Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Kyle Field4
Arcimoto Unpacked: CleanTechnica Exclusive Interview With Founder Mark Frohnmayer
May 11th, 2016 by Kyle Field
We had the opportunity to connect with Arcimoto founder Mark Frohnmayer while he was down in Southern California to talk about the Arcimoto SRK in April. On top of that, he let us get in the cockpit to take the current version (v8) out for a spin around Venice Beach to get a feel for what the SRK was made of.
For those who are unfamiliar with Arcimoto and the SRK, the goal of Arcimoto is to “Build the most affordable, most efficient, most fun everyday electric vehicle that solves all your daily driving.” That’s pretty straightforward and lines up with the high-level plan that Mark laid out in his TEDx talk in Portland a few years back.
The SRK is the realization of the great mission of Arcimoto and has been brought to life as a “3-wheel electric motorcycle for the masses.” As we covered a few weeks back, it is currently expected to hit the market at $11,900, making it one of the most affordable EVs out there.
We pulled back the curtain to talk with Mark about where Arcimoto came from and where he sees it going.
In 2007, Mark was plugging away at the software company Garage Games, which he and a team of partners had founded and built from the ground up. Software giant InterActive Corp moved in and purchased the company, and that provided Mark a nice exit but also posed a problem.
“[The IAG purchase of Garage Games] left me with a pile of cash that I didn’t know what to do with … I looked out at the world and said ‘with what I have, I can solve for me for the rest of my life and never work another day but what I have is tiny and insignificant compared to the problems the world faces.’ So it became a challenge to sort of figure out how I could make a reasonable impact.”
Looking to the Future
Mark saw an opportunity in the automotive industry — specifically, for small EVs that could meet the day-to-day commuting and around-town requirements of most drivers. He and a small team started plugging away at the problem using an iterative design process that tracks very closely to the software development methodology known as Agile Development.
In a nutshell, the idea was to quickly rough up the design for the Arcimoto vehicle, then send it out to the community for feedback. After multiple iterations, the resulting product will be much closer to what the customers are looking for, and thus, willing to buy. Mark had some learnings along the way and very quickly found out that building vehicles is expensive.
“Software company is a great way to acquired cash. A vehicle company is a time-honored way of burning cash … with some notable exceptions.”
Mark ran out of cash ~2.5 years after starting Arcimoto, and to make things worse, many other EV companies — Aptera, Brammo — started around the same time as Arcimoto were also hitting tough times. With the housing market crashing right around the same time, Arcimoto turned its focus inward, developing very capital-efficient methods of operating and iterating through the early development cycles.
Mark attributes his success at Arcimoto to these early lessons, which forged a culture of efficiency, frugality, and a narrow focus on developing only the core features that add the most value.
The name of the SRK arrived on the scene when an early test driver said the vehicle drove like a shark, and the name just stuck. Sticking with the early design goals of building a low-cost, 3-wheel electric vehicle for the masses, the SRK is the embodiment of efficient engineering with a laser focus on developing and delivering a high-quality, low-cost electric vehicle for the masses, and by all rights, Arcimoto has delivered.
The SRK is a front wheel drive, dual-motor electric vehicle that is built to fly. During the test drive, it combined the liberating sensation of riding a 2-wheeled power vehicle like a scooter or motorcycle with the stability and safety of a car. On top of that, at ~1,100 pounds, the SRK is extremely efficient, delivering more than twice the miles per kilowatt-hours as the Tesla Model S, making the SRK the perfect vehicle for commuting and running errands around town.
Don’t be tricked into believing that the SRK is a one-trick pony, only suited for travel around town, because this thing was built to fly. With top speeds in the production version expected to be around 85 mph / 137 kph, the SRK is ready to go, and considering how it handled running around the streets of Venice Beach, California, I think it would be loads of fun for sprinting around some of the local canyon highways.
While the production version of the SRK will come with optional doors to offer protection from the elements, the ability to whip the doors off, combined with the panoramic glass roof, provides the liberated driving experience of a motorcycle or Can-Am trike … without the downsides of being road chow in the event of an accident. The SRK includes a full roll cage that the team is currently vetting with industry engineering experts to ensure the cage provides the passenger safety protection that it looks like it should. Safety belt anchors are also being validated.
To accommodate longer trips, Arcimoto is considering development of an optional range extender via a purpose-built onboard generator or something similar. The team is not actively developing something like this, but strapping a Honda generator to the back for topping up on charge over lunch seems like a rather straightforward exercise.
