Bankruptcies, disappointments or even fraud: Innovative electric car companies are springing up like mushrooms, but most of them fail in reality. Apart from Tesla, the more conventional, the more successful e-models and their brands are.
Whether VW, BMW, Ford or Fiat, almost all car manufacturers rely entirely or at least mainly on electric cars. The question of whether e-mobility will catch on as a concept or not has already been answered – for the “big players” in the automotive industry. But disillusionment has now returned to many electric start-ups. Sono Motors struggles to survive; Brands like Byton or Borgward didn’t make it. Once celebrated exotics like Mindset, Think or Unity are forgotten. Apart from Tesla, very few newcomers make it onto the market, and if they do, then with massive financial power or subsidies behind them. The successful ones usually do not offer the “reinvention of driving a car”, but quite the opposite, vehicles suitable for the masses, which are only on the road with batteries instead of fuel.
Many hopeful ideas started with big announcements to collect the necessary billions of dollars, because otherwise you don’t stand a chance against the established car brands. The design rarely failed and most manufacturers also had promising approaches in terms of technology. But doing interesting studies on profitable production cars and positioning the brand stably is anything but easy. FOCUS online shows a small selection of failed or acutely threatened electrical ideas.
When a former VW designer (Murat Günak, creator of the Tiguan) and a Swiss entrepreneur want to reinvent driving, it sounds extremely exciting. And that was the “Mindset” too. Unveiled in 2008, the prototype looked and remained exotic with its spindly wheels and unusual body. In 2013 there was bankruptcy, the car was never built in series.
As one of the many Chinese car start-ups, Byton started early and impressively. Top people were hired by established car manufacturers and a comfortable electric crossover called M-Byte was developed, which should make a name for itself worldwide, especially with its gigantic screen in the cockpit. Despite more than 65,000 pre-orders, Byton did not make it into retail and onto the street and business operations had to be closed because the money had simply run out.
The lights aren’t out here yet, but the glow has turned into a glow. In times of climate hype and energy crisis, the solar car from Germany actually has the perfect conditions: A vehicle that at least partially runs on solar energy – who wouldn’t want that? But the road to series production is rocky.
Sono Motors recently extended the deadline to raise almost 100 million euros so that the electric Sion can still reach the customer. “We are in ongoing discussions with potential investors and believe that by extending the campaign we can reach our goal of 100 million euros and continue the Sion program. The commitment of thousands of community members has once again demonstrated the demand for the Sion,” says Laurin Hahn, co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors.
Under the hashtag
This start-up from Sweden also wanted to “rethink mobility” and received enthusiastic advance praise from the media and the climate scene. Ultimately, however, you almost have to call it a fraud concept. Uniti Motors promised nothing less than the car of the future in 2017: The Uniti One, an electric three-seater with a range of 300 kilometers – and an extremely futuristic design. A modern factory was to be built in Landskrona on Öresund; That was the promise with which a seven-figure sum in euros was collected via crowdfunding right at the start of the company. But the ‘fully automated’ factory was never built, while company founder Lewis Horne modified his narrative: now the Uniti was to be built at Silverstone, UK, from 2020 and in no fewer than 300,000 units per year. In the fall of 2019, he boasted a price for the British market: £15,100 – “including government subsidies.”
But then nothing happened. Until Uniti presented its investors with a finished car in the summer of 2021, the Uniti Zero. However, it no longer looked like the futuristic prototype called One, but showed striking similarities with the Chinese cheap car Zhidou D3. When this became apparent at some point, the embarrassing story became public. The “Automobilwoche” writes: “The workforce of the start-up is said to have shrunk considerably in the meantime. The Swedish journalists spoke to a former manager at Uniti, who apparently no longer has much sympathy for Horne. Filter magazine quoted the founder as saying, “He thinks he’s Elon Musk, but he’s just a scammer, he doesn’t know anything about cars.”
