EV Startup Arcimoto Wants Us All to Ride Tricycles

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Breaking the grip of four wheels on public transport has proven to be a challenge ever since we invented the wheel. Sure, Roman chariots are fast, but haven’t you seen Ben Hur? Don’t you want a nice stable cart? By the time we get to the car, cars are clearly ahead, despite the fact that a smaller motorcycle footprint would solve many of the traffic and resource problems that plague our crowded cities.

Enter the tricycle. I did, recently spending a month on an electric trike made by Oregon-based Arcimoto. If you’ve read about my experience driving the Arcimoto FUV, you may have more questions about how it happened and what Arcimoto’s goals are. I spoke with Jesse Fittipaldi, Arcimoto’s interim CEO, about designing and driving a vehicle that is neither a car nor a bicycle, but both.

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

C/D: What is your background? Did you start Arcimoto? What is the history of the company?

JF: Mark Frohnmayer founded Arcimoto in 2007, and between 2007 and 2015, he prototyped many different vehicles, testing what a reverse trike should have been, and what the problems were. It comes with what we call the Generation 8 Platform, which you drive. I joined the company in early 2015, which is when we got funding to develop the Gen 8 prototype into a product. So I’m here building the company from a prototype company to an OEM electric vehicle production company.

What appeals to you about Arcimoto?

I met Mark, and we talked about the future of autonomy for transportation, and how the vehicle architecture had to change, or could change under that new paradigm, to be efficient, with a small footprint, and really be built for a purpose rather than, “How cool is that?” my appearance?” Being part of a company that is doing something meaningful is highly desirable. Hopefully we can show the world how you can create a really cool company by doing something that matters.

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

What you said earlier was that there are some challenges inherent in making a reverse trike, which must be met before you feel ready to go bigger. Can you give me a quick overview of some of those challenges?

We really think that two-seater vehicles are essential for mass adoption. And he build factor of the vehicle that we prototyped before that was very automotive, traditional automotive in his style. Sort of like Elio or Solo. Pedal on the floor and steering wheel, and your feet extend forward. That creates this very elongated vehicle. It created a vehicle that had a backseat that was difficult for people to get in and out of. And once you’re in the back seat, it’s uncomfortable, the experience isn’t liked. The solution, the point of which is to change the steering wheel into a handlebar, and change the ergonomic position of the passenger and driver to be more upright, like sitting in a camping chair. And that allows for shorter vehicles, less materials, less costs, and really comfortable, and some would say fun, passenger seats. If you drive in the backseat of a FUV in Manhattan, it’s an amazing experience.

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

Yes, I take several passengers as long as I have them. All my neighbors want to go. Let’s talk a little bit about what the FUV looks like. I like it, but kinda cool.

Yes. Wait, don’t write that I said “yes,” like I agreed. I just mean I understand what you’re saying. [He laughs and mutters, “Dorky cool.”]

It’s an odd form factor, it’s not something people are used to seeing. And I think that’s part of its appeal. I’m sure you experienced it when you drove it; people did have a positive reaction to the vehicle.

I’d say, as far as my experience with it goes, almost 100 percent of people give me the thumbs up, even the ones with much cooler vehicles. I mean, whether they’ll buy it themselves or not I don’t know, but I got positive feedback from him while I was in it, which I was not expecting.

It was incredible.

Let’s talk a little about security. One of my worries at first when taken down was like, “Am I going to die testing this thing?” It doesn’t look as stable as that, and it doesn’t look or feel very protective when you’re in it. Obviously, I’m sticking with it and I’m enjoying it. But what do you say to people who care about safety?

The vehicle is a motorcycle, and that category has known safety issues. We did try to tackle as much of it as we could in the design. The motorcycle loses traction easily under high-speed braking, and you end up dumping the vehicle. We tackled it on three wheels, and you have a superior braking experience. It’s controlled, if you need to stop, and you won’t get thrown or fall. The driver’s perspective relative to other drivers is better than that of a bicycle, being able to sit up higher, you’ll notice that if you ever look across a car parked with you at an intersection, you’re at head level with a mid-size SUV. It gives you a better perspective of the road and also gives other people a better perspective of you. The visual experience of a vehicle is greater than that of a motorcycle, so people can see you better. Then we have the seat belts to pull out; ejection is the main thing you try to avoid that is inherent in two wheel motorcycles. So just try to reduce that type of experience, or increase that experience, hopefully that gives us a good and safer vehicle.

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

You did offer an optional door, I saw it on the build sheet.

Yes, we have half doors now, and we’re working on full covers. Doors are difficult from an engineering and manufacturing point of view. There is a joke in the auto industry that a car starts with the door design. And we didn’t start with the door design. So we have an oddly shaped cage where the geometry makes it challenging to get the double doors to work. There will probably be a revision of the enclosure design to enable a full enclosure, but that just takes time and certification. We weren’t at scale yet, so we felt we could support our production numbers by sending vehicles to an area where the Jeep culture—open cab—was a thing. So like, hey, in Hawaii I’m fine driving a doorless vehicle.

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

arcimoto tricycle

Car and Driver

From a business standpoint, what percentage of private sales compare to larger rental, or tour fleet sales?

I have to find the exact numbers but I believe 80 percent of our production goes to consumers.

I see the challenge for you guys is in the price [nearly $18,000 to start]. That’s a lot of money for only slightly more uses than a motorcycle. What are the thoughts on that? And are there any plans to lower the price or do you feel the vehicle benefits will support that price across a larger customer base?

I think in the short term, we’re going to have a consumer base for the price. People spend a lot of money on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. We really valued in that category. But for mass adoption, the price will definitely have to come down. But if you look at it from a financing standpoint, people pay 275 dollars a month. That doesn’t seem like a challenge to people.

Did you drive one of them?

I have a FUV, and it’s called Milky, and it’s all white. I’ve driven the Milky for over a year and I haven’t driven my other vehicle—it’s a BMW—as long as the battery dies, and I have to figure out how to get it out of the parking lot.

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