Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ready to Roll

CSI-WVC members with the engineering "mule" for Arcimoto's Generation 8 SRK (my photo).
Without a doubt, the first meeting of 2016 for the Construction Specifications Institute-Willamette Valley Chapter was a departure from the norm for our group. Rather than being devoted to a discussion about construction documentation, or construction project team communications, or the latest in building materials technology, we instead gathered at the home of Arcimoto, Eugene’s own automobile start-up, for a glimpse of what the company has been up to. 

I previously blogged about Arcimoto’s unveiling of its Generation 8 SRK, which the company touts as its market-ready, affordable, everyday electric vehicle. Because most routine trips involve only the driver and maybe one passenger, a small, efficient, and inexpensive means of transport makes much more sense than hauling around town in a huge, gas-guzzling and polluting SUV.(1) I’ve followed Arcimoto’s development of the three-wheeled SRK for several years now, and I’ve become a big fan of the underlying concept. As I wrote back in November, I regard the SRK as nothing less than a huge step toward a paradigm-shifting future for personal urban transportation.

It’s the SRK’s vast potential for changing how we get from point A to point B that makes a visit to see a company like Arcimoto relevant to anyone in the construction industry. After all, vehicles like the SRK may profoundly reshape our thinking about the built environment. They require far less parking space, meaning less precious land would be conceded to surface parking lots or structures. Their proliferation would reduce air pollution, resulting in improved air quality. Fewer filling stations would be required, so the land the stations might have occupied would be available for higher and better uses. Ultimately, our streets would be cleaner, quieter, and safer as oversized, over-powered, and polluting cars declined in number. The implications for the development and construction industries are huge.

The SRK, which Bloomberg Business fittingly described as being the “electric love child of a commuter’s bicycle and a multi-ton car,” may also serve as a template for tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles. If they proliferate, self-driving cars really won’t need to be big, heavy, and expensive because manufacturers won’t have to pack in the many safety features standard in today’s automobiles. Instead, they can be light, efficient, and very affordable. Arcimoto is wisely anticipating the likelihood that autonomous transport will become the norm and that its conception of the future for an economical personal vehicle provides a logical platform for this technology.

Joe Morgan (in the Arcimoto T-shirt) describes the company's first generation prototype for its everyday electric vehicle (my photo).
Our host for the evening was Joe Morgan, Arcimoto’s lead for prototype production.  Joe ably answered the many questions we threw at him: When will production begin? Will an enclosed version be available? What about heating and AC? How far will it go between charges? What are the safety features of the SRK? How can I preorder one? It was clear to me that my CSI colleagues were very much intrigued, curious, and suitably impressed. Arcimoto’s office manager Sebastiane Power, electrical engineer Carter Marquis, and mechanical engineer Jim Jordan were also on hand to help answer questions and explain the thinking behind the Arcimoto concept. Big thanks to all of them for being both highly informative and generously hospitable.

Joe toured us through Arcimoto’s modest design and fabrication facility, located on Blair Boulevard in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. He also showed us the company’s “museum,” located across the street. There we watched a video of the two “alpha” SRK 8 models in action and also inspected the earlier iterations of the SRK. The evolution of the concept has been gradual but also dramatic in many ways. The Gen 8 truly appears to be a near-perfect distillation of what a low-cost, high-performance, personal EV should be.

In addition to Joe, Sebastiane, Carter, and Jim, I’m very appreciative for the contributions of two important members of the Arcimoto team who were not present: business development leader Jesse Fittipaldi and Arcimoto founder Mark Frohnmayer. Jesse and Mark made the arrangements for our meeting but could not join us for a very good reason: They were (and still are) in the middle of what has proven to be a wildly successful tour through the west unveiling the Gen 8 SRK. The highlight of this tour so far was probably the giant 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The fallout from CES has been a tremendous amount of favorable press about the SRK. I’m sure it’s truly satisfying for everyone at Arcimoto to see their toil and sweat finally bearing fruit. Here’s a sampling of some of the buzz:

The Generation 8 SRK (Arcimoto publicity photo). 

Arcimoto’s goal is to begin production of the SRK by the end of 2016. The company already has preorders from about 700 people, and this number is growing daily (in fact, a couple of CSI members were ready to make their fully refundable $100 deposits on the spot during our meeting!). Once enough people commit to purchasing the SRK, Arcimoto will roll out a limited initial public offering of shares to secure funding for the company’s expansion.(2) Joe said primary fabrication and assembly will take place in Eugene but that a suitable facility for doing so has yet to be identified. Ultimately, Arcimoto’s success could be huge for Eugene, providing well-paying manufacturing jobs and further diversifying the local economy.

By the way, the name Arcimoto means “Future I Drive.” As the company’s website states, their aspiration is to devise new technologies and patterns of mobility that together raise the bar for environmental efficiency, footprint, and affordability. I’m more hopeful than ever that Arcimoto’s vision of the future will take hold and we will see what may prove to be the most transformative set of developments in the automotive industry since the advent of mass-produced cars more than a century ago.

(1)  The SRK is fully electric and high-performance (the base model has a range of 70 miles between charges and has a top speed of 85 mph). Arcimoto has pegged the price of the base model at $11,900 (not including possible incentives or tax credits).

(2)  As enthusiastic as I am about the SRK, I haven’t committed to purchasing one for myself yet. I’ve never been an adopter of early technology, and my risk-aversion is paralyzing. Perhaps I'll purchase a future generation of the SRK when it becomes time to put my Civic Hybrid out to pasture.

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