The startup founded by Faraday Future expats has revealed its first vehicle There are myriad electric vehicle startups nowadays — especially in China — and they all tend to make the same kind of promise about revolutionizing the automotive industry by moving faster and being more bold than dinosaurs like Volkswagen or Ford. But the thing they all have in common is they’re all trying to ship variations on a theme. Namely, high-end cars with Ferrari performance that you or I will never be able to buy.
That’s why the first vehicle from California startup Canoo feels so refreshing. Unveiled on Tuesday night, the company’s first EV is not trying to do much of anything beyond serve as a utilitarian (but still playful) way for people to get around when it launches in 2021 in the US and China. And it’s something that far more people should be able to interact with, thanks to what should be a more affordable subscription-only approach that “may” include “registration, maintenance, insurance management and charging.” (Though the company isn’t talking pricing just yet, unfortunately.)
“This is the first project that I’ve worked on where I think people for sure need this”
“This is the first project that I’ve worked on where I think people for sure need this,” designer Richard Kim tells The Verge. Kim led the design for BMW’s i3 electric vehicle, as well as the hybrid i8 supercar, and was the chief designer at Faraday Future before he left in 2017. “Previous projects, I’d say, ‘I hope people like it and I hope people want it.’ This is the first time I got to do a project where I’m thinking: ‘Hey, people actually would need this. This would enhance their life.’”
Canoo’s first vehicle, which is also called Canoo, is a sort of boxy, modern take on the Volkswagen Microbus. It has a sweeping glass windshield, and is dotted with lots more windows that follow right to the back of the vehicle, including a few that pop out, just like on those old Microbuses.
The vehicle’s interior also has a Microbus vibe. But you won’t find regular rows of seats behind the driver and passenger. Instead, Canoo has designed a bench seat that curves around the whole rear end of the vehicle. This creates a more communal experience that could make for atime if you’re, say, traveling with friends in a ride-hailing setting.
It also creates a more comfortable space that can be used when the vehicle is parked. In fact, the vehicle seems like it could just as fun for hanging out as it would be to travel in — something that the budding #vanlife community might be interested in. The inside of each door is even lined with a peg board-style surface, which Canoo thinks will offer people a way to non-destructively personalize a vehicle that they may only subscribe to occasionally. There are jump seats that fold down on both of the rear doors, as well as two more that fold down from the backside of the two front seats.
What I loved about the vehicle when I got a chance to tour the beta version recently is that none of this stuff jumps out at you. In fact, the interior looks kind of boring at first glance. But there are all these little touches that feel delightful and perhaps even useful, which is a rare combination when it comes to cars sometimes.
250 miles of range, and 300 horsepower, though this vehicle’s obviously not about speed
Canoo says its first vehicle will offer about 250 miles of range, which it pulls out of an 80kWh battery. A single motor on the rear axle will be able to generate 300 horsepower, though this vehicle is not about quick off-the-line performance. Instead, the peppy motor will help make sure the vehicle can move swiftly whether it’s operating at the 2,020-kilogram (4,453 pound) curb weight or the 2,600-kilogram (5,732 pound) gross vehicle weight.
This platform will power future vehicles, too, which is part of Canoo’s pitch to potential investors. Like many of its fellow startups (and now, Volkswagen), Canoo has designed an all-in-one “skateboard” platform that houses the battery pack, the electric motor, inverter, and everything else that helps power the vehicle and make it go.
That approach is what helps give the vehicle such a spacious interior. Canoo says its comparable to the interior space found in a large SUV, all in a total package that’s only six or seven inches longer than a Volkswagen Golf.
The skateboard design also contributed one of the most unique characteristics of Canoo’s vehicle, which is the experience of sitting in the front two seats. Since all of the technical underpinnings (including the HVAC system) are in the skateboard, and there’s no need for an engine bay, Canoo has taken a ton of liberty with what sitting up front in this vehicle looks and feels like. For one thing, there’s another pane of glass in front of your feet, meaning you can see even more of the road ahead. And keeping in step with the minimalist approach that permeates the vehicle, there are no touchscreens — just one LED bar that splits the two panes of glass at the front, which offers only basic information. (Canoo will offer a phone or table mount that can be attached to the dashboard that the steering wheel sits on.)
The vehicle is outfitted with seven cameras, five radars, and 12 ultrasonic sensors, which Canoo claims will help enable autonomous driving some day down the road. Following the reveal, Canoo says it plans to start road testing the vehicle later this year, ahead of the planned 2021 launch.
Canoo’s roots are directly tied to Faraday Future’s major 2017 financial crisis
Kim’s not the only Faraday Future expat at Canoo. In fact, the whole company was born out of a major internal power struggle that almost killed off Faraday Future in 2017. A quick recap: in 2017, Faraday Future hired ex-BMW executive Stefan Krause as its chief financial officer in an attempt to right what, at the time, was a sinking financial ship. Krause brought fellow ex-BMW pal Ulrich Kranz along with him, and together they set out to try and fix some of Faraday Future’s problems.
But Faraday Future founder Jia Yueting ultimately wasn’t pleased with the options Krause presented, which involved either giving up some control, or taking the startup into bankruptcy. Krause and Kranz quietly resigned in October 2017, and a month later, Jia excoriated the pair in a press release that alleged “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
Krause and Kranz swiftly started their own company called Evelozcity, and Kim joined them shortly after. After a number of other Faraday Future staffers jumped ship to join Evelozcity, Jia sued the new rival startup, and claimed that Krause improperly poached employees and had them steal trade secrets on the way out the door.
That lawsuit was eventually settled, and in March of this year, Evelozcity rebranded to Canoo. (Though the drama doesn’t stop there. Krause recently stepped away from the CEO role for “personal reasons.”)
Canoo reportedly has a commitment of around $1 billion from a group of unnamed investors, though two people familiar with the company’s operations say the startup has only received a portion of that funding. Regardless of how much it’s brought in, the startup still likely needs a lot more money, and the right kinds of industry partners, to be able to bring this first vehicle to market, let alone any of the other ones that it’s spent the last 19 months cooking up. And now that the first vehicle is public, Canoo will have to walk that tightrope balance of managing a growing team (currently some 400 people), seeking new investment, staying on course for production, and managing expectations. Few, if any, EV startups have succeeded at this.
But whatever happens to Canoo, the startup’s first vehicle is a breath of fresh air. Whether they say it or not, most other EV startups want to be the next Tesla. This one obviously bucked that approach. Canoo’s Microbus-style vehicle will be going up against Volkswagen’s own actual reboot of the classic, and both companies will have to fight the downward trend of minivan sales. But that’s a new kind of fight I’d be happy to watch — along with seeing a startup try to prove out a subscription model, something a number of automakers have so far only half-heartedly attempted.
“If we wanted to do another car, what would really be the point of that?” Kim asked while showing me around the company’s Los Angeles headquarters earlier this month. Instead, he said, Canoo challenged itself to come up with something that was “functional, really meaningful,” and had loads of utility. It seems like that part’s done. Now comes all the rest of the hard work.