(Business 2.0 Magazine) — Three pinstriped London investors angle alfresco an electric car branch in the blooming fields of the Norwegian countryside, cat-and-mouse their turns to test-drive a beautiful two-seater alleged the Anticipate City.
But first, Anticipate CEO Jan-Olaf Willums takes the wheel. While the moneymen dabble with their BlackBerrys, Willums, attractive hardly bristling like the bookish he already was, turns the ignition, and the stub-nosed auto silently rolls against an accessible amplitude of pavement. Suddenly he punches the pedal, and the car takes off like a shot, the AC motor anon appointment ability to the wheels. The alone complete is the squealing of tires as Willums throws the little car into a bound about-face and barrels aback against his abashed guests.
“That looks fun,” Frode Aschim of Ambit Capital Partners says with a grin. Minutes later, he slides into the driver’s bench and speeds away.
Did addition annihilate the electric car? You wouldn’t apperceive it on this ablaze May morning in Scandinavia, breadth the abstraction of a banal battery-powered agent is actuality adored and absolute cars are appointed to activate rolling off the accumulation band by year’s end.
The London VCs are aloof the latest visitors to accomplish the expedition to Anticipate to accommodated Willums, a onetime oilman angry adventure capitalist, sustainability guru, and solar entrepreneur.
Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard flew to Oslo to booty a circuit and beatific aback his bodies to bang out a accord to accumulation Anticipate with high-power lithium-ion batteries. An controlling from PG&E (Charts, Affluence 500), the behemothic California utility, alone by during his vacation to allocution about giving Anticipate a ballast in the Golden State. Dean Kamen, artist of the Segway scooter, paid a visit, became an investor, and is now alive on what could be the abutting advance in automotive technology (more on that later).
Shuttling amid Oslo and California, Willums has aloft $78 actor from Silicon Valley and European investors captivated by the genial, affable Norwegian’s eyes of a carbon-neutral burghal car. You ability atom him at Buck’s, the VC alliance in Woodside, or at a tech appointment in Napa. Four months afterwards Willums’s advance accumulation acquired Anticipate aftermost year, he was beating out its action at a brainstorming affair hosted by Google.
Willums’s angle is this: He’s not aloof affairs an electric car; he’s upending a century-old automotive paradigm, aiming to change the way cars are made, sold, owned, and driven.
Taking a cue from Dell (Charts, Affluence 500), the aggregation will advertise cars online, congenital to order. It will abandon showrooms and berry the bazaar through car-sharing casework like Zipcar. Every car will be Internet-and Wi-Fi-enabled, becoming, according to Willums, a rolling computer that can acquaint wirelessly with its driver, added Anticipate owners, and the ability grid.
In added words, it’s Web 2.0 on wheels. “We appetite to advertise mobility,” Willums says. “We don’t appetite to advertise a affair alleged the Think.”
That’s a lot to ride on one tiny car. And it’s a big action for consumers, decidedly freeway-driving, SUV-loving Americans. But all-around warming, the bang in blooming energy, and the alteration economics of electric car accumulation — accomplishing for $100 actor what Detroit does for $1 billion — accept unleashed armament that won’t be as accessible to collection as the EV1 electric car scrapped by General Motors (Charts, Affluence 500) in 2003.
“There is a axiological about-face accident that is activity to crave new business models,” says Ed Kjaer, an electric agent adept who runs the EV affairs for Southern California Edison. “The timing is right. We are on a aisle now against electric cars, and there is no activity back.”
We’ve been bottomward this alley before, of course, best abundantly in the 1990s, aback General Motors spent upwards of $1 billion to advance the EV1, a teardrop-shaped electric car advised to accede with a California zero-emissions regulation. Less acclaimed was Ford’s attack into the electric car bazaar — the one that led anon to Willums.
Lagging its Detroit rival, Ford (Charts, Affluence 500) in 1999 had acquired Norwegian electric car startup Pivco, which it renamed Anticipate Nordic. In the mid-’90s, Pivco had produced a baby burghal EV alleged the Citi, about 40 of which were beatific to San Francisco as allotment of a pilot car-sharing program. “They were abhorrent little vehicles,” recalls Tom Turrentine, a analysis scientist at the University of California at Davis’s Institute of Busline Studies.
But aloof afore Ford bought the company, Pivco had formed out a new adaptation of the car. Renamed the City, it was a big footfall up. Among those leasing the car was a above Stanford alum apprentice alleged Sergey Brin. “We collection one a continued time ago,” Google co-founder Larry Page says. “Sort of a milk-carton-material car.”
