By on September 23, 2009


Geography aside, Eugene, Oregon, is about as far away from Detroit as you can get. The biggest industry in that sleepy town on the banks of the Willamette is education, not auto manufacturing. You’re more likely to see dreadlocks at a typical Eugene business than a hard hat. In fact, perhaps the only thing Eugene and Detroit have in common is a decaying urban core, although in Eugene that core is spanned by about six city blocks. With today’s launch of the Arcimoto Pulse, however, Eugene took what local politicians describe as a first step towards challenging to Detroit’s automaking dominance. And if they are to be believed, and Arcimoto’s three-wheeled Pulse EV is the future of the American mobility, suffice it to say that nobody saw it coming.

Launch!The Pulse launch took place today in downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square. One hundred or so onlookers gathered around a small stage and a strange looking vehicle, which glistened in the early afternoon sun. The three-wheeled Pulse looks nothing like anything Detroit has produced, although it does bear a faint resemblance to a Toyota Yaris from the front. From behind it looks a bit like the long-awaited (by ZAP investors) Zap Alias three-wheeler. Which is to say, like any other three-wheeled car with a single rear drive wheel.

Launches of small, unconventional EV companies have become something of a regular occurrence over the past three years or so, and if the genre has a defining characteristic it’s the emphasis on principle. The Pulse launch officially kicked off with a quick welcome from Arcimoto CEO Erik Stafl, but the first actual speeches came from EV activist Paul Scott and a number of local politicians. In fact four speakers were given the opportunity to wax eloquent about the benefits of electricity and environmental responsibility before Stafl took the stage again to give details about the Pulse.

“We’ve never had a war over electricity,” Scott told the cheering crowd in the first speech of the event. The Plug In America VP went on to denounce Detroit and America’s oil-producing “enemies” with equal vigor. “Arcimoto isn’t just building a car,” claimed former Senate candidate Steve Novick, “they’re saving the salmon and saving Oregon’s agriculture.” There was talk of Arcimoto’s contribution to Oregon’s “green economy,” and Portland Mayor Sam Adams said he would “rub [The Pulse] in the face of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.” (Apparently the two are involved in some sort of EV accumulation contest.) DSC_0500

After the impromptu political rally, Stafl took back the podium and officially introduced his company and its car. A recent graduate of MIT, Stafl looked improbably young as he launched into his speech (indeed, he graduated from South Eugene High School in 2004, some three years after I did). With the optimism that is the birthright of the young, Stafl began by pointing out that Detroit had no gas stations when Henry Ford launched his eponymous motor company. Interestingly though, Portland has a number of electric charging stations and the Pulse plugs into a standard outlet. Arcimoto, like the Fords of 1903, represents a vision, said Stafl. Driving a vehicle like Pulse “shows your dedication” to that vision. Needless to say, the preceding politicians left little doubt as to what that vision is.

But enough of “the vision thing.” The car itself is a tandem two-seater, three-wheeled, 96-volt electric vehicle with a starting price of “under $20,000.” Although the issue was not brought up during the launch speeches, Stafl confirmed afterwords that, for crash test and other regulatory purposes, the Pulse is a motorcycle, not a car. I couldn’t help but wonder if the word “motorcycle” didn’t do as well in marketing clinics as “the environment.” Arcimoto claims the Pulse will go 50 miles on a charge and hit 55 mph, although they were clear that it wasn’t designed for inter-city driving. 100 amp/hours of current is available from a liquid electrolyte-free lead-acid battery, reportedly sourced from an M1A1 tank. The $1,600 battery will be upgradeable in the future, and currently takes 6–8 hours to fully charge. Production of 300 Pulses is planned for the first year, and though Arcimoto is taking deposits now it won’t be offering test drives to the public until next year (I have requested a test drive for TTAC).

DSC_0491All in all, the launch of Arcimoto’s first vehicle was exactly what you might expect from a small, upstart EV maker: an unconventional vehicle, a value proposition built on principle, and a supporting cast of green-tinged politicians. But as I watched the proceedings, I realized I had an opportunity to feel something that had never been a factor in my coverage of the auto industry before. This was as close as I was ever going to get to feeling the hometown pride that has made Detroit cheerleading such a presence in American auto journalism. And yet it never showed up.

I love the promise of what electric vehicles can offer. I love impractical, toylike vehicles. I love motorcycles (I rode my ’72 Honda Scrambler to the event), and I love that the Arcimoto Pulse isn’t a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. Heck, there are even days where I remember really loving Eugene. But somehow I didn’t feel any emotional reaction to the Pulse or the way it was marketed. It reminded me of how isolated things can get at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, and how insular the thinking and attitudes there can be. For the sake of my friends who still live there, I hope Arcimoto does well and is able to make the vision of “green jobs” a reality in that unlikely locale. But until the vehicle can stand on its own without being propped up by a heavy dose of green guilt, that vision seems doomed to the same gradual decay as Eugene, and Detroit’s, urban centers.


