The Atlis Work Truck (Atlis not a typo)

Somehow it came to my attention tonight that there is a new maybe-vapor entry in the pick-up truck market called the Atlis. It is remarkable in several ways, not all good, but the top-line message is that it’s electric.

“Work Truck” is a market where electric makes a lot of sense. Torque, stop-and-go efficiency, low maintenance. Electric outlets to power your tools. Oddly, all images of this work truck show a jacked-up off-road suspension and a paint job perhaps intended to confuse laser-guided missiles. I’m guessing that doesn’t match your worksite requirements.

Here’s a picture. Take a look, we’ll be coming back here often.

The Future

First, let’s talk about the nose of this beast. If you have driven lately, you may have noticed that the grilles on trucks have been getting bigger and bigger, until now when you look in the rear-view all you see is massive chrome accordion climbing up your ass. (The drivers of these vehicles are invariably discourteous.)

Those massive grilles are in front of equally massive radiators, because as these trucks get ever-more powerful, the waste heat they create increases as well. Roughly half of the energy created by burning fuel is waste, and must be dissipated by the radiator. The need for so much airflow to cool the engine means that the vehicle must be less aerodynamic, which means it needs to burn more fuel to get where it’s going. Which produces more heat.

But now you have an electric truck! There’s no need for a radiator at all! So instead of a massive, aerodynamically-awful grille, you get this… massive, aerodynamically-awful flat plate. First impression: Man, that’s ugly. Second impression: It’s a work truck. Can you take $1000 off the price by abandoning aesthetics? Then that is the right choice. And shit, it still looks better than that weird Tesla thing.

Let’s not talk about those headlights.

The description of the interior sounds like a true work truck. “Durable materials.” “Easy to clean.” Now we’re talking. Sure, there’s a touch screen, and sure, touch screens remain a bad idea anywhere within reach of the driver of a car. But other than that, the interior says, “some expense spared.” No frills. Not afraid of mud. Mostly I suspect this is a spin on “we can’t match the luxury you will find in the latest Ford.” But that right there is singing my song. You can listen to your Beethoven and sip your latte in your GMC Sierra or you can go to fuckin’ work in your Atlis. Just try not to think too much about the name.

And you want a work truck? This thing has the juice to power your worksite, and an air compressor too.

They make a big deal about the batteries. They’ve got some unique tech or whatnot that lets you fully charge them in fifteen minutes. That sounds pretty nice, but…

The limit to how fast you charge a battery is how much damage you are willing to do to it. Heat is an inevitable product of charging, and the faster you charge, the hotter things get. Heat also is a big contributor to batteries degrading. It’s a work truck, not a transcontinental cruiser. (If it were a transcontinental cruiser, I’d hope for better aerodynamics.) Go to work. Do your work. Get dirty. Haul stuff around. (Four motors on four wheels! unstoppable!) Go home and plug in. You have all night to get ready for another hard day. I hope fast charging is optional, because if this were my work truck, I’d want the battery to last as long as possible.

I grew up in New Mexico, so I know that sometimes even a Work Truck has to cover some miles in a given day. Three hundred miles round-trip is actually kind of common (now I’m getting a little more concerned over aerodynamics). But even then, it’s a round trip, and then you’re home and you can plug in for a few hours. This is the reality of a Work Truck.

I should note in closing that I’m pretty sure they’re not selling these yet. Interestingly, when/if they do reach production, it appears that leasing (I mean subscribing) is the only option, but the lease includes free charging. If you have to go somewhere else to charge up, then maybe the fast charging makes sense. Especially if you’re swapping vehicles before the battery goes kaput. The monthly cost seems kind of high, but if you subtract gas expenses it starts to feel competitive. Especially if you use those batteries to power a bunch of other stuff as well. As long as you work near a charging station. Which, at this point, seems undefined. And insurance is included!

To sum up, this truck does a pretty good job with not having features that a work truck doesn’t need. It’s ugly as fuck, but it’s electric. If it’s spartan that means that you’re only paying for things that actually matter. If you need a truck, it seems like you could do a lot worse. If it ever becomes real and if there’s a charging station close to you, consider Atlis for your work-truck needs.

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My Chat With Aptera (updated a second time)

Update March 2022: I got a response from Aprera more than three months ago, and it is frankly as open and honest as you could hope a small company to be. It is on me that it has taken this long for me to publish it I have put it in a new episode just so it gets the attention it deserves.

Update November 18, 2021: I got a response after I sent the link to this article. The full response is below, but to summarize, it said “Dude, you’re asking the wrong people.” Hm. Fair enough. But I have some thoughts on that as well, which I have added to this episode.

Please note there is a second update at the foot of this episode, where all the efforts of Tom and Jess to do their jobs turned out to be futile.

For background, there is a company that is trying to introduce an ultra-light electric vehicle covered with solar panels. I am, without reservation, the exact profile of the financially-secure boomer-hippie driver they are catering to.

I have read all the words on their Web site. For 100 clams I can hold a place in line for the privilege of buying one of these things some time in the future. But not that distant of a future! they plan to start serious production in 2022. Or, at least they planned to. Do they still?

The thing is, we here at Muddled HQ already have more cars than we strictly need. Even before the plague, the times when both cars weren’t in the garage was vanishingly rare. So even if one of our cars is retired, the replacement is more likely to be a workbench than something with wheels. (Although I did see a sweet workbench that was on wheels, so you never really know.)

Here’s the split between me wanting to own something and me very much wanting that thing to exist. Rather than hand them $100 for a place in line, I could simply invest in the company. They make it easy (minimum investment $1000).