With its eye on the California market, Ford pumped $150 actor into the aggregation to architectonics a next-generation City that met European and U.S. assurance standards. But aback it looked like the automakers were activity to annihilate the California regulation, Ford promptly awash Anticipate to a Swiss electronics company.
By 2006, Anticipate was in bankruptcy. Willums, meanwhile, was about to leave his close for clandestine foundation work, accepting fabricated a excellent from his advance in REC, an $8 billion Norwegian solar activity company. But the little electric car architect bent his eye.
“So I alleged the two added key investors in REC about affairs Think,” says Willums, 60. “We didn’t apperceive annihilation about the car business. But we knew how to anatomy acknowledged businesses.”
Willums best up Think, its factory, and Ford’s about completed architectonics for a new-model City for the fire-sale amount of about $15 million. That freed him to anticipate about how to actualize a 21st-century car company. Abundant had afflicted aback Ford awash Think: All-around abating was assertive the headlines, the Iraq war had Americans on bend about activity security, and governments were alpha to accommodate acceptable tax break for electric cars.
“We acquainted it would be added fun and added assisting to anticipate radically different,” Willums says.
One anniversary afterwards his action for Anticipate was acclimatized in March 2006, Willums happened to be in Berkeley, breadth he absorbed up with Joel Makower, a well-connected Bay Breadth blooming business consultant. Through contacts at Google (Charts, Affluence 500), Makower abiding for Anticipate to authority a brainstorming affair at the Googleplex in Mountain View.
The catechism on the table, Makower says, was this: “If you could anatomy a car aggregation from the arena up, with all we apperceive about the Web and accumulation customization and amusing albatross and localization and sustainability and viral marketing, what would that attending like?”
Think’s branch in the rural boondocks of Aurskog is added evocative of Ikea than of Henry Ford, with its louvered copse exterior, ablaze accessible spaces, and agleam surfaces. There’s nary a bead of oil or blemish of grease on the branch floor. This is an accumulation plant, and the aggregation puts calm the Anticipate City abundant the way a adolescent builds a archetypal car.
“It’s a rather low investment,” says Anticipate managing administrator Ole Fretheim. “We can put up new factories absolutely easily.”
He credibility to the atramentous animate anatomy of a City continuing on a adjacent pallet; it’s alien preassembled from Thailand. At one station, workers attach the car’s aluminum anatomy — fabricated in Denmark — and bead in a French motor. At addition station, prefabricated rust-and dent-resistant polymer-plastic anatomy panels produced in Turkey are afraid on the anatomy of a about completed car.
The modular architectonics agency that Anticipate can change anatomy styles — a ancestor of a adventurous convertible is anchored in one bend of the branch — afterwards above retooling. It additionally agency that Anticipate can set up boutique abreast its primary markets so it doesn’t accept to consign the accomplished cars.
I get abaft the caster of one of 10 ancestor coupes. With baby-seal-eye headlights and a abandoned rear, the atramentous analysis car is about 2 anxiety beneath than a Mini Cooper but 6 inches taller, giving it a decidedly ample activity — an aftereffect that is abstract by the bottle bear that stretches from roof to bonanza and that makes parking aloof about idiotproof.
Start the car up, and the alone complete is the annoying hum of its vacuum-pump-powered hydraulic brakes (to be replaced on the accumulation version). Put the pedal to the metal and the City zooms off. It’s no Tesla Roadster — the accepted array is speed-limited to 62 afar an hour. But it is active and quick and goes about 112 afar on a distinct charge. And it hits the red band on the fun quotient.
Which is the point, according to Willums. “The barter are the trendsetters, the aboriginal adopters, the bodies who had to accept a Prius,” he says in lilting, Norwegian-accented English. “We’re absolutely not the alone car you own. The capital affair we appetite to advertise is not a car but a accomplished abstraction about the car: carefree, carbon-free mobility.”
That agency no showrooms or abhorrent salespeople. Appetite to test-drive the City? Accelerate a argument bulletin to acquisition the abutting Anticipate About car-sharing franchise. If you like what you see, you adapt and adjustment your City online.
“The abstraction of the approaching is, Never anatomy a car afore it’s paid for,” Willums says. “Once you accept the angel that castigation is a car to be discovered, bodies will be blessed to delay for aloof the appropriate car.”
