Already running late to market, Bollinger Motors announced today it is indefinitely “postponing” development of its retail battery-electric vehicles, the B1 SUV and B2 pickup, shifting its focus to medium- and heavy-duty all-electric commercial trucks.
The fate of the startup has been a topic of discussion in recent months, Bollinger repeatedly pushing back the launch dates of the B1 and B2 models. But founder and CEO Robert Bollinger told TheDetroitBureau.com the new strategy reflects where the opportunities lie. The market for all-electric commercial trucks is expected to grow exponentially this decade, according to numerous industry forecasts.
“The decision to focus on the commercial market has been a long time in coming,” Bollinger told TheDetroitBureau.com during a telephone interview. Even before making a formal decision to halt the B1 and B2 programs, “We kept putting more and more of our people on” the development of commercial vehicles.
An unlikely project
As we reported previously, Robert Bollinger is an unlikely EV pioneer. While he started out as an industrial design student, his career took some decidedly eccentric turns in marketing, advertising and then organic hair care products. But it was only when he moved to the Catskills to try his hand as a gentleman farmer raising grass-fed beef that he found his true calling.
On the New York farm, Bollinger wanted a rugged truck that also was environmentally friendly. He decided the best way to get what he needed was to build it himself. What became Bollinger Motors started out in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale where it began work on its two retail models.
The B1 and B2 were targeted at the medium-duty category because of their size and weight. And that, according to Bollinger, gives the company a sound footing to shift to the commercial market. “We can use almost the same components,” including the electric motors, control electronics and the battery pack the company has developed in-house, he explained.
Bollinger takes aim at a new market.
The underlying platform that was to be used in the Bollinger B1 and B2 models will have to be upgraded, starting with their suspension, the CEO said. And, moving forward, his company expects to provide its chassis and powertrain to upfitters who would then add the body chosen by individual customers. That could cover a broad gamut of Class 3 through 6 vehicles, such as heavy-duty tow trucks, cement mixers or long-haul vehicles for delivery services such as a UPS or FedEx, said Bollinger.
His company does not plan to target the lighter commercial vehicle market — technically known as Class 2 and Class B trucks. Demand in that segment is mushrooming as services like Amazon Prime, UPS and FedEx seek to go electric for last-mile delivery. This segment already has been targeted by other manufacturers, such as Ram, Ford and General Motors’ new BrightDrop subsidiary. Rival EV startup Rivian is already rolling out the first of 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon Prime.
There are EV competitors in the heavier duty segments, as well, however. That includes major trucking firms like Daimler, as well as nascent companies like Nikola, the latter focusing on hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
The market for zero-emissions commercial vehicles is being driven by several factors. There are tough new emissions and mileage mandates, both at the federal and state level. And California’s standards are being copied by more than a dozen states. But fleet planners have also discovered that, despite higher purchase prices, electrified vehicles tend to have lower operating costs, especially in terms of energy and maintenance.
During a lengthy conversation, Bollinger suggested that his company has lined up new funding to move forward on its shift to the commercial market. He also said the goal is to double the company’s workforce to around 100 — mostly engineers — by the end of 2022.
Asked whether Bollinger Motors has lined up upfit partners or end use customers, the CEO said it is “working with” or discussing opportunities with a number of them. The only one he would identify by name, however, was EAVX, an engineering and consulting firm that is part of J.B. Poindexter. JDP, said a Bollinger spokesperson in a follow-up e-mail, oversees several operations that produce vehicle bodies customized for fleets, including Morgan Olsen. The relationship with EAVX “isn’t exclusive” to Bollinger.
There is “no timeline” for getting a Bollinger commercial platform into the market, said the startup’s CEO. “It’s hard to say when” they will be in production, said Bollinger, adding that he expects that to happen “definitely within the next couple of years.”
At this point, the company will refund deposits for those who hoped to get in line early for the B1 and B2 models. But Bollinger stressed that those products have been “The loves of my life,” and they are technically only “postponed,” rather than canceled. Asked if the company might eventually restart its retail program, Bollinger said he would “never say never.”