This elec­tric trike could be the fu­ture of mo­bil­ity

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Robert Duffer

Imag­ine a ride with the open-air free­dom of a mo­tor­cy­cle but the over­head frame of a car. Now put it on three wheels, ride in it si­lence and plug it in when the day is done.

This is the premise of the Arci­moto FUV, the lat­est in­no­va­tion in the bur­geon­ing mo­bil­ity seg­ment.

The three-wheeled elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle seats two, has a 70- or 130-mile range, hits 60 mph in 7.5 sec­onds and has a top speed of 80 mph. When pro­duc­tion ramps up to scale next year, the price will range from just un­der $12,000 to about $19,500.

The FUV — an acro­nym that sounds more con­fronta­tional than any­thing — is branded as a fun util­ity ve­hi­cle by Arci­moto, a Eu­gene, Ore.-based startup de­vel­op­ing a fun so­lu­tion for a se­ri­ous prob­lem.

“We use a tool meant to carry seven peo­ple 300 miles to take one per­son 3 miles,” Arci­moto founder and Pres­i­dent Mark Frohn­mayer said in a phone in­ter­view. “Driv­ing is not fun to a vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple com­mut­ing. It’s a huge has­sle to find park­ing, to nav­i­gate the con­ges­tion. So Arci­moto is a right-sized so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of mo­bil­ity.”

The fu­ture of per­sonal mo­bil­ity might re­turn to the time when driv­ing was fun. In our half-hour be­hind the han­dle­bars, the FUV de­liv­ered on its prom­ise.

Since it is elec­tric, there is no en­gine thrum­ming, and no ex­haust bur­ble waft­ing up at stops. The two stacked seats are much more like con­ven­tional car seats, or chairs, with a very com­fort­able seat­ing po­si­tion with feet on the floor and back against the full-size back­rest. Both seats can ac­com­mo­date rid­ers 6 feet, 4 inches tall and un­der. Rid­ers sit above sedan height and eye-to-eye with crossovers, so vis­i­bil­ity is bet­ter than road­sters and other open-roof cars.

A sort-of roll cage ex­tends over­head from the long front wind­shield to the tail, so the only wind is com­ing from the side. There are avail­able hard and soft shells for allsea­son rid­ing, as well as op­tional doors. Over­all it is much more com­fort­able and ac­ces­si­ble as an every­day driver than a mo­tor­cy­cle.

Oper­a­tionally, it is sim­i­lar to a mo­tor­cy­cle. There is a throt­tle on the right han­dle­bar along with a re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing han­dle. Re­gen brak­ing can be done to a stop, but for more ur­gent ap­pli­ca­tions a right foot brake pedal is on the floor, kind of like where the gear shifter on a mo­tor­cy­cle would be.

At low speeds, the power steer­ing op­er­ates like any other ve­hi­cle, though it doesn’t steer as di­rect or tightly as ex­pected. The faster you go, the power steer­ing fades out by de­grees to avoid tip­ping. We didn’t push it to the point of im­bal­ance, but it felt firmly planted in ev­ery turn we made. There is a touch screen em­bed­ded be­yond the han­dle­bars, with func­tions to be de­vel­oped be­yond the pro­to­types.

The FUV is a blast to cruise around in. It doesn’t re­quire any tech­ni­cal knowl­edge, though a mo­tor­cy­cle li­cense might be re­quired, de­pend­ing on the state. There are no gears, so torque is in­stan­ta­neous and ac­cel­er­a­tion brisk. The open sides are thrilling, and the three-point har­nesses, as well the up­per frame assem­bly, have all passed safety test stan­dards es­tab­lished by the Na­tional High­way Trans­porta­tion Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We’ve gone above and be­yond what goes into test­ing, in­clud­ing front crum­ple zone test­ing and tests for the ef­fi­cacy of the frame,” Frohn­mayer said.

It is much more de­vel­oped and ride­able than other three-wheel pro­to­types we’ve tested, es­pe­cially Elio, which was a gas-pow­ered two-seat steel cof­fin rid­ing like a gokart in a Mad Max world.

“Our ap­proach has been more in­cre­men­tal (than Elio), we’ve spent our re­sources more on prod­uct de­vel­op­ment than mar­ket­ing,” Frohn­mayer said. “Elio is the au­to­mo­tive model of de­vel­op­ment, we’re much more sim­i­lar to a tech startup or soft­ware com­pany by get­ting our prod­uct to mar­ket then build­ing to scale.”

In 2007, Frohn­mayer sold his first startup, GarageGames, a game tech­nol­ogy and soft­ware de­vel­oper, to get the cap­i­tal to launch Arci­moto. In Septem­ber, the com­pany went pub­lic to se­cure more fund­ing, and, like an­other tech startup mak­ing ve­hi­cles, it has used the Tesla model of se­cur­ing $100 de­posits from over 3,000 cus­tomers who ex­pect sig­na­ture mod­els late this year.

Elio, the 84-mpg three­wheeler, makes Chicagoland pit stop

“That money is not used for prod­uct de­vel­op­ment,” Frohn­mayer clar­i­fied. It’s meant to save a place in line, he said.

Three-wheel mo­tor­cy­cles are noth­ing new, but they have been a bright spot of growth in the de­clin­ing mo­tor­cy­cle seg­ment. Prized for their sta­bil­ity and safety while still pro­vid­ing the open road fun of a mo­tor­cy­cle, trikes by Can-Am, Har­leyDavid­son, Po­laris and oth­ers are not just giv­ing ag­ing rid­ers an al­ter­na­tive, but court­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of buy­ers who don’t want all the trap­pings of a tra­di­tional ve­hi­cle.

Arci­moto is tak­ing that a step fur­ther, with a pro­mo­tional tour aimed at young ur­ban­ites look­ing for a sim­ple thrill and the con­ve­nience of park­ing in spots where cars can’t fit.

“I was search­ing for some­thing light­weight, af­ford­able and high qual­ity – an all-day elec­tric ve­hi­cle — but noth­ing fit the bill,” Frohn­mayer, 43, said of Arci­moto’s ori­gin. “It’s the ideal daily ride for a wide swath of the driv­ing pub­lic, for peo­ple who com­mute alone, or for run­ning de­liv­er­ies around town. And pas­sen­gers can ride to­gether in a ve­hi­cle foot­print not much big­ger than a tour­ing bike.”

It could be the ideal re­sort ve­hi­cle as well, or for fleet pur­poses at in­sti­tu­tions such as col­lege cam­puses.

De­vel­op­ment and de­liv­ery sound far more rea­son­able than Elio and Tesla. By the end of 2019, Arci­moto plans to be pro­duc­ing 200 FUVs a week out of its Eu­gene fac­tory. It’s le­gal in all 50 states, and has a stan­dard Level 1 charger and a 220V Level 2 charge ca­pa­bil­ity. It has an ex­pand­able frame ar­chi­tec­ture to haul ev­ery­thing from surf boards to bikes to lum­ber.

It will cer­tainly haul the fun, for a se­ri­ous pur­pose.

“Mov­ing to an FUV rather than full-size car can avoid the prob­lems we have cre­ated our­selves,” Frohn­mayer said.

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

The Arci­moto FUV is a three-wheel elec­tric mo­tor­cy­cle that seats two peo­ple.

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