The three-wheeled Solo is neither a car nor motorcycle but combines elements of both. It is classified as a motorcycle or cyclecar in initial target markets such as California and Oregon, allowing ElectraMeccanica to skirt some of the strict U.S. regulations governing conventional four-wheeled passenger cars.
However, it does not require a motorcycle license to operate and offers conventional controls and amenities that will be familiar to the ordinary consumer.
The production version intended for launch in California features engineering refinements such as electric power steering, a wider front track, electronic stability control and improved side-impact protection. The Solo also comes with features that consumers demand, such as air conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity. In the interior, improvements have been made to in-cabin noise and seat comfort.
The sticker price is set to be under US$20,000, and the Solo qualifies for state and federal tax rebates as an EV.
The Solo faces some big challenges from the market, said Horace Dediu, a Helsinki-based industry analyst specializing in mobility and technology.
“There’s definitely a gap in the market, but it’s a really tough segment for the ownership model,” Dediu said. “Three-wheeled vehicles have always been a tough sell as a practical solution. If you look at the success of the Polaris Slingshot, Polaris refers to the experience as riding rather than driving. Riding is fun, driving is work.”
Currently, most other electric startups are aimed at the recreational and premium side of the market. Electric-truck maker Rivian, for instance, has raised $3 billion in for its R1T pickup. The R1T will start at US$70,000 and likely appeal to those who see electric motoring as a luxury worth paying for.
The Solo, on the other hand, makes an argument for a minimalist driving ethos.
But even in environmentally aware California, the single-seater will find itself competing with conventional internal-combustion subcompact cars, based purely on price and operating costs. The Honda Fit, for instance, starts at US$16,190 and can perform multiple tasks for a buyer, even if it is less efficient at just being a commuter.
“Mobility is becoming a service,” Dediu said. “Deploying the Solo as a fleet, with an app, might make more sense.”
Further, the Solo is not the only EV at an entry-level price. Thanks to steep depreciation, the used-EV market has low-cost options for consumers looking for a plug-in commuter. Dediu pointekld out that a used Nissan Leaf can cost half of what the Solo does and is a product from an established car company.
MAKES A STATEMENT
Still, the Solo has its strengths. It looks like nothing else on the road, serving as a rolling billboard for small-business and delivery use. It can be fully charged in just three hours at a 220V outlet. It’s also a visible statement of reduced resource consumption, which could prove attractive in climate-conscious times.
“People want to make a statement,” Rivera said. “The Solo is the most efficient tool for single-occupant transport. It’s a minimalist approach and something unique.”
Rivera also said ElectraMeccanica itself is well-positioned as a company with low capital outlay. Its manufacturing partner, Zongshen Industrial Group, will handle production.
In late February, the company announced plans to build an assembly plant in the United States. But to maintain a capital-light model, the site will assemble Solos from knock-down kits supplied by Zongshen.
“Despite the Coronavirus, we are working tirelessly with our engineering partners to mitigate the best we can,” Rivera said, “We still plant the strategic launch beginning in Los Angeles.”
But to maintain a capital-light model, the site will assemble Solos from knock-down kits supplied by Zongshen.
And instead of expensive brick-and-mortar retail, ElectraMeccanica will use small kiosks in retail locations that can be redeployed based on consumer interest.
“We can use short-term leases to test the waters,” Rivera said.
Only 80 employees developed the Solo over five years at a cost of US$80 million, he said.
The company’s small size may give it agility as it begins to launch in the Los Angeles market in the middle of this year. That flexibility could become the EV company’s greatest strength as the Solo tries to find its place.
With files from Steve Mertl