So here was a chance to help make this whole thing happen, without ending up with a vehicle I don’t need. I was excited enough to start reading the SEC filings about the offering. Those things require the company to list pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong, and all the ways the board of the company could legally dick you over later.

I’m not an expert on those filings, but the few I’ve perused have all been pretty scary. Investing in an under-capitalized car company is top of the scary heap, however.

But back to my motivation: I want cars like this to exist. If I can pitch in a bit of cash to increase the odds of success (or, prolong failure to improve the chances for the next attempt), I’m willing to consider it. So I kept reading, and eventually I contacted the company with some questions (some formatting lost to WordPress suckyness:

Congratulations on the full-media press release in The Washington Post! I found the coverage exciting but pretty dang credulous.

I am intrigued by this vehicle, and I think the world will be better when something like this is real. Should I ever buy another car, I’d like it to be one like this.

So I’m more of a crazy-eyed hippie investor than a sound financial decider of things. I try to put some of my money into companies that I think should succeed, while worrying less about whether they will. I don’t tell my investment professional about these.

Having said that, and having spent some time with the offering circular, one thing jumps out at me: The circular mentions targets for Q3 and Q4 2021. Perhaps there is an addendum to the circular I lacked the patience to uncover, but it seems like some measurable milestones have passed since that circular was drafted.

Specifically:

• Have the “Betas vehicles” been built?

• How is test validation going?

• Strangely, the Gamma body was due in Q3, and supply chain sorting-out for Q3 and Q4.

• Gamma production in Q4.

It goes on, but you get the idea. I get a feeling that one of the other lessons you learned from Tesla is an optimistic timeline. Falling behind on this schedule is not a blocker to my investing, but I do need to know that the executive level of the company is setting its own expectations realistically.

Also, I’ve seen it a dozen times now, where a startup electric vehicle company comes out with a planned price point and ultimately they just can’t hit it. You don’t need me to go down the list. How is that part of the plan holding up?

Potentially your friend,

Jerry Seeger

The third bullet point was mainly due to me misreading something in the circular, realizing my error, then botching the editing of the question. But those were my questions. Specific, lifted from their own filing, and ripe for the answering. In response, I got this from Jess (Aptera Motors’ Reg A Offering Support):

Hi Jerry,

Thank you for contacting Aptera Motors Investor Support.

Unfortunately, we can only answer questions related to the investment process.

For questions regarding the product, please contact [email protected] so the team can best assist you.

Please let us know if you have any additional questions regarding the offering or investment process & we will be happy to assist!

Best, 

Aptera Motors Investor Support

Huh. If you ask “did you hit your targets?” and the answer is “I can’t discuss that,” you’re not talking to a company that takes transparency with its investors as a core value. It starts to feel more like a company looking for money that doesn’t ask questions, and Wall Street is looking the other way so they’re turning to crowdfunding.

Which sucks. As much as I’d like to see a solar-electric vehicle, I’d also like to see a startup that embraces the true community feel of crowdfunding. But that means you have to treat all those little investors like they matter, like they’re part of something, and that means being ready to tell them the truth.

So I wrote this back:

I hate to be pushy, but I was asking for concrete information about the performance of Aptera and whether it was hitting its goals as a prelude to investing. Granted, that is not the “investment process”, but it is completely normal due diligence. The questions I asked were not product questions.

So I guess, yes, I do have “questions regarding the offering”. Those questions are listed in my original message. I am interested in investing, but I would be an idiot to invest in a startup based on months-old projections that have come and gone without any review.

I am just a small investor, and whether or not I buy in to your company will not make or break you. I get that. But you are courting the small investor, and honestly you should be more ready to answer questions from people who have read the SEC filings. Some of them might be bigger than me.

Jerry Seeger

You will not be surprised to learn that I have not heard back.

Edit to add: After I informed them of this episode, Tom (Aptera Motors’ Reg A Offering Support) sent a reply which just said in much clearer (to me) terms what Jess had said previously:

Hello Jerry, 

Aptera Investor Support has no comment on your blog post. 

Keep in mind we are agents working on behalf of Aptera therefore we don’t have the “insight” on the company you are looking for. You need to contact the Aptera Team directly for questions related to the product which was iterated by the past agent. 

Please let us know if you have any additional questions regarding the offering or investment process & we will be happy to assist!

Best,

Aptera Motors Investor Support

So the tenor of the response was more “we don’t know” than “we don’t want to discuss it”. To be honest, I may have taken the phrase “questions about the product” in the first response too literally – I have questions about the company.

Also I was kind of assuming that as agents working on behalf of Aptera on an investment offering, that questions about company performance would be anticipated and prepared for, and that a process would be in place to unite questions with the people who can answer them.

So it’s clear that Jess and Tom and any other agents working on behalf of Aptera are just doing what they can. But it would have been so much better if the response had been “we can’t answer, but we have forwarded your query to the people who can.” Aptera should anticipate questions like this, and therefore should have a resource allocated for handling them. Then it would be simple to instruct their agents where to redirect questions.

While my ire was certainly misdirected, there is still a gap in this whole process that demonstrates failure by Aptera to embrace the small investor. Still, I hope they succeed.

Another update: I sent a very dry and businesslike message to the address “iterated” by Jess. Just asking for who to talk to about performance against stated milestones. As of November 28, 2021, a full week after sending the inquiry, I have been met with stone cold silence. If I ever do get a response, I’ll add my full query and their full response.

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