UK technology company Arrival is planning to do way more than just make electric vans.
It’s looking at “the whole vehicle ecosystem,” according to chief of commercial vehicles, Glenn Saint. This will include charging infrastructure and potentially depots too.
Arrival, which last year secured €100m investment from Hyundai and Kia, is thinking big. It’s also getting big. Across the group, it now employs around a 1,000 people, more than half of which are software engineers.
However, it must now transition from an R&D technology company to a production company to deliver its first vehicle, a four tonne modular van. Customer and investor, UPS, is expecting 10,000 units by 2024.
“The initial vehicles will be going to UPS early next year,” says Saint, with Arrival building production facilities in Bicester and the US, while “looking at other facilities globally”.
These will not be typical vehicle manufacturing plants. Instead of centralised production facilities producing units to ship globally, Arrival plans to build “microfactories” close to demand around the world.
“Each of them is about 10,000 square feet, a standard warehouse building. We can put our assembly facility inside those units and be up and running in three to six months,” says Saint. “And each facility can produce up to 10,000 vans a year. So we are very scalable and can add these factories as market demand increases.”
Larger trucks coming
While the first vehicles will be four tonners, the modular design system, or “lego-based tech” in layman’s terms, means Arrival can quickly build larger vehicles.
Saint claims it plans to develop vehicles “up to 26 tonnes over the next four years” based on modules of its launch vehicle.
“Components can be easily scaled up, so over the next few years there will be more and more vehicles to market based on our modular architecture,” says Saint.
However, he says the biggest trucks will likely require different power sources.
“Battery electric vehicles will not fit the entire market. We don’t see battery operated articulated lorries as the way to go. We can’t change physics; even with fantastic improvements in battery technology, we still have to deliver that power into a vehicle in a reasonable amount of time. So we are looking at alternatives,” says Saint, “one of which may very well be hydrogen.”
Transport as a service
As well as starting vehicle design and production from scratch, Arrival aims to reinvent the wheel when it comes to business models.
“Of course, we can just sell you a vehicle and get on with it. But we are also looking at other models,” said Saint. This could conceivably include infrastructure, even depots, he suggests.
Meanwhile, he says all Arrival vehicles will be “autonomous ready”. While the government is unlikely to sanction autonomous vehicles on UK roads in the near future, Saint says they can be used in private, controlled environments today – such as depots.
But for now, he says there is increasing demand for its core proposition: an electric commercial vehicle that costs no more than a diesel.
“That has been the goal since day one. Operating costs are lower, emissions are lower, there are no breathable emissions at point of use – and if the price is no more than a combustion engine, then there is a commercial benefit from having an EV,” says Saint.
“That is the game changer. To date, EVs have been more expensive. If you remove that barrier, the market will explode.”
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