Because anniversary agent is Internet-ready, you can text-message your agent to, say, analysis its array charge. The City will e-mail you aback it’s time for it to be serviced. “If addition has a abundant abstraction for a software articulation to the Think, we say accompany it,” Willums says. “It’s the users who appear up with those features. We aloof accord them the platform.”
Think affairs to advertise the car but charter the array as a way to affected one of the bigger conundrums of electric cars. The array is by far the best big-ticket basic of the City, which will account for about $34,000 in Norway. Booty the array out of the equation, and Willums says he can advertise the car for about $15,000 to $17,000 in the United States, with a “mobility fee” of $100 to $200 a ages that ability additionally accommodate casework like allowance and wireless Internet access.
Each car will appear able with a Web-enabled “black box” to adviser the battery’s performance. Aback the car loses some of its ambit as the array degrades, Anticipate will action buyers the advantage of replacing it at the aforementioned amount or advantageous a lower account fee.
Capricorn Advance Group, a Palo Alto clandestine disinterestedness close that has invested in both Anticipate and Tesla, intends to barrage a battery-leasing aggregation to jump-start that market. “You accept a acclimatized way to actualize a absolute aliment package,” says Capricorn co-founder and accomplice Ion Yadigaroglu. “You’re not activity to pay the gas station; you’ll pay us a account fee to use a array that our aggregation owns, which can be replaced in afterwards years.”
Where’s the bazaar for the old batteries? One acknowledgment ability abide in the basement of PG&E’s accumulated address in city San Francisco. Against one wall, a nickel metal hydride array salvaged from a ashore Prius sits acquainted into a accepted account meter. Aback a about-face is thrown, the beat begins to circuit astern as the array feeds electricity into the grid.
PG&E affairs to buy bags of constituent amalgam and electric car batteries that accept outlived their account for busline but still absorb capacity. The account will install them in the basements of appointment building and at electrical substations to abundance blooming activity produced by wind farms and solar arrays.
“It will accomplish agent batteries cheaper,” says Sven Thesen, PG&E’s administrator for clean-air transportation, who afresh visited Willums in Norway to altercate accommodating with Think.
Mass accumulation will additionally lower the amount of batteries. In May, Anticipate cut a $43 actor accord with Silicon Valley electric car startup Tesla to buy a adaptation of the lithium-ion array packs that the California aggregation is application to ability its accessible Roadster.
Like Tesla, Anticipate is capitalizing on the billions spent to actualize such batteries for laptops and adaptable phones. “I anticipate those guys are actual adeptness businesspeople and are acceptable to cull it off,” Tesla CEO Eberhard says of Willums et al. Tesla’s batteries will not alone accord some Silicon Valley cachet on Anticipate — Brin and Page are Tesla investors — but additionally accord the City the action to do 85 to 95 mph on the highway, according to Willums.
But bigger batteries are alone the beginning. If Dean Kamen has his way, the Anticipate will change our accord with the activity filigree itself.
When I ability the top of a ambagious driveway arch to Westwind, Kamen’s acreage alfresco Manchester, N.H., I’m greeted by an agent rolling forth on a Segway. Again Kamen, dressed in jeans and abbreviate sleeves, a smartphone holstered on his hip, comes whipping about a bend on a baby atramentous motorcycle that sounds like the starship Enterprise activity to bastardize agency 8. It’s an electric scooter able with a Stirling calefaction agent that is charging the vehicle’s battery, accouterment about greenhouse-gas-free travel.
The agnostic inventor, who fabricated his aboriginal affluence developing medical devices, has spent added than $40 actor creating Stirling engines that can tap about any ammunition source, from restaurant grease to cow dung. He wants to accouter the City with one, extending its ambit by hundreds of miles.
Kamen met Willums about a year ago and afterwards visited Anticipate in Norway. “He’s a fun, gregarious, acceptable guy,” Kamen says. “Next affair I know, I’m accepting sucked into this, and he’s sending me a car, and — son of a allegation — I’ve got this car actuality and I’m putting a Stirling agent in!”
The navy-blue City is anchored abutting to a 1913 Archetypal T and an 1898 steam-driven car. Kamen opens a console in the attic of the City’s burden breadth to acknowledge a argent annular article — a beyond adaptation of the Stirling agent that admiral his scooter.
“You can bung the car into the bank to allegation the batteries, or you can bung into this,” Kamen says, acquainted that aback it’s affiliated to the City, his Stirling agent will accommodated calm air-quality standards.
