It’s been a fantastic year for electric vehicle technology company, Mission Motors. In July this year, the company’s electric racing bike, the Mission R, (at right) won the TTXGP at Laguna Seca by a sizable margin; show-casing their technology against a competitive field of other EV motorcycle developers, while demonstrating comparable performance with gasoline-powered racing bikes.
Subsequent to their success on the track, the bike went on to win a Core 77 design award, recognizing the Mission R for both its cutting-edge industrial design and execution, as well as helping to make electric vehicles exciting and aspirational.
Further success came in the form of securing $9 million series B financing led by a leading global private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, while the California Energy Commission awarded them a $94,000 grant to develop a lightweight on-board vehicle charger.
Capping off all of this, the Cleantech Group, in collaboration with the UK’s Guardian News and Media, named Mission Motors one of the Global Cleantech 100 companies – an accolade awarded to entities that are are expected to make the biggest impact on clean technology over the next 5 to 10 years.
With such good news coming thick and fast, I spoke to David Salguero, Mission’s marketing manager, to find out what all this recent recognition means for Mission Motors going forward.
First and foremost, David explained the range of achievements confirms that the company is on the right track from various different perspectives – there’s recognition from the design community, the clean-tech community and importantly, confidence in the technology from the investment community. All of which is spurring a rapid growth of the business.
But though their flagship product, the Mission R, is a high performance electric motorcycle, the company has no plans to sell motorcycles to the public. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a consumer automotive product to market – while everything Mission has achieved so far has been done for around $15 million.
Instead, Mission’s business model is to provide highly differentiated, high performance electric-drive technology to various OEM customers in the four-wheeled world. Prototype products are already out there and engagement with their customers is highly customized. It starts with an understanding of the ‘use-case’ for any given vehicle to ensure the optimum solution is developed – so as well as pure EVs, the company is integrating electric drive technology into hybrid and plug-in hybrid applications as well.
I asked David how Mission Motors, a small start-up, would be able to compete with large auto companies should such companies start to pour huge sums into developing their own EV technologies? His response to this possibility is that although some companies, such as Nissan, have made the commitment to in-house development, it remains “a big if” whether other companies will follow suit. “You cannot build a great electric vehicle with a team that builds a great gas-powered vehicle,” he explained, “Mission Motors offers the opportunity for manufacturers to get a better performing vehicle to market faster.”
And in providing this opportunity, racing is going to remain a part of Mission’s process. As David explained, “the focus is on changing perceptions, and motorsports is a great place to do this.” With this in mind, Mission intends to continue to pursue events that demonstrate what is possible with electric drive.
Packaging EV technology into a vehicle as small as a racing motorcycle, while simultaneously demanding such high performance output, has provided an important engineering constraint for the company which is proving to be to their advantage. Specifically, they’ve had to develop “smaller and lighter” power-train technology. And small-size combined with what they believe is some of the best power density and energy density available, along with excellent reliability, are attributes they believe set them apart from the competition.
The race bike, therefore, while being the development platform, is also the vehicle – in every sense of the word – for building brand awareness. To put the company’s desired future market position into context, the “Intel inside” concept provides a suitable analogy. In their case, perhaps rephrased as, “powered by Mission.” That is, while they don’t intend to produce Mission Motors branded vehicles of their own, the aim is that the brand will nonetheless mean something to end consumers – by offering the best-in-class integrated electric vehicle systems, and having them be the power train of choice in OEM products.
To illustrate the integrated systems approach Mission has adopted, they are about to launch an innovative product called “Skyline,” which combines embedded software, mobile networks and cloud computing, to create a system of data acquisition and analysis for vehicles using their drive-trains.
In brief, the vehicle collects a plethora of data on parameters such as battery status, motor performance, control electronics, GPS coordinates, as well as battery-cell and ambient temperatures. It then sends this data in real-time over mobile phone networks to cloud based software that runs detailed analysis. The forerunner for Skyline is what made the Mission R a success on the track, as they knew exactly how the bike would perform under given conditions based on data analysis. The extension of features for the consumer, however, brings in additional features such as social networking too, whereby information may be sent to an Android powered tablet acting as the vehicle’s dashboard; users would be able, for example, to share data such as lap times via social networking platforms.
Integrating vehicles with the cloud demonstrates somewhat of a paradigm shift for an automotive company. And while electric vehicles will certainly need to see some further breakthroughs in areas such as battery technology – in order to bring them completely up to par with gasoline-powered vehicles – with innovative companies like Mission working on new ways of imagining electric vehicles – it seems likely there is plenty to be optimistic about for the future.