such as Ampere 1 which showed off their very early prototype for the first time yesterday, Electra Meccanica SOLO which recently secured a manufacturing deal, and Arcimoto which recently IPOed on NASDAQ is just about to start the earliest customer deliveries in the coming weeks.
Sondors is further along than Ampere and does seem to have the most impressive three-wheeled prototype I’ve seen, but there are still a lot of challenges between delivering a single prototype and making it to volume production. Especially if Sondors defines “volume production” as more than his “boring” 100,000 vehicle number, which is quite a high bar to set.
What was nice to hear is that CEO Storm Sondors “gets it.” As a longtime EV driver and advocate, there are some people in the automotive industry who “get it” – who understand the importance and purpose of EVs and how they fit into a person’s life rather than just considering them necessary for compliance with regulations – and some who don’t. Not coincidentally, most of the people who “get it” are people who’ve actually lived with an EV before and realized how great they are to own.
For example, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn “get it.” VW Group CEO Matthias Müller mostly “gets it,” as do his workers and VW’s brand CEO Herbert Diess, but many of VW’s executives don’t. Even a lot of old-school car guys, like Don Garlits and Jay Leno, “get it.”
Storm Sondors is in this category. He knows that electric cars should look cool instead of too-funky, or else you’re going to have a hard time convincing the public to go with something they perceive as different. Being three-wheeled gives Sondors a natural disadvantage in “funky-ness” but the prototype makes up for it with a really nice look which hides that three-wheeled oddness well. But the most important statement he made to convince me that he “gets it” is that in any multi-car household, the EV is the first car, not the second car.
Many people say that an EV can be a good second car, but in practice if a household has multiple cars, why would anyone choose to take the aforementioned GMC Yukon to Starbucks when they can take the fun little three-wheeler, which will be quicker, easier to park, much cheaper to drive and of course tremendously more environmentally friendly? And you don’t need to stop at a gas station either, you just plug it in at home. Much more convenient, so of course it’s the car of choice, the household’s “first car.”
So Storm Sondors has convinced me that he “gets it.” That’s a start. But a lot of these startup guys are fully onboard with the vision, but the devil is in the details when going from concept to production. Can Sondors make it to that point? Will the company be able to sell a million of these quirky, affordable EVs? Let us know what you think in the comments. And if you’d like to see the prototype, visit Sondors in the West Hall Atrium of the LA Auto Show, which opened to the public today and runs until Dec 10th.