DETROIT — See if this sounds familiar: A start-up EV company is basically gifted a modern plant chock-full of world-class production equipment. To reduce product-development costs and time, its first vehicle uses thousands of proven off-the-shelf parts from major suppliers and established automakers.
Lordstown Motors is closely following Tesla’s early playbook as it gears up to launch late next year the battery-powered Endurance, a full-size pickup with four electric motors, a 250-mile range and a starting price of about $52,000, before a federal tax credit of up to $7,500.
Flush with $675 million in cash from a reverse merger with a special-purpose acquisition company, Lordstown’s path will veer in a different direction than Tesla’s did once the Endurance starts rolling down the production line.
CEO Steve Burns told Automotive News during a brief test drive of the company’s lone operational prototype in suburban Detroit that Lordstown will not sell to individual consumers — at least initially — and will target only fleet customers.
With just 50 engineers on staff, one drivable truck in existence, 40,000 preorders and deliveries scheduled to start in about a year, Lordstown will not only need every single thing to go perfectly, it might also need some luck. There’s no telling, for instance, how the COVID-19 pandemic could affect product development.
Burns’ plan to ramp up production quickly with a vehicle that targets the Ford F-150 in safety, handling and quality revolves around making the Endurance extremely simple. Engineers did that by reducing the number of moving parts in the drivetrain and by buying proven components already used in other vehicles.
“There are only four moving parts on the entire vehicle,” Burns said of the four-wheel-drive Endurance’s powertrain. He’s referring to the electric motors installed in each wheel. They eliminate the traditional transmission, transfer case, axles, U-joints, driveshaft and other driveline parts in today’s 4wd trucks.
The motors were designed by Elaphe Propulsion Technologies, a Slovenian company. Elaphe has been working to improve the performance of wheel hub motors and to reduce their weight. The motors are mounted behind each wheel on the Endurance.
Burns said Lordstown licensed Elaphe’s technology and will build the wheel hub motors at its plant in Ohio, which until 2019 assembled the Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan. General Motors lent Lordstown Motors $40 million, some of which was used to buy the plant.
GM parts are all over the Endurance. “We’ve worked a deal with GM, and they are selling us the little things that trip up everybody,” said Burns, while sitting in the Endurance test truck. “These seats we are sitting in are from the Silverado. So are the door mechanisms, seats, and airbags — all Silverado,” he said.
Simplicity isn’t the only reason the Endurance is made of parts bin components. Cost was also a driving factor, Burns said.
“Every EV company comes out at a luxury price point and then says with volume we’ll move down to the mainstream.
“A fleet [operator] won’t pay a luxury price. We had to figure out a way to come to market at the same price as a Ford F-150 right out of the gate,” he said.
The Endurance will use lithium ion batteries from two Korean suppliers. Burns said Samsung is one of the suppliers, but he would not name the other. The company’s proprietary technology is in the software that controls the four wheel hub motors, about 1.5 million lines of code, says Chief Engineer Darren Post, a GM veteran who was the vehicle line executive for a number of vehicles, including the Chevrolet Impala, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice and Opel Zafira. Post, who was in charge of manufacturing for Hummer, also worked at Karma Automotive after he left GM.
Post said Lordstown Motors’ path to production looks like this: Three more trucks, which he called “alpha builds,” are in the process of being assembled and should be operational by the end of the year. But 2021 leaves little room for error and disruption. Plans call for 40 “beta builds” hitting the road next year for durability and safety testing. The goal, Post said, is to have at least 500,000 test miles before production of salable vehicles begins about a year from now.
There is no time frame for the consumer version of the Endurance. But Burns signaled that it won’t be anytime soon.
“There will be a consumer version, but first we want make sure we have a national footprint of service. We don’t need a sales network because we will distribute direct to fleets, but we want to have service network. We really want to get a few billion miles before we roll these out to consumers,” he said.