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36 Comments on “Feature: Arcimoto Pulse EV Launch...”

  • avatar

    Finally, a vehicle that’s made in The United States that I can look at and honestly say I like it. It’s not needlessly big and ostentatious for a start.

  • avatar

    Looks sharp. But I have a lot of questions surrounding safety and all-weather handling. Hopefully they’ll make one available to be put through its paces.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Ouch. Now that’s the first time I’ve heard Eugene and Detroit lumped together in terms of urban decay. There are a some “minor” differences: Detroit population loss since 1950: -63%. Eugene population change since 1950: +530%. A few under-utilized buildings downtown from when the department stores moved to the mall isn’t exactly “urban decay”. Just saying…

    Moving on to the Arcimoto: lots of luck with that. Zap dealers are liquidating their stocks of unsold Xebras on ebay for $3 – 4k. Zenn just announced they’re getting out of EV manufacturing. And where have all the other dozens of proposed cottage-industry EVs gone that were announced during last year’s phantom energy crisis? The same place the Arcimoto is heading.

    • 0 avatar
      Scudding Still selling from Ohio. But I agree this is a very tough market. Competing against gas engines that have developed through wars and in countries around the world for over 100 years is a challenge to create a competitive model using another energy source.

  • avatar

    From the front, it looks like someone placed a mirror in the middle line of a yaris (or photoshopped the middle of the car out). I can tell they used mustang rear quarter windows there…

    Whatever happened to the 120mph Electric Car?

  • avatar

    The only real issue I have with the concept, is that it’s electric. A gas version would be more practical.

  • avatar

    Nope. Can’t see me, my wife, nor anybody I know in that thing. Sorry.

  • avatar

    Looks like a future footnote of automotive history, somewhere below Crosley.

  • avatar

    Corbin failed to get traction in this market a decade ago.

    Unless the prefect storm of $6/gal gas and heavy EV tax credits occurs when their product hits the market they are doomed.

  • avatar

    That’s it – sell me an EV with tech we have now and I’ll upgrade the battery later. Keep the battery type a non-proprietary thing too. Don’t want to worry about going back to a company that might not exist in a decade.

  • avatar

    Crap. Not only do I live in Portland, I walked right by Pioneer Square to meet a friend for lunch. I saw the crowds gathering around something, but that isn’t really anything new. Damn!

  • avatar

    Why is this using a lead acid battery? Seems a little archaic.

    If the best that they can do for a vehicle that is this lightweight is 55mph, 50 miles on a charge, and 8 hours to recharge for $20k, then the EV has much bigger problems than I originally thought. Or maybe these guys are just scrubs, and Tesla is going to save the day? There are a lot of great benefits to an electric vehicle but so far the batteries aren’t even close to cutting it.

  • avatar

    if the battery costs $ 1,600… why does the thing cost $ 20,000? So the 3-wheeler costs $ 18,400?

    Besides the battery the electric car should be cheaper, especially a spartanic 3-wheeler. No coolant, no fuel pumps, E-motors are cheap, no tranny, no starter, no oil..maintennace shoudl be limited to repalcing wiperfluid and bulbs and tires. It is slow, so it can have cheap brakes. So why does it cost more than a Mazda 3 / Honda civic that has superior everything of the above since the battery here is not expensive? Rip off…

    It would be good for commutes, people mostly are alone. As a motorbike (and that only because it has zero safety… does it need a helmet in mandatory-helmet states?) it is unsafe and potentially not good for the snowbelt, I guess heating sucks the juice out of the batteries. Does it have AC?

  • avatar

    Looks like TTAC hive-mind forgot to bring up the topic of Aptera (which, BTW, was promised to be crash-tested to car standards, just not officially certified, because of the expense).

  • avatar

    A vehicle that even Smart car drivers would say “you’ll never find me on the roads round here in that death trap”.

    @kaleun, like the Tesla the problem is virtually everything in the vehicle is new, different and low volume. Your average Mazda and Honda has had decades of amortized development, uses many parts that are now off-the-shelf and are made by the millions so reducing unit cost. EV’s will continue to be too expensive to succeed until they can leverage the use of mass produced components instead of every company re-inventing the wheel, battery and motors.

  • avatar

    I’m not holding my breath. Either for something with a 50 mile range or for a three wheeled m’cycle. The combo is like hard cornering and hard braking at the same time.

    The frontal view is good looking though

  • avatar

    I am telling you guys, the future is three-wheelers. Scoff if you will.

  • avatar

    Three wheeled vehicles do not have to meet Federal Safety Standards.

    Enough said.

  • avatar

    Besides being easier on the eyes, this effort brings nothing to the table over the Meyers/Sparrow, which is a 5-yr old design. Nice try, I guess.

