Is it possible to envision any vehicle with “fun” in the name being used work applications? This was the question going into a recent test-drive in Venice, California of Arcimoto’s FUV — fun utility vehicle — a tandem two-seat, three-wheeled electric bike.
Eugene, Oregon-based Arcimoto’s roadshow landed in Venice with its flagship FUV along with variants named the Deliverator (upfit with a 23-cu.-ft. box), the Rapid Responder for emergency or security response, and a just-released flatbed prototype.
The company also brought its decidedly non-work Roadster. That model turned the most heads on Venice’s Abbot Kinney Blvd., the epicenter of SoCal boho chic, leaving the other models to claim work cred. So how and where exactly would these open-cockpit three-wheelers fit in with fleet?
Mark Frohnmayer, founder and CEO of Arcimoto, was on hand to answer: “Something like 80% of trips taken are with one or two people and a small amount of stuff,” he said. “The FUV covers this dominant usage pattern.”
In work scenarios, this entails taking food and small goods those final few miles, maneuvering into emergency scenarios where larger vehicles can’t, and hauling heavier loads using the flatbed model, which is expected to have a max payload of 400 lbs. to 500 lbs.
Yes, there is a traditional market for these applications with electric low-speed vehicles (LSV), that top out at 25 mph. However, the highway legal, 75-mph-top-speed FUV has more versatility: Motorcycle endorsements and helmets aren’t required for three-wheeled motorcycles in many states, including California. Insurance falls under a motorcycle policy. Range is about 102 city miles unladen.
The equation starts to make more sense when factoring in lower operational expenses, and an easy charging scenario from a typical (Level 1) wall outlet. “You plug it in at night and every morning, you’ve got a full tank,” he said.
Frohnmayer pointed out that the dual-motor, front-wheel-drive FUV’s low center of gravity provides an enhanced ride quality compared to the LSV competition and other electric three wheelers.
As an EV with fewer moving parts — and a motorcycle at that — owners can expect at least a 30% savings in service expense and reduced downtime, Frohnmayer said. “It’s not for every fleet application, but almost every fleet has some need for this type of trip.”
The FUV becomes even more compelling considering the rise of corporate ESG mandates, the move to match the right fleet vehicle to the task, and cities’ desires to reduce emissions and congestion.
Next door to Venice, Santa Monica recently instituted the country’s first voluntary emissions-free delivery zone. The pilot program provides priority access to zero-emissions delivery vehicles such as electric vans, e-cargo bikes, and autonomous delivery bots, while instituting new curb management policies for commercial vehicles.
Arcimoto has a contract to rent FUVs at a delivery hub in Santa Monica run by Reef, a parking facilities company that branched out to become one of the nation’s largest ghost kitchens with 5,000 U.S. locations. The FUV helps delivery drivers satisfy the emissions zone requirements while its thin profile makes parking and maneuvering through traffic easier.
Driving the FUV brings the pilot closer to understanding “fun” and “utility” in the same breath. It’s best to enter the FUV experience with the understanding that you’re still driving a motorcycle: Handlebars are used to steer, accelerate, decelerate, and signal, and the foot brake is only used for more immediate stops.
The instant torque and pistol grip operations took some getting used to but became manageable after a few minutes of operation. Stability on three wheels wasn’t a concern, though body movement is an inherent part of the drive.
The FUV’s open-air cockpit brings you closer to the road and your immediate surroundings. The FUV certainly makes more sense for warmer climes.
Arcimoto is relatively new to the niche EV scene, having launched production of its flagship FUV in September 2019. Pilot versions of the Deliverator and the Rapid Responder followed in March 2020, and the Roadster and flatbed prototype were added this year.
Each model is built on the same chassis, with the same wheels, tires, brakes, batteries, motors, and controllers. This modular platform allows Arcimoto to engineer new variants and then scale, Frohnmayer said.
Arcimoto sells directly to customers as opposed to going through a franchised dealer base. The FUV, which retails starting at $17,900, is now delivering to customers on the West Coast and is available to preorder throughout the U.S. Service and repairs will be handled by mobile maintenance teams.
The company will soon move to a new production facility that is three blocks away and six times the size of the present Eugene facility. The goal is to start producing vehicles in the new plant before the end of 2022. “Our overriding focus right now is to get to mass production,” Frohnmayer said, adding that the goal to crank out 50,000 units per year.
In true start-up fashion, Frohnmayer is thinking big. “At the right price point, we see a market for hundreds of thousands of these worldwide on an annualized basis,” he said.
But when it comes to new use cases, he’s not afraid to think small: “How cool would it be to have (an FUV) with a built-in barbecue that is powered by the vehicle? You can hit farmer's markets, fly in fresh veggies, and make them up on the grill.”
There are many niche applications yet to be exploited. “It's just a very flexible vehicle platform that can do a lot in a small amount of space,” he says.
Is there a place where the FUV isn’t ready for prime time? When asked if it had been to Burning Man and passed the strict entry requirements for the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles), “I tried,” he replied. “They said it was too corporate.”