Bollinger is bring­ing old-school util­ity to the fu­ture

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - The Ten -

The an­ti­dote to end­less cut-and-paste SUVs? An aero­pho­bic elec­tric truck that would put a Land Rover to shame off-road. Time to break out the Bolli...

Ho­bart, NY is just the sort of place you could do with an all-elec­tric, no­com­pro­mise off-roader. Some­thing to nav­i­gate the gnarly, snow-cov­ered hills in, enough juice to reach Man­hat­tan – 150 miles south – to blow off some steam, and no pul­sat­ing V8 to dis­rupt the peace. No co­in­ci­dence this is the home of Bollinger Mo­tors, maker of the B1, the world’s most rugged, aero­pho­bic, all-elec­tric SUV.

SUT, to be pre­cise. Robert Bollinger, the boss, likes to call it a Sports Util­ity Truck. I’m stand­ing in front of the first and only pro­to­type in ex­is­tence, jacked up in the small work­shop where it was built, and there’s def­i­nitely a mil­i­tary chunk­i­ness to it. Next door, through the glass par­ti­tion, is an of­fice oc­cu­pied by Robert and three of his trusted engi­neers. And a dog. It’s a bou­tique com­pany. Bou­tique, but with big dreams.

“We just crossed 16,000 reser­va­tions on­line. We had the de­but on a Thurs­day, then the truck was brought back up on Fri­day, within three days we had 4,000. It was crazy,” Bollinger ex­plains. OK, that’s a few clicks be­hind the Tesla Model 3, and tech­ni­cally these are ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est rather than money-down de­posits, but not bad for a com­pany with a sin­gle pro­to­type to its name. And not bad for a man with no ex­pe­ri­ence of the car in­dus­try, other than a life­long pas­sion and a pot of money, from sell­ing his share of the John Masters Or­gan­ics hair care busi­ness in 2009.

After toy­ing with the idea of a sports car, the vi­sion of a brick-like off-roader came to him while tool­ing around his farm in a UTV. “The idea was how could you com­bine all the best of off-road with the best of util­ity into one tool. It’s not about lux­ury; it’s about use­ful­ness and crazy ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Ba­si­cally we want to do ev­ery­thing bet­ter than Jeep. I bought a Jeep Wran­gler Ru­bi­con to bench­mark it against, and that was $58k. But guys

take what is al­ready a de­cent ma­chine, and go crazy with af­ter­mar­ket stuff. The idea is that this has all these ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and more, as stan­dard.”

De­spite this pro­to­type be­ing a two-door, a stretched four-door ver­sion will come first with a 120kWh lithium-ion bat­tery and a 322-km range. The two-door’s wheel­base is just 267cm, and at a mere 381cm long it’s al­most 120cm shorter than a Dis­cov­ery, an in­di­ca­tion of just how square the B1’s stance is – per­fect for sta­bil­ity on tricky ter­rain.

Bollinger quotes ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles of 56º and 53º re­spec­tively, with a breakover an­gle of 33º and 39cm of ground clear­ance thanks to por­tal axles. Be­cause it rides on fully ad­justable, self-lev­el­ling, four-wheel in­de­pen­dent, hy­drop­neu­matic sus­pen­sion with ‘dis­con­nectable’ an­tiroll bars, it can be ad­justed by ± 13cm on de­mand. Weight bal­ance is a per­fect 50/50, the power steer­ing is hy­draulic and it’ll tow three tonnes.

Be­ing elec­tric is a mas­sive plus too, says Bollinger. “Elec­tric is great for trucks, even bet­ter than sedans. The in­stant torque means when you’re rock crawl­ing and off-road, you don’t have to gun it to get the full power right away.”

The B1 has twin elec­tric mo­tors. One each for the front and rear axles, for per­ma­nent AWD. It makes 360bhp and 640Nm, which means this 2.3tonne SUV with the aero­dy­nam­ics of a coun­cil es­tate does 0–100kph in 4.5 sec­onds and 204kph.

The styling is not a tip of the hat to blocky De­fend­ers and G-Wa­gens, but driven by ne­ces­sity. “The rea­son for the flat pan­els is that we could bend and make them our­selves. You don’t have to wait for a mould to be made that takes 10 months and $2 mil­lion.” And there’s real de­tail up-close, like the chunky nose badge, milled from a sin­gle piece of metal, that twists to open the grille, or the re­mov­able roof and side pan­els for en­joy­ing the weather, or us­ing your B1 like a pickup if you pre­fer.

In­side, it’s ba­sic but rid­dled with thought­ful touches. Things like the bat­tery me­ter mas­querad­ing as an ana­logue fuel gauge, and the drilled, ro­tat­ing air vents that line the top of the dash. A through-load­ing flap lets you use the space un­der the bon­net – so the full length of the car – while 72 sheets of eight-by-four ply­wood fit in the back. That’s a lot of lam­i­nated tim­ber.

The B1 is built to last, says Bollinger. “We have an alu­minium body and alu­minium chas­sis to help with both weight and cor­ro­sion, so the idea is you buy one and have it for the rest of your life. If 10 years down the road the bat­tery tech­nol­ogy takes a leap, you’ll have an op­tion to up­grade.”

What you’re buy­ing into is one man’s dream. A dream to pro­duce some­thing that’s for­ward-think­ing but un­flinch­ingly use­ful. Some­thing de­signed by the need for sim­plic­ity, but vis­ually fas­ci­nat­ing. And although that dream isn’t yet fully re­alised, it’s inch­ing closer. The plan from here is to build a pair of four-door pro­to­types, be­fore mov­ing the en­tire com­pany to Detroit, closer to the sup­pli­ers, with a tar­get of build­ing 1,000 a year, in­clud­ing right-hand drive.

De­spite press­ing, ca­jol­ing and low-level trick­ery, I couldn’t get Bollinger to re­veal a price for the fin­ished car, de­spite pro­duc­tion start­ing in 2019. Our guess would be some­thing ap­proach­ing $100,000, so not cheap, but Bollinger let slip that Sch­warzeneg­ger – fa­mously a

Hum­mer lover – has put his name down on the list.

If it’s good enough for the Ter­mi­na­tor… JACK RIX

Robert Bollinger. Go on, guess his favourite colour Noth­ing to see in here. No re­ally, it’s sparse, that’s the point...

“72 sheets of eightby-four ply­wood fit in the back”Prices still to be con­firmed... Le­vi­ta­tionmode op­tional Bollinger ex­pects the four-door– which adds 23cm to the wheel­base – to make up 80 per cent of sales, hence why it goes on sale be­fore the two-door. Any­one else look­ing for­wardto the Lego model?

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