Remember Atieva? It is a Silicon Valley electric car start-up that keeps such a low profile that it makes the secretive Faraday Future look like an extrovert. In fact, almost nothing has been heard from it since it quietly began recruiting talented engineers a year ago.
Late last year, BAIC, China’s state-owned auto company, bought a majority interest in Atieva through its Beijing Electric Car Company division. At the time, Atieva told the press, “We’re redefining what a car can be by building an iconic new vehicle from the ground up. We’re a car company, not a design house. And we’re definitely not a traditional automaker.”
Now, Atieva’s vice president of design Derek Jenkins and chief technology officer Peter Rawlinson say Atieva plans to put a premium electric sedan on the road in 2018, followed by a pair of luxury crossovers by 2021. Jenkins is the designer responsible for the latest Mazda Miata, and Rawlinson was deeply involved in the development of the Tesla Model S.
Putting a car on the road by 2018 is a bold claim for a company that hasn’t even picked a location for its factory yet. Manufacturing director Brian Barron says the company has narrowed its search to two sites and expects to choose later this year. Barron, who spent 20 years overseeing various BMW plants, said the factory will be designed to build 20,000 electric cars a year initially, ramping up in stages to 130,000 a year.
The company has converted a Mercedes commercial van into a test bed for its powertrain. Crammed inside are two high-power electric motors, a lithium-ion battery, and various inverters and motor control systems. Rawlinson claims the “secret sauce” that will set Ateiva’s cars apart is the proprietary software the company has created that allows all those components to function together.
Between them, the two motors crank out 900 horsepower and can sling the 5,000 lb van to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. The goal is to get that time down to 2.7 seconds.
Oh, great. While the world desperately needs affordable electric cars and trucks, yet another company is focusing on creating super-swift toys for the very wealthy. It just goes to show how many rich folks there out there, salivating at the prospect of parking the latest electronic bauble in their multi-car garage. And yet, Atieva has attracted several hundred million dollars in investment from people who think the sky’s the limit when it comes to premium electric transportation modules.
When and if Atieva ever builds a car, it will have stiff competition from other Chinese-owned startups like Faraday Future and NextEV, but Jenkins isn’t worried. He says the company’s “California DNA” and “California mindset” will set it apart from its rivals.
If all it takes to pry millions of dollars out of the pockets of gullible investors is to utter some platitudes about how super cool California is, I am going to invite some of them to listen to a few ideas I have rattling around. I will invite them to my home, where we can all sit around sipping a fine chardonnay while listening to the Mamas & The Papas singing “California Dreaming” in the background.