Picture an electric vehicle startup. What do you see? A sleek, clean, bright industrial building next to one of California’s sun-baked highways? A massive factory in the Nevada desert? Or maybe an office in one of the smog-choked megacities of China?
What about upstate New York?
That’s where you’ll find Bollinger Motors, a small new American EV startup. Founded by Robert Bollinger, a former Manhattan ad exec turned skincare entrepreneur turned grass-fed cattle farmer, today the company unveiled its first vehicle during an event at Manhattan’s Classic Car Club — the B1, an all-electric “sport utility truck,” with up to 200 miles of range for somewhere around $60,000, all with a look that lands between Jeep Wrangler and a Land Rover Defender.
Bollinger isn’t trying to start the next Tesla, and he’s not trying to compete with electric cars like the Chevy Bolt. His company isn’t pursuing autonomous tech, or worrying about how ride-sharing is going to affect the future of transportation. Bollinger is simply trying to prove that there’s room for some grit in the typically clean electric vehicle space. He just happens to be doing it in the middle of goddamned nowhere.
Bollinger Motors headquarters is easy to miss, though the trip there is truly scenic. Drive north from New York City for a few hours, then turn onto one of the myriad state highways that wind through the Catskill Mountains. Go past the country sheds, the churches covered in peeling paint, and try to resist the temptation of chalky signs advertising weekly clambakes. But if, while heading West, you pass the site of the very first milk pasteurization plant in the United States, know that you’ve gone too far.
A few miles back east of that historic dairy spot is where Bollinger and his team have spent the last year or so working on the B1. Their shop is nothing remarkable — just a plain, dark brown four-door garage that the Google Street View cameras haven’t even laid eyes on since 2009.
So why start an electric truck company here?
“The point of us being that far from Silicon Valley is that we’re looking at [electric vehicles] in a completely different way,” Bollinger says. I met him in that garage earlier this July, where I watched his team hustle to assemble the B1 prototype ahead of the official reveal.
For Bollinger, the B1 is a vehicle that’s inspired by life in the Catskills. Like many New Yorkers who grow tired of the churn of city life, Bollinger moved upstate a few years ago. Only he bypassed the larger suburbs of Westchester and the quaint Hudson River hamlets and went straight to Delaware County — population 47,980 — to become a farmer. But in short order, he became fed up with the limited versatility of both the small utility vehicles typically used on a farm as well as the larger trucks that constantly shuttle around the countryside.
“On my farm I was like, ‘My pickup truck, I hate this, it’s getting stuck in the snow,’” Bollinger says. “And then when you’re driving around in a pickup all day, you’re kind of too long for everything. You go into any of the small towns around here, and it’s you’re like too big.”
Bollinger, who has an industrial design degree from Carnegie Mellon University, wanted something that could do more, so he decided to make his own multipurpose truck. He hired a team of engineers and designers from different automotive backgrounds, and they got to work.
The B1 is the result of that collaboration. It’s a dark gray aluminum box of a vehicle that’s riddled with rivets. There’s a winch in the front bumper, and the whole thing stands on 33-inch tires for an overall height of just over six feet. It screams “utility” — so much so that, standing next to the B1, I expected someone to slap an oversized blueprint down on the hood at any moment, signaling the start of some fantastically ambitious backyard project.
Should that happen, though, boy would you be ready to go. The B1’s dual-motor drivetrain makes 360 horsepower with 472 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to get the truck from 0–60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds, according to Bollinger. How far that will get you will vary, because the company plans to sell the B1 in two battery pack configurations. Bollinger says the standard 60kWh battery should be good for about 120 miles of range, but a 100kWh option that can reach about 200 miles will also be available.
Bollinger is still working on securing a manufacturing partner that will make the 10,000–20,000 units per year target that he’s set for the company. (That will also play into the final price of the car, and is part of the reason why the company hasn’t set an exact one yet.) And, currently, the only B1 the company has made is a working prototype — the company will still need to get a real test mule vehicle through certification and compliance later this year. But if all the pieces fall into place — and that’s a big if — the B1 seems like a dream for EV hobbyists that want something more rugged than a Model X or its likeness.
Take the ground clearance, for example: the B1 sits 15 and a half inches off the ground, even at the wheels, which can be raised or lowered by five inches to help navigate tough terrain using the truck’s self-leveling, four-wheel independent hydro-pneumatic suspension. That’s a solid five inches or so more clearance than a Jeep Wrangler, and twice as much as the Model X.
