Greg Tarr, Indigo Tech: Creating EVs that tackle urban congestion
About 10 years ago (2012), an MIT project aimed at developing smaller vehicles with comfortable suspension was started. During the process, project head MIT professor Ian Hunter ended up creating an advanced suspension robo-wheel, an all-in-one powertrain with simultaneous in-wheel electric propulsion and electric active suspension.
The robo-wheel makes ultra-light weight vehicles with superior ride handling, comfort, safety and functionality a commercial reality, all keys to efficient lightweight commercial vehicle operations.
Despite his desire to sell this idea to the automobile industry, he did not have a lot of commercial experience and found out that it was quite difficult to get automakers to change their architecture and accommodate the robo-wheel.
Shortly thereafter (early 2020), project board member Will Graylin (founder of payment service company LoopPay which was acquired by Samsung to create Samsung Pay) proposed Investing his own money into Indigo and lead the company as CEO.
His idea was to create a company that builds ultra-lightweight electric vehicles (EV) for whitespace sub class 1 (below 3,000 pounds) transport or to say focusing on ride share and delivery services.
Today, that company is known as Indigo Technologies and helping to visualize the transition to smaller urban EVs is the startup’s Chief Strategy Officer Greg Tarr. He started his career at Toyota’s US headquarters, came to Indigo from Hybrid sportscar manufacturer Karma Automotive, and he is my special interview guest today. (pictured left with me during our video-conference interview)
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Now let's get to the questions.
I know a little about Indigo, but could you tell me how Indigo Technologies has gotten to where it is today?
About two years ago, besides putting together a lot of capital, we worked very hard to recruit the right people and we eventually evolved from a robo-wheel advanced technology company into an automotive manufacturer focused on lightweight commercial vehicles.
In 2021, we took guidance on next generation customer requirements from Uber, Amazon and large fleet companies (Merchant and Element) which were looking for light weight low emission vehicles focused on the lowest cost per mile with the most comfortable ride, so we started the pre-engineering process and planning to innovate in the commercial vehicle segment.
In January 2022, we were at consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas and that was really our coming out party. After presenting our first design renderings from Design Director Eric Obers (Design from Lucid Motors, Porsche, Mercedes), we received positive coverage from top media like Motortrend and Bloomberg and also made contacts with new customers.
We are now in the process of building our first full size foam model which will premiere at the Los Angeles ACT Fleet conference in May. We will also launch Indigo's Flow showcar at the LA Autoshow Nov 15th and we will start to take pre-orders.
Do you see governments pushing EV usage today?
In the US, I think there are several factors encouraging EVs and one of them is state government regulations, especially California which has been the most proactive.
In terms of urban logistics, the state is pushing for a certain percentage of delivery vehicles to be EVs, ranging from 25%-50% over the next few years and possibly getting closer to 100% by 2030 or so.
Both Uber and Amazon have signed a climate pledge, so they are pushing their gig workers to drive EV's ASAP. Uber is forecasting that their drivers will need 1.2 million EV's by 2030
Typically, California leads and then it is followed by states like New York and Massachusetts, and the rest of the country follows. Remember, we don’t have a federal mandate like China where the transition to EVs is happening much faster.
As for the federal government, President Biden has announced transitioning the entire government fleet of some 650,000 vehicles to zero emission, and American traditional OEM's will be competing with new American made entrants like Rivian, Tesla and Indigo Tech.
Could you tell me a little about the transition to smaller vehicles in city centers?
Many countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and Singapore are joining California by saying that they don't want giant class four and five trucks (more than 6,000 pounds) double parked in dense urban cities.
They don’t want diesel engines increasing their total carbon footprint and traffic problems that large vehicles cause in major metro areas. And this is also starting to take place in cities outside of California.
For instance, Seattle government officials will be ring fencing the city soon, meaning that it will be prohibiting larger trucks from being in the city. In the next three to four years, class four and five trucks will only be used in suburbs. They will be driving to fulfillment centers some 15 miles from city centers.
Class one vehicles or possibly smaller sub class 1 like Indigo's lightweight vehicles (less than 3,000 pounds) will be used to enter denser urban areas as they cause less traffic problems with their smaller size. They are easier to park and safer to get in and out of spots, and thus avoids repetitive stress injuries.
For us, we feel that Indigo fits a large market that is purpose built, serving both delivery and rideshare. In addition, Indigo's lightweight vehicles have larger interior space than current vehicles.
Our cargo version (for Amazon, UPS, DHL) has at least 130 cubic feet of space, and our rideshare vehicle (for Uber and Lyft) has 110 cubic feet. For comparisons, a Chevy Bolt has about 60 cubic feet.
Drivers are going to benefit from lower cost per mile, a more comfortable smooth ride and optimized interior packaging to maximize the passenger space or package space.
Indigo cargo (left) and rideshare (right) vehicles (courtesy of Indigo Tech)
So, all your vehicles are 100% electric, right?
Yes Indigo is all EV's. We designed a compact suspension and integrated motor suspension (robo-wheel) founded by MIT Professor Ian Hunter and these innovations have given our design team the ability to create lightweight vehicles with a range of 200 miles which do not require large batteries.
Smaller batteries and lightweight vehicles reduce total carbon footprint dramatically. For example, a 45-kilowatt battery cuts the total carbon footprint in half from a 90-kilowatt battery.
Remember, if you are running around town with 90-120 kilowatt batteries, you’ve got a heavier vehicle which takes longer to recharge and thus emits more emissions. Some people may not know it but every time you recharge a larger battery, you are contributing to emissions.
With our smaller vehicles of 45-kilowatt batteries or so, we have about half the carbon footprint and this is a good thing for companies and gig drivers that want to be green.
Finally, in terms of design, I’d also like to say that gig workers who work for Amazon Flex, Uber, and Lyft can sometimes only afford one vehicle, meaning that they could also use their Indigo commercial vehicles for personal use to take their families out or drop their kids off at school.
We believe that Indigo vehicles will lead the commercial segment. They boast class leading attractive iconic style from the team that designed the Lucid Air and Porsche/Mercedes models and that is important for society just like beautiful building architecture is.
And what about price? People will want to know that.
Well, some comparable EVs on the market such as the Toyota Bz4 could run more than $42,000. The price point we are targeting is $25,000.
And regarding distribution, we will be taking a multi-pronged strategy. Besides leasing them directly through our affiliate company OV Loop, we have strong interest from Merchant and Element, large automotive OEM's that do not have a commercial purpose-built vehicle, as well as rental agencies like Zipcar/Avis and Hertz.
We will be running vehicle trials with customers in 2023 and we should be ready for first deliveries by 2025.