The Solo is pricey, but time is valuable to urban commuters and Solo could save plenty in congested mega-cities like Vancouver
Jerry Kroll figures the day electric cars became really cool was last August when Elon Musk introduced “ludicrous mode” to the Tesla Model S, making it the third quickest production car in the world. Suddenly, soccer moms became red light champs on the local main streets of America. Kroll fervently believes that cool factor will spill over to his sleek new one-person commuter EV, the Solo.
“In North America, if you’re the king of the stoplight, people respect that. The idea that some guy in a Dodge Hellcat can spend $60,000 on his 700 horsepower nightmare car and a soccer mom in a Model X can kick his ass? It’s embarrassing, that’s the way it’s interpreted,” Kroll said in an interview.
“The guy driving around in his bright green Hellcat takes it right to the used car lot, parks it and leaves it. Throws the keys at the salesman and says ‘Get rid of this thing.’ It’s a North American culture thing.”
The innovative Solo is an elegant styled, three-wheeled electric car designed for commuters. It has a 160 kms range, a top speed of 130 kph, and rockets from o-100 km/h in just 8 seconds thanks to 95 foot lbs of torque and a “lightweight aerospace composite chassis” that clocks in at just 626 kgs.
Oh, and it also has plenty of room to bring home the groceries.
This is a modern “car” for modern urbanites, says Kroll. He asks me if I’ve seen the CIBC TV ad featuring penguins.
“Just yesterday I saw one where the dad penguin is walking around saying ‘Hey, I’m a modern guy, I bank online. I shop organic,’ and then he opens up the front hood and he’s plugging in the car,” Kroll said.
“I mean, when mainstream banks start using an electric car as an analogy for ‘I’m a modern guy; I’m living in today’s world’ – it’s game over for the fossil fuel car.”
Readers may already have guessed that Kroll is a helluva salesman. And he’s done a helluva job with his start up company, Vancouver-based Electra Meccanica.
Kroll first became interested in electric cars for the masses in 2007 while he was developing advanced electric race cars at the Nasa Research Park in Mountainview, California. He recruited long-time friend Henry Reisner, whose company Intermeccanica Inc. builds custom vehicles in Vancouver, and they rolled out the Solo prototype in early 2015.
The Solo is first and foremost a commuter car designed for congested mega-cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles, London, New York, etc.
“…83% of people are commuting 30 kms or less each direction by themselves in a five-person gasoline car. That’s the sweet spot – it’s huge. It’s not a niche, it’s the majority,” Kroll says.
“Instead of driving your F350 truck or your Toyota whatever, you can get into a vehicle that doesn’t cost anything to operate, drive downtown, park literally for free. And in BC we have HOC lane access for all electric cars.”
Kroll argues that electric vehicles are “over the tipping point,” that it’s no longer just Innovators buying them but now Early Adopters and soon Early Majority Adopters.
He’s way too optimistic on that point because data argues otherwise. In British Columbia, probably the region most hospitable for EVs, there are less than 5,000 registered with ICBC out of a provincial auto fleet of 2.5 million cars and light duty trucks.
Even fewer (under 700) are registered in Alberta, where oil reigns supreme, though Ontario and Quebec numbers compare favourably to BC.
The number one constraint to EV adoption is price and the Solo is no lightweight in this department, costing $19,888, which is comparable to many compact 5-person internal combustion cars on the market. BC offers a $5,000 EV purchase subsidy, which will no doubt help boost sales, but the experience in other markets (like California) is that the effect on adoption is not that significant.
The company must finish its US and Canadian certification before it becomes eligible for the BC subsidy.
Despite the many advantages Kroll points out, spending even $15,000 on a more specialized vehicle is going to give many consumers pause.
That said, as Kroll quite correctly argues, the market is huge and the Solo will occupy a niche with very little competition, which should bode well for sales right out of the gate.
Electra Meccanica had 500 pre-orders – customers can reserve one with a $250 deposit – and began delivering Solos to customers last month.
“What I’ve promised the first few customers here in British Columbia because we haven’t completed Canadian compliance, is that when we actually get certified and receive the rebate, the company will give thse buyers that amount of money from our company,” Kroll said.
“We’ll have a couple of Solos out in May and then more in June and July.”
The Solo is a great example of technical innovation to solve pressing human problems – responding to climate change challenges, urban congestion, changing markets, and so on.
Not all innovations succeed.
But the Solo might – and probably will, in my opinion – because it promises to save consumers time on long, congested commutes and time has a great deal of value to busy professionals. Extra value is the one thing that can overcome other perceived constraints to adoption, like high cost.
While the upfront price is important, the longer lifetime, lower maintenance and cost of energy are just as important. Many EVs cost more than $30000 so Solo is competitive just on sticker price. Where Solo trounces the competition is on cost of operation. Changing tires? Three cost less than four. Changing oil? Solo has none. Brakes and bearings? Solo is such a light little thing these both take less of a beating. Then there’s energy. Solo uses less per driver-mile than most EVs by nearly a factor of two. That’s because of the smaller size and area swept of air.
While Solo is designed to be a great second car just for commuting and errands, it can also be a great first and second car for folks who don’t have kids yet and value flexibility. Not having to mesh schedules or wait for the car to become available also saves time.
In my case, I’m retired. I don’t commute but I do a lot of errands and having a Solo or two in the driveway meets all our needs probably 98% of the time. We could rent or hire instead of paying insurance and maintenance on a larger vehicle as the first car. Someone else can drive the grandkids. I can shop, visit professionals, tour the land, hunt, fish, gather nuts and berries and take photographs without worrying about the cost of operation. I’m going Solo and the purchase-price is just a down payment on the rest of my life.