On average, around three-quarters of car trips in the U.S. are done alone, and the typical number of miles driven in a day is less than 40. Despite that, we pay through the nose for automobiles that can accelerate in the blink of an eye, scale impossible heights in luxury, and even communicate with the world around them. Cars today are capable of incredible feats — acts that would send the makers of the Model T into a babbling fit — and yet most of the time they sit idly in traffic. There’s a massive disconnect there, and it’s one that the carmakers of the future are already addressing.
One of those carmakers is Mark Frohnmayer, Founder and President of Arcimoto. Frohnmayer and his team have been building inexpensive, efficient, and engaging three-wheeled electric vehicles since 2007, the latest of which is called the SRK, a.k.a. the “drivable shark.” You may have seen the two-seater EV zipping around CES this year, but to give the trike a whirl for ourselves, we headed south to the brand’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon.
Eighth time’s the charm
The Arcimoto HQ is located on Blair Street, a lovable hodgepodge of soul food eateries, marijuana dispensaries, brew pubs, and the best sushi place in town. The inconspicuous office has churned out eight electric car prototypes over the last nine years, and I had the pleasure of meeting the newest iteration shortly after my arrival.
An odd mixture of utility, style, and good old-fashioned common sense, the Gen 8 model is unlike any car on the road today. The vehicle’s small size makes it easy to maneuver — it’s just short enough to park nose-in to the curb — and its base range of 70 miles is more than sufficient for the daily commute of most folks. The handlebar controls and tandem seating layout make for a unique driving experience to say the least, and with a projected starting price of $11,900, the SRK is pretty accessible too. As for the question of motorcycle licenses, the laws will vary by state, but you don’t need one in California or Oregon. In other locales, you’ll be able to take your test in the SRK itself, which has a much shorter learning curve than your average motorbike.
“You might think of it as a sort of second vehicle, a daily-use vehicle, a get-around-town vehicle,” Frohnmayer told us. “But really, you’re going to find it’s the one you’re taking out all the time.”
To prove that point, Frohnmayer handed me the keys and punched in the startup code. I settled into the leather seat and strapped the 3+2 harness across my chest, familiarizing myself with the SRK’s handlebar setup. “Accelerate with the right hand, squeeze the handle to regen brake, smash the mechanical footbrake in case of emergencies … seems simple enough,” I said to myself.
“Just don’t wreck it,” Frohnmayer said in a half-joking manner, echoing my own thoughts.
Riding the shark
As I pulled back on the throttle and merged onto the road, I realized just how different this experience was going to be. The SRK has open sides (panels will be optional on the final version), and along with the upright driving position, that meant I could see, hear, smell, and even feel everything around me perfectly. Modern cars are designed to isolate us from the outside world in many ways, but in the SRK, it’s the exact opposite.
Weighing just 1,023 pounds, the small EV gets up to speed quite well. The wheel-mounted electric motors up front will pull the car to 60 mph in a respectable 7.5 seconds, and top speed sits at a freeway-capable 85 mph. Furthermore, the placement of the 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack gives the SRK a low center of gravity, which makes it feel planted and stable despite its tall frame. Yes, Arcimoto designed this thing as an attainable daily driver, but it happens to be fun as hell too. So long as I didn’t need to load up on building materials or chauffeur an entire soccer team, I could easily see myself commuting in this thing every day.
There are a few issues to be ironed out — the brakes are a bit soft and the steering takes some effort at low speeds — but this is a prototype after all. This summer, Arcimoto will put a Beta prototype on the road for one last round of testing, with the production model being delivered soon after. The torque-heavy tripod is currently compatible with Level 1 and Level 2 charging (10 and 40 miles of driving per charge hour, respectively), but the company founder said he hopes to integrate beefier Level 3 chargers soon.
“Future I Drive”
When the finalized SRK touches down, it will do so with a variety of improvements, including a folding rear seat, optional storage bins and side panels, a USB port, and even a unique “Deliverator” option that deletes the rear chair for a fully-enclosed (and brand-able!) cargo compartment. The battery range will be expanded as well, with a 20 kWh unit providing up to 130 miles of emissions-free driving. All these enhancements fit into Arcimoto’s philosophy of practical, intelligently-designed transportation, a method of commuting that actually makes sense in today’s world.
The SRK is unlike any car on the road today.
“The development quest has been to tick all the boxes for the type of daily driving stuff we do all the time — going to work, going to the grocery store, going out on a date, some amount of [cargo], one or two people, daily driving distance — and to do that on pure electric for a cost that is affordable for the mass market,” said Frohnmayer. “We’re building the SRK for drivers, for people who match the dominant vehicle usage pattern in the U.S. today.”
To live small, you often have to think big, and Arcimoto is proving that with the quirky SRK. It’s most certainly a different way to get around town, but different is not a dirty word. From the looks, to the passenger layout, to the controls themselves, everything about the SRK is a bit peculiar, unique enough to keep things interesting but not so bizarre to turn you off completely. Perhaps in 2016, different is exactly what the world needs.