Ride Along With Jay Leno As He Test Drives (Paddles?) A Canoo

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Lots of people think CleanTechnica is the advertising department for Tesla. It’s true, we do a lot of stories about Elon Musk and his far-flung adventures in the land of automobiles and beyond, but that is largely because he and his company are pushing aside conventional boundaries at such a furious pace. Every day, it seems, there is news about longer life batteries, improved heat pumps for cars that may someday find a use in residential cooling systems, advances in manufacturing, and a thousand other things that open the door to the future. Be honest, without Tesla, would Volkswagen be converting factories all around the world to build electric cars? Sure, someday they would, but probably not today. That’s the power of Musk.

The world is full of automotive startups that are bringing electric cars to market. But truthfully, most of them break no new ground visually. Some are four-door sedans, some are hatchbacks, some are SUVs, and some are trucks. They faithfully take a standard design and fit it with batteries and an electric motor and call it revolutionary. It’s not. Ever notice how most of the new crop of electric SUVs look a lot like a Nissan Murano?

Canoo Innovates Where Others Imitate

Canoo pod car
Image courtesy of Canoo

Based in Southern California, Canoo is boldly going where few car companies have gone before with innovative designs and creative marketing strategies. What it has done is perfect a skateboard design that contains the battery, electric motor, battery management system, steering, brakes, AC system, and just about everything else that makes an automobile an automobile. Plop any kind of body on top you like, from a sleek two-seater to a cargo van to sedan to a modern re-interpretation of the original Volkswagen microbus. The skateboard doesn’t care.

Then they don’t sell you a new electric car at all. Instead, customers will become subscribers. Sign up for a period of months or years. Everything is included — maintenance, insurance, unlimited miles, and access to recharging. No dealers to hassle you and no down payment or long term loan payments. In theory, drivers will be able to cancel their subscription at any time and Canoo will come and pick it up. Elon has been talking a lot this week about insurance. Canoo is thinking the same way.

KIA is so impressed with what Canoo, which began life as Evolozcity and features a number of refugees from Faraday Future on its staff, that the Korean company has formed a development partnership with Canoo to jointly develop electric vehicles together.

The “city” in the company’s original name is a clue to its mission — electric vehicles for urban dwellers. Expected range is 250 miles, which is more than enough for up to a week’s worth of driving in urban settings before recharging is need. The assumption is that every subscriber will be able to charge at home and never need to take a moment out of a busy day to plug in.

Jay Leno recently visited the company’s headquarters in Torrance, California and got to drive one of the first prototypes on local streets. He was quick to point out how small the car is on the outside and how large it is on the inside. He also likes how it resembles the beloved 23-window Volkswagen microbus. Inside, there are a traditional driver and passenger seat up front with a couch-like settee that flows down one side and across the rear of the vehicle. Canoo says the interior is more like a multi-use loft space than the inside of a traditional automobile.

Canoo does most of its engineering in-house, which includes building its own motors and drive reduction units. The result is a 300-horsepower unit no larger than a carry-on suitcase that weighs a mere 200 pounds — about a third of what a traditional gasoline engine and transmission would weigh. The Canoo is configured for rear-wheel drive, but a dual motor version is possible. Production, however, will be outsourced (KIA has a factory in Georgia) and the first Canoo vehicles are scheduled to be available late in 2021.

Co-founder Richard Kim told Leno the first cars will come with what he calls Level 2.5 autonomous system that will allow hands free driving, but it comes with a video monitoring system that will track the driver’s eyes to make sure they are focused on the road ahead. There are no expansive touchscreens inside. Just plug in your smartphone and drive. Kim also said the company plans to roll out the first cars in the Los Angeles area and then expand to other cities over time.

Is the Canoo for everyone? Certainly not. Its box-on-wheels utilitarian shape is not so much styled as it is shaped. One unique feature is the space that might be a “frunk” on an ordinary electric car is open to the interior with a translucent panel in front. Great for watching the pavement slide by underneath the car or for getting really close to the car in front on a ferry.

The subscription model may be the make or break feature for Canoo. Will drivers sign up for a one-price-covers-everything subscription model? If you are in the ride-hailing or transportation as a service business this might just be the shape of the future. We won’t know for at least a year how the public reacts to Canoo and its innovations. But if KIA has bought in to the plan, it’s a safe bet some very smart people have seen the future and decided Canoo is definitely a part of it.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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