While Tesla and other electric car makers get most of the headlines, I’ve been keeping a close eye on Arcimoto, a unique electric vehicle maker close to my home here in Oregon.
I got the chance to road test the company’s primary product, the Fun Utility Vehicle, or “FUV,” last summer and found it to be a unique, fun and engaging vehicle that was a hoot to drive and was also surprisingly practical. And while Arcimoto is now 14 years old, it is still in “startup” mode although it is currently producing vehicles, just not on a large scale – yet. Maverick CEO Mark Frohnmayer has been busy expanding the company during the pandemic, which he says now has 250 employees, and is preparing for the next levels of production. On Tuesday, February 22, 2022 at 2 p.m., he cut the ceremonial ribbon and took the stage at Arcimoto’s newly acquired and outfitted factory space in Eugene, Oregon, to lay out his “Ramp It Up” plans – and announce another unique new 3-wheeled machine.
Flush with capital after a sudden stock price surge a year ago pushed Arcimoto’s market cap briefly over $1.2 billion, Frohnmayer snapped up a massive nearby empty factory space for about $10 million, located just down the block from the current company headquarters and factory. He also bought a small company that retrofits motorcycles with a tiltable 3-wheel setup. A year after the stock popped, it’s come back down to mean, but the moves made last year now appear to be bearing fruit.
Before Frohnmayer took the stage at the event Tuesday, long-serving (and soon to be retired) Oregon Congressman Peter Defazio (D-OR), who also chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, emphasized the need to convert America’s transportation systems and infrastructure to electricity-based systems. Frohnmayer then showed the hundreds of people in attendance renders of plans for the new property and factory, which he says will allow Arcimoto to produce 50,000 vehicles per year. A fully-functional assembly line is already up and running in the new space. Additionally, Frohnmayer said that the new factory build-out will be a “replicable template for global expansion.” While the company has been building FUVs as quickly as it can since 2019, there are still thousands of orders waiting on the books.
Frohnmayer reiterated his goal in starting Arcimoto: To provide an alternative to cars, even electric cars, with a smaller, leaner, less expensive electric vehicle that requires much less material to make than a car or truck, but can still be used in much the same way – and also in ways cars and trucks cannot be used. One such case (below) was an FUV outfitted with a small tank of water and a long hose that firefighters can use to quickly put out small fires – especially wildfires – extinguishing them before they spread and well before larger firetrucks can get to the location.
Frohnmayer said inspiration to create the specialized FUV came from the team at YouTube channel Now You Know after the destruction caused by devastating Oregon wildfires in 2021 that crept close to Eugene. Arcimoto offers a dedicated “Rapid Responder” FUV that is currently in service in several cities, along with five other variations on the FUV theme, including a dedicated urban delivery model. All Arcimoto models are fully electric and feature three wheels, with the front two wheels both driven by electric motors. Technically a motorcycle, helmets are not required (at least in Oregon) since the FUV has a DOT-spec roll cage. However, until recently, it hasn’t had doors, despite many buyers requesting them. During the presentation, he announced that the company has finalized the door design and is now offering them (below). However, except for the front windscreen and roof, an FUV does not have windows and is perhaps best suited for less-damp environs, which is bit ironic since the company is headquartered in famously rain-soaked Oregon.
Frohnmayer also illustrated his less-is-more idea around the concept of micromobility by claiming that the materials needed to build one of the upcoming GM electric Hummer models, which will weigh in at close to 10,000 pounds, could supply all the material for eight three-wheeled FUVs. He also announced that Arcimoto was developing the Arcimoto Platform Initiative, a base 3-wheel API platform that could host multiple vehicle configurations built by other light electric vehicle makers, saving them the cost and time of developing their own EV platform. Arcimoto has also teamed with autonomous driving systems developer Faction to create a prototype autonomous version of the FUV for delivery and other duties. The self-driving prototype (top photo) carefully circulated around a parking lot cone course outside the factory building.
Perhaps the highlight of the presentation was the unexpected unveiling of a unique ebike Arcimoto plans to produce. Call the Mean Lean Machine or MLM, the three-wheeled ebike is unlike any ebike available today, and is the first vehicle in Arcimoto’s “Platform 2” initiative (the FUV being Platform 1). Frohnmayer said Platform 2 will focus on smaller EV platforms including ebikes, scooters, tuk-tuk type machines, small autonomous rolling delivery robots, electrified wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
While it has three wheels, the MLM leans and turns like a bicycle – a feature developed from the 2021 acquisition of Tilting Motor Works, which makes a similar but more complex system for motorcycles. In an interview with Forbes.com last summer, Frohnmayer hinted that a smaller tilting EV was under development (without giving me any specific details) and also said it was unlikely the full-size FUV would receive the tilting mechanism. The MLM is clearly the result of that skunkworks project.
The prototype was ridden out to the stage following a video presentation and features not one but three electric motors, one for each wheel. The bike is still pedaled and turned like normal, but provides more traction and stability than a typical bicycle. While technically a “reverse trike” like the FUV, the MLM ebike is quite thin. Other interesting features include battery charging via a built-in generator by pedaling while the MLM is stationary, an idea Frohnmayer said was borne from the “absurd” current practice of plugging an exercise bike into a wall outlet. He said the company has been working on the MLM since late 2020.
The prototype, while still clearly a prototype, appeared to be well along in development and featured full suspension, disc brakes, adjustable ergos and concealed electronics. Because it uses a motor at each wheel, there is no conventional chain drive or derailleur gears. Production versions will carry one or two people, according to Arcimoto, and have a range of over 200 miles. Frohnmayer said that unnamed “Tesla alums” helped develop the Mean Lean Machine. Going back to the materials consumption comparison and the idea of micromobility, Frohnmayer said he could build 100 MLMs from the materials used to make one Hummer EV. The Mean Lean Machine should be available in Q4 this year and is now available for preorder with a $100 deposit, although no final price has been announced. Frohnmayer said more information is forthcoming including accessories for using the MLM for delivery duties and rental.
Frohnmayer said that the company is also working with partners to create more energy-dense battery packs via a new battery cell packing system, and hopes to build battery packs for other EV makers of all kinds as yet another expansion of Arcimoto’s business portfolio. In the end, Frohnmayer said he remains true to his original vision of creating lighter-weight, practical but fun electric vehicles that give people a truly useful alternative to cars while reducing pollution and using fewer resources. “Sustainable transport doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. We’re building Disneyland on the road to save the planet and get groceries, moving away from the idea of the car,” Frohnmayer said while thanking his team at the end of the presentation. “We make the best electric three-wheeler in the world for a purpose. Now it’s time to ramp it up.”