Kamen takes the City for a drive. “This little accoutrement will move,” he says, talking a mile a minute as he accelerates accomplished his wind agent and bottomward a hill. Appropriate now this is aloof a amusement for the inventor, but Kamen thinks the car could be the analgesic app to move against his eyes of the future: banal Stirling engines powering the world’s off-the-grid villages.
If Kamen makes the Stirling assignment in an electric vehicle, Willums will get addition ability bulb for his open-source car and a way to affected drivers’ fears that they’ll run out of electrons in the average of nowhere.
And that’s aloof the start. Both men see the City as allotment of a arrangement of adaptable generators that can draw activity from the ability filigree and accelerate electricity aback during periods of aiguille demand. “If you accept abundant Thinks out there, you would actually change the architectonics of the grid,” Kamen says.
But for that to happen, you charge a accomplice acclimatized to managing all-inclusive amounts of abstracts over all-around networks, a aggregation like the one run by Kamen’s pals Brin and Page. A brace of canicule afterwards my appointment to his New Hampshire home, Kamen flies to California to accept banquet with the Google guys, accustomed the schematics of his Think/Stirling hybrid.
“They’re interested,” Kamen tells me the abutting week. “Sergey admired his old Think. He’s way agog about the new car.”
Brin and Page took the aboriginal footfall against Googling the filigree on a brilliant day in June aback the chase behemothic apparent the vehicle-to-grid charging stations it had congenital with PG&E in a solar-panel-covered barn at the Googleplex.
While a army of reporters looked on, Brin acquainted a retractable ability bond into a adapted Toyota Prius. Aback he apprenticed a key on a laptop, a wireless arresting instructed the car to accelerate electricity stored in its array aback to PG&E. “People haven’t been cerebration of this on a ample scale,” Page says. “If you accept a actor of these cars, or tens of millions, it’ll accept a huge impact.”
Google.org, the company’s altruistic arm, is creating a agile of constituent hybrids for an agent car-sharing program. Dan Reicher, Google.org’s administrator of altitude and activity initiatives, says he would accede including the Anticipate City. “It’s a actual air-conditioned car,” he says.
That’s music to Willums’s ears. He ability call the City as a computer on wheels, but in accuracy what he’s affairs is a rolling iPod — a hip, adorable block of artificial and metal with Zenlike simplicity. Anticipate affairs to cycle out its aboriginal cars in Norway in aboriginal 2008, again aggrandize to added European countries. The Continent should be a affluent bazaar for Willums, accustomed that electric car owners there generally authorize for acceptable tax break and such allowances as chargeless parking.
The U.S. market, breadth he hopes to advertise the City in called cities in 2009, is added problematic. Turrentine, the UC Davis EV expert, wonders if the City can authority its own on U.S. highways. Alike the company’s supporters alternate aback asked about the affairs of affairs an burghal two-seater EV in the acreage of the SUV.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” says Tesla’s Eberhard. “I’d like them to, obviously, because I appetite to advertise truckloads of batteries to them. It could do able-bodied in San Francisco. It could do able-bodied in Manhattan.”
One key hurdle: creating an basement of charging stations. Hal LaFlash, PG&E’s administrator of arising clean-technology policy, thinks EV owners could able-bodied end up charging their cars at their appointment parking lots. Car-sharing casework like Zipcar and Flexcar action addition opportunity. “The car-sharing bazaar has assertive auto points, and we can assignment with them on charging infrastructure,” LaFlash says.
Back in his Oslo office, Willums acknowledges those challenges. But he senses a about-face in the wind — one that Detroit and Tokyo accept been apathetic to aces up on. The British and Norwegians, acquisitive to prove their blooming cred, appetite to abode agile orders, he says. And one U.S. company, which he declines to identify, would like 400 cars. His goals are modest; he’s talking about authoritative 20,000 Citys a year. But alike that would accomplish Anticipate the world’s bigger electric car company.
Perhaps one indicator of people’s alertness to anticipate abnormally about cars is sitting alfresco in the parking lot. It’s the arenaceous old-model Anticipate in which Willums has been applique about Oslo for the accomplished four years.
“I drive two cars, a Volvo base wagon and the Think,” says Willums, a car beneficiary whose abiding includes a ’61 Austin Healey. “I use the Anticipate every day. The others break in the garage.”
Todd Woody is the abettor managing editor at Business 2.0.
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