The big draw for the B1 as far as utility goes, though, is the amount of space available. The two rear seats are removable, and the back trunk area is 49 inches wide between the wheel wells, which is just big enough to stack 4 x 8-foot plywood sheets.
There’s a front trunk, too, since there’s no engine taking up the space. And while we’ve seen front trunks in other EVs, the B1’s is connected to the cockpit by a 13 x 14-inch door. This means you could run two-by-four planks, or skis, or steel rebar, or anything long all the way from the front trunk, between the seats, and through to the tailgate. Basically, the B1 has the ability to carry things that would otherwise be dangling off the back of your pickup truck’s paltry eight-foot bed. And because the batteries, motors, and nearly all the electronics are under the floor of the B1, the truck has a low center of gravity that’s balanced right in the middle of the vehicle.
The B1 isn’t only different from other EVs because of its utility. It also bucks the high-tech trend of new cars in general. There will be a radio with an AM/FM receiver, Bluetooth connectivity, and an AUX input, but there’s no touchscreen. In fact, the dashboard is otherwise almost completely analog. There’s even an analog battery level indicator. The only digital display is a small LCD screen to the far left that can be toggled between outside temperature, range, and MPGe, or miles per gallon gasoline equivalent.
The idea here is to get out of the way of the driving (and working) experience, Bollinger explains. But he also thinks it will help reduce some of the anxiety that comes with EVs.
“I was just driving a Nissan Leaf, and I realized that a big part of range anxiety is that electric cars constantly tell you [how much battery is left], and it’s right in your face,” he says. “It’s almost like “AHHHH” worrying the whole time while you’re driving.”
But he and his team didn’t stop there. The B1 even bucks low-tech comforts. There are no power windows; instead, there’s a lever on each one that you can squeeze to slide them open or closed. The air vents are spartan, too. They sit on top of the dash and are pocked with holes, like the vented barrel of a machine gun. Get too cold or too hot, and you can just twist the cylinder to turn the air away from you. The stalks on the steering wheel, the door handles, and even the trim around the gauges are all machined metal.
“The idea is that it’s all hands-on,” Bollinger says, twisting his hands in the air. “You want to go do something with your own two hands, this is the vehicle. It’s the opposite of where things are going with electric, where the screen will tell you everything, and [it’s] autonomous. That’s all great, but it’s just not our thing.”
Despite the low-tech approach, it’s still an EV, so there’s plenty of power. There are USB and 12-volt outlets in the dashboard, and a host of standard 110-volt plugs throughout the truck. Combine this with the available space throughout the vehicle and the B1 looks like a rather attractive outdoor alternative to a Jeep.
Electric vehicles might still not be the easiest sell for camping due to the simmering fear of getting stuck with a dead battery. (You can always carry a spare can of gas for a combustion car.) But the B1 seems like it would happily accommodate folks who look at isolation from charging stations as a challenge, not a threat. It’s adaptable, too: the doors, the roof, and the rear windows can all be taken off.
And if the idea of the B1 as a futurist camper’s dream doesn’t work out, the truck might have success in a more official capacity. Bollinger says the company’s had discussions with agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Government agencies (and more local groups like police) have been under pressure in recent years to make their fleets more green, but the available options all represent extreme compromise. Something like the B1 could be much more attractive than a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius to a park ranger team with miles of uneven ground to cover every day.
Manufacturing can be a problematic process — just ask Tesla. And since Bollinger Motors isn’t doing that part of the work itself, a lot is riding on whether or not it can land a manufacturing deal with the right partner. And in the meantime, a startup like Bollinger Motors could easily be outmuscled by one of the many OEMs that have pledged to push their fleets toward electric power, should one choose to train its sights on this part of the market.
But before Bollinger Motors gets the B1 certified and finds a production partner, it will start testing out the desirability of the truck by taking reservations on its website. That process is free for now, but reservation holders will have to put in their official orders with a $1,000 down payment in early 2018 or give up their spot in line. If and when the company can find a manufacturing partner, the plan is to deliver the first B1s about 19 months after the start of production, with the end goal of opening up dedicated retail stores.
That alone might be the B1’s biggest challenge: holding people’s attention until the B1 rolls off the line. The idea of an all-electric, all-terrain truck with great range and abundant utility is tantalizing now, but it’s hard to say whether the B1 will still stand out in two or more years. The roiling automotive market has swallowed plenty of great ideas in the past — why should Bollinger’s be any different?
Or, to put it another way: if an electric vehicle gets built in the woods, and no one’s around to buy it, what happens then?
Photography by Sean O’Kane / The Verge