Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Harbinger Focuses Its Electric Platform On Mid-Duty Vehicles

Lots of companies are doing all-electric cars and many others are focusing on electrified long-haul trucks. But Harbinger Motors believes it’s identified a sweet spot for electrification that is in between those two categories — mid-sized vehicles including delivery trucks and recreational vehicles — and has staked its future on developing battery systems for them.

The startup based in Garden Grove, California, has designed and is building stripped-down but electrified chassis that forms a backbone for a coming generation of Class 4 to Class 6 medium-duty vehicles that fill many niches in the economy and the American lifestyle. They also are the basis of a better business model than other electrified vehicle forms that are getting more attention, believes John Harris, Harbinger’s CEO and co-founder.

“Usually, OEMs today are focusing on cars or long-haul trucks” for electrification, “where big, meaty markets are justifying the scale of the development and the cost of the technology,” Harris, formerly an engineering executive at electric startups Faraday Future and Axos, told me. “Those are areas we’re not interested in at all. They are crowded areas with low margins.”

For example, he said, “think about passenger cars. They’re not a particularly good application for electrification. They help us reduce emissions, but the [EV] market has clearly shown us that no one wants an EV car with less than 275 miles of range, and we live in a battery-limited world. I don’t think that’s the best answer for wher batteries will have the biggest impact.”

By contrast, Harris said, “medium-duty vehicles drive on repeatable routes every day, so we know how much range they need, and it’s used predictably” compared with cars. “I have yet to see someone take a UPS van on a sudden ‘road trip,’ so we don’t have to spend money defending that use case. But they consume massive amounts of fuel and last forever — a typical UPS truck lasts 20 years and hundreds of thousands of miles. Think about all the emissions we can take off the road from a vehicle that gets six miles per gallon. Yet there’s only the same amount of batteries in that vehicle that you find in a high-spec [Tesla] Model S.”

A number of significant investors apparently agree with Harris, because Harbinger just secured $60 million in Series A funding from a diverse consortium of invsetors led by Ridgeline and Thor Industries. In addition to helping finance further development of Harbinger’s electric-vehicle platform, the funds will be used for production scaling which is planned to double the company’s workforce over the next year, to about 120 employees.

Thor, for example, plans for Harbinger’s electric chassis to offer “game-changing driver experience, safety and vehicle operation,” Todd Woelfer, Thor’s chief operating officer, said in a press release. Parent of several RV brands, including Airstream, Thor has been working on its own to develop electrified platforms, but in proffering a new chassis, “we’re bringing them the piece that they usually get outside of the house,” such as chassis built by Ford or other suppliers that are topped off with the RV structure itself by Thor’s brands, Harris said. “We have something to replace what they’ve been getting and to help Thor bring a wide variety of products to market on that chassis.”

Another investor with strong rooting interests is the Coca-Cola System Sustainability Fund. In addition to other reasons that Coke might have in Harbinger’s success, the delivery trucks that form the core of the beverage giant’s distribution systems are just exactly the kinds of mid-duty usages Harbinger is targeting.

“The first vehicles from us on the road will be for commercial delivery customers,” Harris said. “There will be a mix of use caes, including some parcel and mail delivery, bakery delivery, and automotive support such as parts and service trucks. Our chassis can be used for so may different applications.”

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