Lordstown officials would not discuss specific production schedules, nor would they say how long it will take to fill outstanding orders. Asked why a fleet operator would take a chance on a new-from-the-wheels-up vehicle that uses a drivetrain that has never been mass-produced in automobiles before, Burns gives a one-word answer: Money. With no gasoline or diesel fuel to buy and the only scheduled maintenance items for the first five years being windshield wipers and tires, fleet operators can — in theory — reduce costs by using electric trucks instead of gasoline- or diesel-powered pickups.
“Fleet [managers] buy on total cost of ownership. That’s the main thing. We will save them $20,000 over five years over the cost of running a Ford F-150. We start out at the same price, but you start saving money on day one,” he said. “So far everyone has come out with expensive trucks, Rivian and Hummer. No one is in this lane of coming out of the gate with a fleet truck.”
This week on the Electrek Podcast, we discuss the most popular news in the world of sustainable transport and energy, including Tesla’s service push, changes to Tesla’s regen braking, Model 3 2021 gets its EPA rating, and more.
The Electrek Podcast is me, Fred Lambert, editor-in-chief of Electrek, and Seth Weintraub, founder and publisher of Electrek and the 9to5 network, discussing all our top stories of the week while taking questions from our readers and highlighting the most insightful comments on the site.
The show is back live every Friday at 4 p.m. ET on Electrek’s YouTube channel. As a reminder, we’ll have an accompanying post, like this one, on the site with an embedded link to the live stream. Head to the YouTube channel to get your questions and comments in.
The latest online used-vehicle company preparing to go publichas spotted the same trends its predecessors have: a highly fragmented market, relatively low e-commerce penetration and a consumer appetite for online shopping.
But CarLotz Inc., a consignment platform that expects to go public via a reverse merger this quarter, raising $321 million in cash, should be seen less as a merchant that buys low and sells high and more as a service that streamlines the used-vehicle selling process, its CEO told Automotive News. “We are consolidating all the middlemen into one middleman,” said Michael Bor, who co-founded the company.
While competitors deal with auctions, wholesalers, buyers and other parties, “We’re just collapsing all that” as a unified platform, he said.
Initially, CarLotz was meant to be an online platform that would help consumers sell their cars and trucks in a hassle-free way.
Bor, a former investment banker, got the idea for the company when he was driving in his native Virginia down a busy road lined with private parties’ vehicles bearing “for sale” signs.
CarLotz still sells vehicles for consumers, but now the bulk of its business — and the fastest-growing part — is sales it brokers on behalf of corporate partners such as fleet management companies, leasing companies, banks, credit unions, dealers, automakers and others.
“Anybody who otherwise would sell a car in an auction is either a client of ours or a prospective client,” Bor said.
About 60 percent of CarLotz’s inventory comes from corporate partners, some 15 percent from consumer sellers and another 15 percent are vehicles the company acquires “noncompetitively,” Bor said. Less than 10 percent of the company’s vehicles are sourced from auctions.
That said, CarLotz does not have a frosty relationship with auction giants Manheim and ADESA, according to Bor. In fact, ADESA parent KAR Global is listed as a shareholder in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, although the size of its stake so far has not been disclosed. Bor said he did not know KAR’s share offhand.
A KAR spokesman confirmed that the company is a minority shareholder but declined to give an investment amount.
At any rate, CarLotz is still a relatively small player in what it sees as an $841 billion used-vehicle market. It has eight hubs in Virginia — its home base — North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Texas. After going public, the company plans to expand with three or four additional hubs per quarter.
Bor said that even a few months ago, he was not necessarily familiar with SPACs. After speaking with some banks, he decided to go forward with the process, calling it efficient and transparent. It also allows the company to raise more capital than a traditional initial public offering would, he said.
Like most auto retailers, CarLotz saw solid performance in January and February and was gearing up for what was going to be its best quarter in company history. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and created two separate situations for the company — one for sales and another for sourcing.
