Three-wheeled EV could be the future of delivery

ElectraMeccanica Solo driving down the freeway

Written by James Shea

Electric vehicles are quickly establishing a presence in food delivery. With gas at over $4 in parts of the country and even higher elsewhere, they are an efficient option.

One new possibility in the electric vehicle market is the Solo, a miniature, three-wheeled vehicle that gets the equivalent of 150 mpg on road.

“We were really focused on solving problems, and the Solo solves a problem,” said Kevin Pavlov, chief executive officer and director at ElectraMeccanica, which manufacturers the Solo. “We are really focused on the fleet and delivery market.”

ElectraMeccanica has roots in Italy but relocated to Canada 15 years ago. After several years of development, the company began selling the vehicle in the United States late last year. Rather than appealing to eco-conscious consumers, ElectraMeccanica sees potential for the Solo to serve in fleets, where it can efficiently do last-mile delivery. The vehicle is small and can operate in crowded urban areas. But unlike a scooter, the Solo can legally travel on the interstate.

Pavlov said the Solo averages about 30 cents per mile during deliveries. That compares to around $1.50 for third-party delivery companies with a gasoline vehicle. The Solo seats only one person but can travel up to 80 mph. A charge lasts about 100 miles, but Pavlov said restaurants or grocery stores can add another 100 miles during the day if the vehicle is charged a few minutes between deliveries.

“We found this really nice balance between the amount of cubic feet most customers need versus how heavy the things are that they are delivering,” Pavlov said. “We think we found a great middle ground.”

The electric vehicle market is ripe for the introduction of a new vehicle. In the United States, around half a million electric vehicles were registered in 2018. That number should top a million in the near future. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance study believes electric vehicles will account for 70% of worldwide vehicle sales by 2040.

Advertising is a key benefit

George Alexander, who owns a Ruby’s Diner in Mission Viejo, Calif., learned about the Solo through a friend. He researched it and thought it might work for doing deliveries at the restaurant. The company uses third-party delivery companies but needed a way to do delivery for people who call into the restaurant.

Alexander was one of the first people to purchase a Solo. He had ElectraMeccanica place an advertising wrap around the vehicle with the restaurant’s logo and the words “electric delivery.” The phone number was placed on the back of the vehicle.

“It looked very unique and drew a lot of attention,” Alexander said. “So, I thought it would be something that we could try for delivery and at the same time get some advertising out of it.”

Alexander said the restaurant does about five to 10 deliveries with the Solo a day. Most deliveries are within a 3-mile radius, so the vehicle easily keeps a charge. Deliveries are done by a staff person. There is no full-time person dedicated to delivery, but Alexander said he believes the vehicle is a great fit for his operation.

“When they are driving the car through town, they get a ton of looks,” Alexander said. “People honk at them. They take pictures and videos of them. It just generates a lot of good will in the community.”

Alexander does not foresee his company stopping third-party delivery. He estimates that between the cost of the vehicle and the labor costs, in-house with the Solo and third-party delivery are about the same.

“To be honest, I like it mostly for the advertising benefit,” Alexander said. “We get people who come into the store all the time and say they saw the vehicle driving or they saw the vehicle parked. Brand recognition is working well with the vehicle.”

Costs stay low

Between tax incentives and insurance, the cost to operate the vehicle is low. It is classified as a motorcycle, so Alexander says he has a very low insurance premium. He can see a wider use for delivery with the vehicle, given the low cost.

“The cost to operate it is almost nothing,” Alexander said.

The vehicle is currently manufactured in China, but ElectraMeccanica recently broke ground on a 235,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Arizona. The hope is that in the next few years, the Arizona facility will serve as the main assembly and testing facility for the company.

Pavlov said the company is doing a lot of research and trying to find the right fit for the vehicle. It is looking to reconfigure the trunk so it can deliver large grocery orders. The company is also considering adding logistics and other capabilities to the vehicle. The company wants to begin testing the vehicle in cold, snowier climates like Chicago or New York City soon.

“You can really make the business case to fleet owners,” Pavlov said.

While there are other similar vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt, the Solo is a unique vehicle. It weighs about 1,800 pounds and is designed to operate in a tight, urban environment. The base model starts at $20,000 but a larger model can cost as much as $30,000.

One drawback of the vehicle is its limited charging capabilities. It cannot access the level three and level four charging stations and must be charged using standard 110 or 220 outlets, slowing down the charging process. But Pavlov is confident the vehicle has enough range and capabilities for a last-mile delivery fleet.

“We are getting great feedback,” Pavlov said. “We are learning as we go, but we have developed this vehicle and you can utilize it for deliveries, from small packages to large.”

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