California EV startup Canoo has announced a new multipurpose electric vehicle aimed at last-mile deliveries and other small businesses, which starts at $33,000 but scales up in size and cost. Due in 2022, the vehicle is the centerpiece of what new executive chairman Tony Aquila said amounts to a “re-founding of the company” ahead of its debut on the NASDAQ stock exchange at the end of next week, thanks to a reverse merger with a so-called blank check company.
It’s Canoo’s second vehicle, following the subscription-only van it debuted last year. Canoo still plans to make that EV — in fact, the new multipurpose vehicle is built on the same technological platform that Canoo developed for the van, and they share similar design features — but Aquila said the company’s immediate focus has changed. “When I invested in [Canoo], I didn’t invest in it for the lifestyle vehicle. To me, I saw that as a derivative, but that the real asset was this multipurpose delivery platform,” he said.
“The way I would look at it is this is a re-founding of the company, just kind of like Elon did to Tesla,” Aquila said, referring to how Elon Musk got involved with the now-famous electric vehicle company shortly after its founding and changed its trajectory. Aquila, who comes from a finance and software background, invested $35 million in Canoo this summer through his firm before the merger and before he was elevated to chairman. “He put money in [Tesla], just like I did, became the chair, had a different vision, comes out of the tech world. So I can completely relate and appreciate what he’s done for the industry.”
The new vehicle will initially be sold in two variants, though Canoo says more will eventually be offered. The smaller one (which is the one that starts at $33,000) is 14.4 feet long, 6.4 feet wide, and 6.2 feet tall, and has 230 cubic feet of cargo space. Canoo will offer three different battery pack options, too: 40kWh (with an estimated 130 miles of range), 60kWh (190 miles), and 80kWh (230 miles).
The company will also make a larger version that is 17.1 feet long, 7.2 feet wide, and 8.4 feet tall, with 500 cubic feet of cargo space, which Aquila said is “unheard of for this industry.” The same battery pack options will be available, though the range estimates drop to 90 miles, 140 miles, and 190 miles, respectively, thanks to the extra weight.
The vehicle can be further customized from there, according to Canoo, which suggests options like storage lockers, a roll-up door, or ramps in its press release. Aquila said this kind of customization presents a “real gold opportunity … to go after and bring EVs to the middle of America” by targeting small business owners who will want to switch to electric vehicles. He also claims it will help “return capital” to these vehicle owners (thanks to things like the low to no maintenance of EVs), to the tune of as much as $50,000 to $80,000 over seven years.
Canoo didn’t share details on pricing above the $33,000 base model. Limited deliveries will start in 2022 with wider production in 2023.
Debuting a second vehicle, spinning up a new business model, and evolving into a publicly traded company are major milestones for Canoo, which is only three years old. That said, the public listing comes as no surprise, as multiple EV startups (as well as other companies, including suppliers in the broader electric vehicle space) have been either prepping public listings or have already gone public during what’s become a bona fide gold rush — one fueled by Tesla’s soaring valuation as well as the sudden popularity of startups merging with these “special purpose acquisition companies,” or SPACs.
Few startups have been able to follow Tesla into the electric vehicle space over the last decade. Most that have came from China and still have limited track records to boot. But this new wave of attention and funding could unlock the kind of money required for companies like Canoo to try their hand at the cash-hungry affair of vehicle design and manufacturing.
Canoo was founded in late 2017 by a few former BMW executives who had tried to pull buzzy but troubled EV startup Faraday Future out of a financial nosedive. Thwarted by Faraday Future’s founder, the stubborn Chinese tycoon Jia Yueting, those executives split off and created Evelozcity, which they eventually rebranded to Canoo. Boosted by money from a touchscreen magnate in Taiwan, a financier with CCP ties in China, and a businessman in the UK close to Prince Andrew, Canoo assembled a team of around 300 people in Los Angeles to develop the electric van and its underlying technology.
Canoo’s first subscription-only EV is a refreshing rethink of the VW Microbus
In August, Canoo announced the merger with the blank check company, Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp IV. The deal is expected to close next week, with Canoo becoming a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ under the ticker “GOEV.”
Canoo’s founders always intended to use the van’s modular platform to power other vehicles, but Aquila is supercharging that vision by accelerating those plans.
With that in mind, there are changes being made to Canoo’s corporate structure. Ulrich Kranz, one of the BMW executives who co-founded Canoo and the current CEO, is no longer on the company’s board of directors. He’ll instead be a “special adviser” to Aquila, and while he’ll remain CEO, his contract was renegotiated and now includes language that accounts for the possibility of him being replaced, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“I want to build a world class company here, and what I’ve said to everyone is, look, you’re going to go as far in this company and as big as this company as we all collectively do. But it’s like a baseball team. Everybody’s got to play their position and they’ve got to play it really well for every season, and those positions can change over time,” Aquila said when asked about Kranz’s new contract. “There’s definitely a role [for Kranz]. There’s definitely advice that can happen. But to scale an organization at this level, I mean, that’s a different experience than he has.”
(For what it’s worth, if Kranz is removed as CEO but remains as Aquila’s adviser, his salary will more than triple from $648,000 to $2.5 million, per the agreement filed with the SEC.)
Aquila also said that one of Canoo’s founding investors, Pak Tam Li, will not be on the board despite owning between 32 and 36 percent of the company after the merger is complete, per SEC filings.
Li, who also goes by Li Botan, heads up a massive investment firm in China and is the son-in-law of Jia Qinglin who was the fourth-most senior leader in China before retiring in 2013. Aquila said that this choice was made to avoid any trouble with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has authority over deals that could be problematic from a national security standpoint. (Li’s involvement in Canoo was first reported last year.) “It’s best to be ahead of things rather than try to deal with them [after],” Aquila said.