VANCOUVER — Electra-Meccanica’s long-promised three-wheeled electric car might — just might — be near the end of its long gestation.
The Vancouver-based company’s Solo was conceived in 2012 and seemingly has been on the verge of its retail debut since then. But it really is almost ready for prime time now, company President Paul Rivera told Automotive News Canada.
The Solo will arrive first in Los Angeles, with sales expanding to other parts of California and western U.S. states.
“As soon as we’re comfortable,” Rivera said. “We keep refining. We’re close, but we haven’t released a timeline yet.”
Early production Solos have been delivered from a plant in southern China, for demonstrations, testing and fleet evaluation. Zongshen Industrial Group, which makes motorcycles and quad bikes, is contracted to produce the Solo.
In May, ElectraMeccanica broke ground on an assembly plant and tech centre in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., initially putting together knockdown kits from the Chinese plant. The U.S. plant, reportedly eligible for US $8 million ($9.7 million) in state grants and incentives, is being built by a third-party developer and leased by ElectraMeccanica.
“Everything we do is asset-light,” Rivera said.
When fully operational, the plant is expected to create up to 500 jobs and will be capable of producing up to 20,000 vehicles a year.
The goal is eventually to have a made-in-the-U.S. product for the American market, supplying Europe and Asia from production in China.
While three-wheelers are not common in North America, the global market is pegged at US $9 billion ($10.9 billion) and is expected to grow to US $13.7 billion ($16.6 billion) by 2027, according to The Insight Partners, a New York-based research consultancy.
SOLO — AND SO LONG
The Solo’s near-decade development was not the original plan. While a few hand-built examples were sold to early adopters in British Columbia, co-founders Jerry Kroll and Henry Reisner had planned to begin volume production in 2018. It was never quite ready.
When Rivera replaced Kroll as CEO in 2019 (Kroll remains on the ElectraMeccanica board), he launched an extensive revamping of the Solo, creating essentially a new vehicle. It retains its original silhouette, but the chassis, body, drive, cooling, steering and braking systems were changed.
The update added collision crumple zones, side-impact protection — though Solo is classified as a motorcycle in the United States — and interior upgrades such as air conditioning, a heated seat and Bluetooth.
“We get one chance to do this, and we need to make sure that we have a sustainable company beyond all of this,” Rivera said.
California-based analyst Craig Irwin of Roth Capital Partners said revisions were necessary.
“The original version probably would have encountered issues,” said Irwin, whose firm acted as a share-placement agent for ElectraMeccanica. “If it comes out and the wheels fall off, you’ve got real problems.”
Rivera has “unmatched experience” to refine the Solo, Irwin said. That includes stints with auto designer Chip Foose in California and as president of the engineering firm Ricardo USA, overseeing contracts with several automakers.
“I’m used to large-scale engineering projects in the automotive space and putting vehicles on the road,” he said.
CHANGES AT THE TOP
Rivera made changes to the front office, too. Reisner, who as COO nurtured Solo’s original design and manufacturing program, was replaced by American Kevin Pavlov, who previously worked at EV maker Karma and auto-parts giant Magna International.
Reisner, a British Columbia native, remains executive vice-president primarily responsible for Intermeccanica, founded by his late father. It builds highly regarded replicas of the Porsche 356 and the 356based eRoadster.
“This was a combined decision around how do we grow this company and bring in the right expertise, somebody who’s built out plants before, somebody who’s put cars into production, and that’s why we did it,” Rivera said.
He also hired Sydney Dunn, another American, away from General Motors to build up ElectraMeccanica’s fleet-sales department.
“We are going aggressively after all the fleets,” Rivera said.
In line with its lean approach, ElectraMeccanica eschewed bricksand-mortar sales outlets in favour of kiosks at upscale malls. Service will be contracted out to third-party providers, though Rivera also plans to set up some service centres.
The U.S. rollout will test whether real demand exists for the Solo, which is priced at US $18,500, before government EV rebates. Analyst Irwin said he thinks there is.
“The market they’re going for, it’s kind of a new niche,” he said. “This is people that don’t really want a motorcycle but want the fun of a motorcycle.”
Fleet operators such as food and small parcel-delivery services or parking enforcement will also embrace Solo for densely populated cities, Irwin said.
The Solo is a logical choice for commuting or urban delivery, Marc Geller, a spokesman for the Electric Vehicle Association, said from San Francisco.
“I think the logic of three-wheel electric vehicles is too great in specific markets,” Geller said.