A solar panel rooftop is also in the running for consideration in what feels like a long list of potential aftermarket options for this flexible vehicle. If a generator isn’t your thing because you really want to cut the addiction to gasoline, you can stop off at one of the many J1772 chargers that are well documented on the Plugshare app.
For your gear, the SRK is being developed with light towing in mind and can tow a 400 lb motorcycle trailer. There are many motorcycle trailers out there that would work on the SRK that the team expects would be a rather straightforward item to integrate.
The Almighty Autonomous Arcimoto
Beyond just being an awesome electric vehicle, the team at Arcimoto is looking to the future for the SRK. In his TEDx talk founder Mark Frohnmayer laid out very clear plans for the future of Arcimoto being autonomous … something I straight up missed until we talked, which I blame on the allure of the rest of his plan.
In parallel to Arcimoto’s efforts to finalize the production version of the SRK, the company is pushing forward with the development of a fully autonomous SRK, with the first version expected to hit the road at the end of this year (Wow!).
No, that doesn’t mean you will be able to buy one this year, but it’s awesome that a company as small as Arcimoto is pursuing such an aggressive timeline for such R&D-heavy tech like autonomous driving … until you remember that Mark Frohnmayer is a software guy AND an EV guy, so the merger of the two seems like a natural next step.
Moreover, Mark sees the SRK as the perfect platform for autonomous driving. What’s the point of building autonomous vehicles if you still have to haul around a car designed for 5 passengers, like the Model S, when the average trip will just be 1 or 2 people? The SRK is an extremely light, extremely efficient two-seater, which is much closer to being the perfect platform for moving people around and can do so at a much lower energy cost with much lower emissions.
Does that mean Arcimoto is also leaning into owning and operating a fleet of autonomous on-demand vehicles? Nope. Mark shared that they have no current plans to head this direction and that Arcimoto is just looking to sell the vehicles for the time being.
Having said that, as with all things in this extremely dynamic field, it will be interesting to see how the ideas out on the fringes of the timeline (like this one) evolve as we move forward. For now, each SRK it can put out on the road in place of a car is a significant reduction in emissions, which is a key deliverable for Arcimoto.
When it comes to service, Mark is very clear that the SRK is essentially a motorcycle … that’s electric. The majority of the components on it that will experience wear are standard — tires, brakes, shocks, windshield wipers — and even those should last much longer than on an internal combustion vehicle. Mark laid it down very well:
“The number of service items on the thing is actually very small. The electric motor has 1 moving part, it’s the thing that spins around. The gear train is very simple, it’s just a 2-stage reduction, there’s no differential, there’s no switching of gears. It’s a very predictable drive system.
At volume production several years out, we expect it will be a very long-lasting drivetrain. [We expect to achieve] hundreds and hundreds of thousands of miles before any significant service of any kind.
You’ll replace the wiper fluid, you’ll replace the brake fluid and brake pads … but again, you’ll be regen braking almost all of the time so your brake replacement frequency will be very low. You’ll replace the tires but you’re also driving an 1100 pound vehicle using automotive tires. So even in that sense, you’re going to have very low wear and tear.”
For the times when the vehicle does need service, Arcimoto plans to vet and certify existing shops (likely motorcycle shops) that already do this kind of work in each of the markets it sells into. That ensures Arcimoto owners can drive with confidence that when they need service, there’s a network and a process to follow to get the vehicle the TLC it needs and get back on the road.
Arcimoto is developing the SRK for the long haul … not just as a toy to be used and disposed of but as something customers can buy and enjoy for a lifetime.
“We are aiming for a drivetrain that will last 500,000 to 1,000,000 miles.”
Is the SRK the affordable Tesla killer everyone has been waiting for?
Are you crazy? Mainstream media may think that every new electric vehicle is a Tesla killer, but that’s just their hype factories working overtime. The SRK has been designed as the most efficient, affordable EV out there while meeting very different needs than any of the Teslas on the road today. Mark broke it down like this:
“When we look at the garage of the future, it’s got a (Tesla) Model 3 and an Arcimoto. You’ve got the family vehicle and you’ve got the get-around-town vehicle. I look at them as almost entirely non-competitive and in some ways, very symbiotic.”
Stay tuned for our deep dive into all the ins and outs of the SRK as well as our video review of it coming soon.
The fun intro video that Google threw together from my videos and photos below will give you an idea of what’s to come.