By R. Bruce Striegler
According to Jerry Kroll, CEO of Vancouver-based Electra Meccania, it all began in Italy in 1959, where Frank Reisner built custom sports cars. In 1975 the company relocated to California where it built replica cars, such as the Porsche 356 Speedster and Checker taxis. In 1982, the company moved to Vancouver, and in 2012, Kroll and the son of Frank Reisner began work on what would become the company’s first electric vehicle. In 2017, nearly 200,000 electric cars were sold in the U.S., representing less than two per cent of the total 17 million vehicles sold over a year. In Canada, that market has risen from 5,300 vehicles in 2014 to over 34,000 in 2018. The acceptance of electric vehicles has been expanding rapidly due to government subsidies, their increased range and lower battery costs, and environmental sensitivity. However, the stock of plug-in electric cars represented just about one out of every 250 motor vehicles on the world’s roads by December 2018.
Things are changing, however, according to Kroll, the automotive industry is in a stage in which electric car companies like Tesla are arguably grabbing as much or more attention for their innovation than the Big Three, and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are experimenting with autonomous vehicles. “The way this company was formed is my background as an environmentalist, and believe it or not, working in the IndyCar field as an agent for race car drivers such as Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and other top-level race car drivers.”
Solo, a unique three-wheeled single-seater moves into production
Electra Meccania’s Solo is ten feet long and four feet wide, has a top speed of 82 mph, and has only three wheels. It’s a single seater — but it has two doors and goes from zero to 60 mph in about eight seconds. The vehicle lacks none of the amenities of a regular auto; power windows, LCD digital instrument cluster, rear view backup camera, 285 liters of cargo space, heated seat and carpeted trunk. Solo’s most attractive feature may be its low cost. Depending on the province and the respective electric vehicle rebate, the car’s approximate $20,000 price tag can become almost insignificant. Kroll notes that, “You can plug it into any wall outlet, any 110-volt or any 220-volt like the regular J1772 plugs we see around. The lithium ion phosphate battery is good for 3,000 cycles, which is roughly 12 years if charged every day.”
The unique-looking vehicle attracted a lot of attention at the Vancouver International Auto Show, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, and the 13th Annual AltCar Expo in California. “Our company’s mission is to close the last gas station, and the best way to do that is to provide people with an electric car that they can use right away for most of the mission, which is to commute. Solo does everything that any other electric car will do, it will park anywhere; people only have to want and be willing to pay less for it.” Solo’s three wheels mean it could be considered a motorcycle in some jurisdictions, but the company says it requires only a regular car licence because it has a hard roof. It can drive 160 kilometres on a charge, at a top speed of 130 km/h, and takes up to six hours to charge on 110V, half that time if you use 220V.
In 2018, the Company produced over 40 Solo vehicles at their first manufacturing facility in Vancouver, BC and delivered them to customers in the United States and Canada. These vehicles were delivered to paying customers and potential customers in efforts to conduct pilot tests for commercial use, as well as for use in Global Compliance testing, such as crash tests. “As we announced in December 2018, we received the first two 2019 SOLO EVs from Zongshen, our strategic Chinese manufacturing partner, which will be used for testing, with an additional 48 SOLO EVs to be delivered to pre-order customers in Q1 2019. We expect our daily production rate to ramp considerably over the course of 2019 to deliver a total of 5,000 vehicles by year-end.”
New model development and new showrooms start 2019 on a high note
Kroll says that in early October 2018, the company made more history with the opening of its first dealership in the United States, at a high-traffic intersection on Ventura Boulevard in the Los Angeles suburb of Studio City. In addition to the Vancouver showroom, the company now has dealerships in Portland, Oregon and Seattle Washington. Electra Meccanica is completing final tooling of a production facility in China, and plans to begin building and shipping Solos in early 2019. “We have signed a manufacturing agreement with Zongshen Industrial Group Co., Ltd to produce 75,000 SOLO all-electric vehicles over the next three years.”
At the same time, development of the Tofino two-seat electric sportscar, for which Electra Meccania claims over 41,000 reservations, is well underway in its Canadian facilities alongside the strategic design, engineering and production partners. “We expect to deliver our first pre-production car in late 2019 with initial customer deliveries to follow in 2020. We have several other exciting product concepts that we look forward to sharing once Tofino development has reached a more advanced stage.” Tofino will be a two-seater roadster, able to go from zero to 60 in seven seconds, with a top speed of over 125 MPH. The chassis is manufactured from a lightweight aerospace-grade composite and is capable of driving up to 250 miles (400km) on a single charge of its lithium ion battery. Kroll notes that 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Intermeccanica, “Our Italian automotive legacy, and the 20th year since we began working on electric vehicle systems.