The tiny city electric vehicle Think City, which was developed at the end of the 1990s, at least made it into production and from 2007 to 2011 brought small numbers onto the road in the concept with which the first Smart should originally have appeared. But the Think didn’t take off. After several changes of investors, the Stromer finally disappeared in the fog.
The start-up company Faraday Future once wanted to redefine mobility. But at the eagerly awaited presentation of the new car, not much stuck with speech bubbles.
In interviews, chief developer and co-founder Nick Sampson raved about new revolutionary business models, purchasing mobility credit instead of a new car or films that are bought and watched when the car drives autonomously to the destination. Nobody really knows what will happen to Faraday Future. Years ago there were big shows at trade shows like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But the first car, the FF91, became almost as big a permanent problem as the Chinese carmaker’s financial situation.
The Lightyear 0 electric car was supposed to become a reality in itself last fall. Unlike many of its competitors, the Dutch Lightyear not only uses electricity from the socket, but is the first series-produced solar vehicle. The price: 250,000 euros. It took six years to develop the supposedly first real solar car in the world. A maximum of 946 vehicles were planned.
The manufacturer promises that the aerodynamically styled electric vehicle can drive for up to seven months without refueling at the charging station. “Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for since the five of us sat in a kitchen and sketched out our dream of the world’s most sustainable car,” said Lex Hoefsloot, CEO and co-founder of Lightyear.
But then the solar eclipse set in earlier than expected: the car manufacturer’s operating company is insolvent, production of the car is stopped and a “strategic reorientation” is announced. They now want to focus on the successor model “Lightyear 2”. Whether that will ever come is anyone’s guess.
But there are also electrical success stories away from the Tesla beacon and away from established car manufacturers that are switching to electric. Most of those that have made the leap into series production have two characteristics in common:
With the brand BYD (“Build Your Dreams”), one of today’s most successful electric car manufacturers worldwide came into play around 15 years ago. It started with petrol and hybrid cars, but quickly switched to electric vehicles, including buses and taxis. Today the portfolio of BYD electric vehicles is bigger than ever. What is special about BYD: Right from the start, the group was not only on the road with cars, but also produced the battery technology itself.
Secretly and quietly, it has blossomed into the most successful Chinese car brand in Germany. MG Motor looks back on a strong 2022. The brand sold exactly 15,684 vehicles. This is an increase of 484 percent over the previous year, when 3,239 new MG vehicles were registered. At the same time, the network of MG Motor partners grew by around a quarter to almost 130 agency and service points.
For more than ten years nothing has been heard of the MG brand on the European car market. But just when models like the MG Roadster and an MG ZS were slowly being forgotten, the once British car brand under the Chinese flag quietly rolled back into the local import ports. Hardly any marketing, no advertising – unlike other competitors, the brand, which now belongs to the Chinese car group SAIC, relies on the normative power of the factual, i.e. solid technology in an attractive design, but at prices a few thousand below those of VW, Hyundai or Opel lie.
Aiways is also making a positive impression in Europe. The U5 SUV has had a successful market launch and the plant in Shangrao, with a capacity of 150,000 vehicles, is doing solidly. Although the car also shows weaknesses in everyday use, the brand definitely has potential. If the desired success is achieved, an increase to 300,000 vehicles is possible. After the successful launch of the brand in Europe, another round of financing and the second model Aiways U6 SUV-Coupé, which is currently being ordered, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, William Chen, handed over the chairmanship to the previous CEO, Charlie Zhang.
One of the brightest examples of successful new electric brands also comes from China. Nio has freed itself from its financial difficulties and meanwhile has its first models on the road – including a unique exchange technology for the batteries. In the fourth quarter of 2022 alone, Nio delivered a total of 40,052 vehicles, a sharp increase of 60 percent compared to the same quarter last year. With a total of 31,093, ET7, EL7 and ET5 model deliveries accounted for almost 80 percent of total fourth quarter deliveries.
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