AC Propulsion: The EV OGs Who Aren't Changing The World

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The LA Times interviews AC Propulsion’s Tom Gage, and sheds some light on what an actual, honest-to-god profitable EV firm looks and thinks like. The short version? Think of the exact opposite of Tesla and you’ll be getting close.

Gage claims to have been a car nut from birth, and after getting an engineering degree from Stanford he worked as a race mechanic before getting an MBA and working for Chrysler for eight years. After working on an abortive plug-in program at Chrysler, Gage left and ended up at AC Propulsion after being impressed by one of its Honda Civic EV conversions.

Besides getting into the EV game way before it was cool, AC Propulsion’s attitude towards its segment is what seems to set it apart from its competitors. AC had sold its own EV version of the Scion xB, and engineered the Tesla Roadster’s forerunner but it’s stayed small and dropped older projects for new opportunities like developing BMW’s MINI E.

In contrast to Tesla’s staggering ambition, Gage knows that AC will not someday become the GM or Toyota of EVs for the simple reason that Toyota or GM will become the Toyota or GM of EVs. “When you see the precision and scale of a huge auto factory, you realize just how hard and expensive it is to mass-produce cars,” he says. “Making parts for 10,000 or 100,000 cars is too much for us. Our goal is to be a participant in the early part of the process and then plan a timely exit.”

AC Propulsion’s deep experience and reasonable ambitions create another unique phenomenon in the rhetoric-over-substance world of alt-energy propulsion: profit. AC’s 35 US employees and 40 Chinese workers assemble about 40 drivetrains per month, each of which sell for about $25k. “We’re very profitable, and that distinguishes us from just about everybody in the business,” Gage says.

And the pragmatism that Gage brings to AC is evident in his daily life. Where the Elon Musks of the world would rather be dead in a ditch than be seen in an un-eco-friendly-appearing vehicle, Gage admits that he often has no choice but to fire up an old internal combustion engine. In addition to a MINI E and an “eBox” (xB EV) he also owns a Toyota and a pair of Volkswagens.

But then AC’s business model isn’t dependent on “change the world” hype. “It’s always been about modifying cars to make them things that people want to drive,” Gage says. Plus, turning a profit never hurts.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Midelectric Midelectric on Sep 01, 2009

    I just wish the got the economies of scale working enough that I could pick up one of their AC-150 units for something around $15k - right now it's about $25k. Also, Tom Gage is a nice guy.

  • Imag Imag on Sep 02, 2009

    Great post; I agree with everything... ...except that Elon does drive a Porsche, turbo, I believe. And my guess is the Elon Musks of the world don't care *quite* so much about driving eco-looking cars that they would otherwise prefer to be "dead in a ditch". I mean, I'm no fan of Elon, or of the Elon Musks Of The World (whoever they are), but it's almost painful to watch that strange assemblage of words struggle to form an insult. Otherwise, go AC.

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.
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