On the sales side, there was a dramatic drop in March and April, followed by a swift rise in May and throughout the summer. On the sourcing side, it was a longer-term disruption, Bor said. With assembly plants shut down and moratoriums on vehicle repossessions, “it muddled the supply chain quite a bit.”
Many of CarLotz’s clients weren’t getting new inventory to swap out with the old, and the company’s inventory dropped more than 40 percent from March until September. All the while, there was a backlog of inventory forming that needed to get sold, Bor said. In September, CarLotz was expecting to get some of that built-up inventory, but not as much as it did. It now has a record 2,000 vehicles to sell vs. pre-pandemic levels of about 1,300.
In investor documents, CarLotz put the e-commerce penetration in auto retail at just 1 percent, compared with 9 percent for groceries, 27 percent for appliances and 32 percent for apparel. And with used vehicles, Bor sees a long runway. Even in difficult economic times, people still need cars, Bor reasons, noting that in hard-hit years such as 2001 and 2008 sales stayed well above 30 million vehicles.
“So as long as the volume is there, we’re good,” he said. “And the volume seems to always be there in this market.”
Nissan Skyline GT-Rs from the R32, R33 and R34 generations are true Japanese icons and are becoming hugely desirable among enthusiasts throughout the United States. Matt Farah recently had the opportunity to test an R33 model.
This Skyline GT-R is owned by none other than Rutledge Wood, one of the former hosts of Top Gear in the U.S. Evidently, he is a fan of the car’s looks as this Skyline, which has 83,000 km (51,600 miles) on the clock, has been left largely stock.
With that being said, it does feature some upgrades. For example, there are aftermarket coilovers, a custom MagnaFlow exhaust with an offset resonator, and a set of Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires on a set of period-correct wheels. Buying an R33 GT-R like this in the U.S. will set you back about $50,000.
Powering the R33 GT-R is the same basic twin-turbocharged 2.6-liter RB26DETT inline-six engine that also powered R32 and R34 models. As part of a ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between Japanese car manufacturers at the time, the car left the factory with a claimed 276 hp, but in reality, it is closer to 325 hp.
Farah himself has owned an R32-generation GT-R and is clearly a fan of how the R33 handles, saying that it feels pretty light on its feet despite being 5 inches longer than the R32 as well as a touch heavier.
After much controversy, the world will get to find out what the Washington-based automaker’s Tuatara supercar can do, again. On Friday night, SSC CEO Jerod Shelby released a video on the company’s YouTube channel stating the Tuatara will make another run for the record in “the very near future.” The move effectively abandons SSC’s claimed record of 316.11 mph set on Oct. 10 near Pahrump, Nevada.
“We’ll run it again, with every backstop in place, so the speeds clocked on the next run are irrefutable,” Shelby said to Motor Authority.
To ensure the accuracy of the data from the next record attempt, the Tuatara will be equipped with “multiple GPS companies’ equipment in the car” and “their staff on site looking over our shoulder analyzing every run, every detail,” Shelby said in the video.
The record run’s data from Oct, 10 will not be submitted to Guinness World Records. “I don’t believe Guinness would even review the submission due to all the controversy,” Shelby told MA. The initial run’s GPS satellite data has yet to be verified by an independent third party.
Per Guinness World Record’s rules, two independent third-party witnesses were on sight at the record attempt to verify the data and certify they saw it. The independent witnesses were Brian Shoemake of Pahrump Life magazine and Nevada legislator Gregory Hafen II.
Shelby told MA Guinness will not be onsite for the next record attempt as the organization doesn’t send its own people and relies on having two witnesses on site to certify the record. He also said it is yet to be determined who the driver will be and when the next run will take place.
SSC claimed the attempt on Oct. 10 in Nevada consisted of passes of 301.07 mph in one direction and 331.15 mph in the opposite for a two-way average of 316.11. Now, that figure will not be recognized as a new production-car land-speed record. However, SSC will make another attempt to set the record.