Start-ups to keep an eye on
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We profile a selection of movers and shakers (besides Tesla) looking for a slice of the action
You could be forgiven for thinking that Tesla alone is shaking up the notion of what's expected from a 21st-century passenger vehicle.
And while Mr Musk and his army of boffins do have a stranglehold on what's ultra-cool and utterly game-changing in terms of automotive technology and ownership, other burgeoning car companies out looking for a slice of the action. Some of these quasi-start-ups are far more likely to succeed than you might imagine.
LYNK & CO
When Chinese automotive giant Geely purchased Volvo, it had more than the Scandinavian firm's existing technological nous and brand value in mind. Geely wanted to use Volvo's engineering, design and marketing muscle to develop its own premium brand with a difference. It has been slow going, but things are picking up pace.
So far, the oddly monikered Lynk & Co has shown off two concept vehicles; the much-less imaginatively named 01 and 03 concepts. The former is a luxury compact crossover vehicle due on sale next year. The latter is a sporty-looking sedan. Both were designed in-house at Volvo.
The 01 and 03 (and yes, those model names will make it into production) will be pitched at the exec end of the market, with opulent interiors and rich feature sets of whiz-bang tech onboard. Engines are likely to be Volvo-sourced four-cylinder petrols, with both PHEV and BEV 'leccy versions following on from launch. In all, Lynk & Co are planning six - or 06 - different models over the next few years.
So far, so ... well, European. But it's in the way Lynk & Co envisions these cars being used that sets them apart. Each car will come with a shareable "digital key" that allows the owner to provide the car to others when he or she isn't using it. The idea is that, though fashion-forward, Lynk & Co's models are designed to be more premium appliance than individually specified pulse-quickener.
When you're at the office, your 01 or 03 is available to be used by other approved drivers. As the primary owner, you provide access to the vehicle via smartphone app. To make this a seamless ownership/usage experience, Lynk & Co has developed an "advanced car connectivity cloud" with another big Swedish techno-leader, Ericsson.
Rather than rely on existing vehicle engineering and architecture to create a new brand using established ideas, NIO is an autonomous vehicle start-up from the get-go. Its Chinese name is Weilai, which means "blue sky coming". And NIO likes to suggest it will be blue-sky thinking that will see it succeed with its initial model offering, the EVE.
A venture capitalists' darling, NIO has poached talent from Tesla, Ford and Uber-rival Lyft during its short but spirited existence. It now has design and technology centres in China, the US, Germany and the UK.
The EVE has been designed from the ground-up to have a focus on passenger comfort. (Well, when the vehicle is doing the driving for you, why bother sitting up straight or even facing the same way that the vehicle is travelling?) To that end NIO's vehicle interior brings to mind super-stylish apartments or even a first-class aircraft cabin. The company describes the EVE's interior as being like a mobile living area, where passengers can entertain while they ride.
Time is tight for NIO, though. It plans to have the EVE on US roads by 2020. Whether it makes it -- as well as developing the 950km battery range it boasts of in its marketing -- will be interesting to watch.
Karma Automotive is a start-up that has sprung from the remnants of Fisker. Wait a minute. Fisker? Wasn't that some crazed Dutchman's supercar project back in the mid-2000s? The sort of extravagantly drawn, low-slung, no-expense-spared performance sedan that graced the covers of car magazines for all of six months before disappearing into nothing?
Yeah, that's the one. But wait; because it seems there is more. We'll include Fisker in our quick rollcall of notable start-ups because ... well, it is starting again.
Fisker (under the stewardship of Henrik Fisker) developed and sold the world's first plug-in electric supercar in the form of the Fisker Karma. It was briefly a big thing after its 2008 debut, until Tesla filed a lawsuit, claiming Fisker and his development team stole intellectual property relating to the Tesla Model S in order to develop the Karma.
The courts found Fisker had done no wrong, forcing Tesla to pay Fisker's million-dollar legal bill. But while momentarily in the clear, the carmaker then had issues with its battery supplier, forcing it to reneg on promised vehicle deliveries while the banks froze its line of credit.
By 2012, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed 338 Karmas stored at a port in New Jersey, and Fisker's insurance company refused to pay out on the reported US$30m claim, the company was all but done. And Henrik Fisker was cast forever as the Andrew Ridgely to Elon Musk's George Michael.
Spool forward to today, though, and things appear to be on the boil once again for the company formally known as Fisker. Now under Chinese ownership (Wanxiang Group purchased Fisker for US$149.2 million after the former's bankruptcy ... it also purchased the battery supplier), Karma Automotive unveiled its first post-Fisker concept late last year.
The Revero is a luxury electric hybrid sedan that looks not-unlike its ancestor. And, despite previous issues, it even features similar (but upgraded) battery technology and charging architecture.
Karma says the idea of a Fisker-like performance sedan still appeals to many buyers looking for something different (er, yeah ... see the Tesla Model S for proof of that we guess), so it is anticipating producing 3000 Reveros at its California factory. Let's just hope those batteries last the distance.