  • avatar

    300/yr may be achievable.
    I wish them well.


  • avatar

    There must have been some tipping point in its development where the thing got so expensive and goofy looking, (where it “had it’s bases covered by so many other vehicles”) that they had to decide to finish it, or cut their losses. Too bad for them, the former.

    I can’t ever see me or my family in it, not even after the nuclear fallout subsides.

    Give me my 1977 Subaru back, new; 32 city, 48 highway, 1800 pounds, huge trunk, doesn’t tip on two wheels.

    Am I to drive this thing to save energy, on the Strip in Las Vegas, or past million dollar mansions in Tahoe? Am I saving energy for them?

    “Saving energy” will require massive adoption; this thing inspires massive rejection.

    Just some first thoughts.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I wish them the best of luck. In fact, I wish them all the luck in the world.

    They’re gonna need it.

  • avatar

    What is it about depressions that makes people want to throw away a wheel?

    In the 30’s it was the Morgan 3 wheeler

    After the war it was the Messerschmitt bubble car (which by the way got 87 MPG)

    In England during the oil shock we got the Reliant Robin

    And now, we get the Arcimoto Pulse EV

    I guess every generation thinks it has to re-invent throwing away a wheel.

  • avatar

    …although it does bear a faint resemblance to a Toyota Yaris from the front

    It bears resemblance to the Yaris inside, too: note the armrest design. The headlight clusters are definitely pulled right from the Yaris’ parts bin. This isn’t a bad thing as the Yaris is actually pretty good-looking for an econoblob.

    It’s not a bad idea, per se. A year or two ago I would have said it was going to be a failure, but this year has seen an explosion in in-city electric bikes where I am (that, unfortunately, winter is going to dampen.) I think people are re-examining things like this for use as commuter cars. Since we’re not seeing a change in urban development and public transit isn’t appealing, vehicles like these are becoming viable now that the prices are coming down to earth.

    It has a number of advantages:
    * Unlike public transit, it’s always there and can go anywhere. Transit is best used for hub-to-hub, and we don’t design hub-communities any more
    * EVs are generally more reliable, and are very cheap to run. Sure, you could get a used “normal” car, but then you’re looking at fuel and repairs.

    I would be interested to know the winter performance of a vehicle like this. The 2×1 layout stands a chance of doing quite well, if equipped with decent snow tires. I’d also like to see what kind of cargo it can hold (a briefcase? some groceries?). I’d also like to know if it has regenerative braking. Most low-cost EVs don’t.

    It’s also nice to see some of this being done domestically, because otherwise this industry looks to be completely Chinese-dominated.

  • avatar

    Having grown up in Portland, I’m pulling for these guys and impressed at what such a young guy has accomplished.

    That said, this seems too expensive for having one seat, 55mph top speed, no safety standards, and a lead-acid battery. The Aptera seems like a VASTLY better option. The gas version won’t cost much more, has 2.5 seats, is safe, and fast.

    Lead Acid is cheap, but it weighs a LOT. It’s what killed the EV1. You need a huge motor to haul it up hill, and they’re terrible in the cold (although that could be said of most batteries). Looks like they saved weight by only having one seat.

    If they could build this for motorcycle-prices they may have something, but at compact-car prices I don’t think it’ll sell well.

    Regarding three wheelers, they can be lighter, have a simpler drivetrain (if RWD) and therefore cheaper, and can be dramatically tapered to the rear and therefore aerodynamic. They also skirt a lot of regulations. I like that the Aptera isn’t using the reg-skirting as a get-out-of-jail-free-card and instead as a way to not have to deal with expensive certification or dealing with outdated regs on HOW to meet safety standards.

  • avatar

    There’s no way that will end up costing less than $20k, not when it’s totally bespoke and assembled with high-cost labor.

    And like most of these microbrew EV’s, there’s no wider market for them unless gasoline is consistently over $5/gal. Hipsters and the government like to wax poetic about being green, but most people won’t change their habits until they are forced to.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    Oregon collects failed ev manufactureres like it collects failed third-rate sports teams.

    Meet the Automotive equivalent of Arena Football.

  • avatar

    “Eugene took what local politicians describe as a first step towards challenging to Detroit’s automaking dominance.” Perhaps one of your out of town correspondents could inform the locals that the only thing Detroit automakers are dominating is the budget of the United States government.

    In addition to the other comments about three wheelers, I’m wondering what the aversion is to actual fenders, if you can build a single seat body/fuselage then why can’t you design with fenders? Why those pieces of tin that make the Arsey-moto look like its sitting on a trailer backwards? You half expect to see a ball hitch and jack on the other end of it. I guess that could be an alternative for the owner; if the supply of surplus M1A1 batteries runs out you could always turn it into a nice matching trailer for your Yaris.

    It does have a certain cuteness about it, like two transformers hooked up and had a baby. Not cute enough to write a check for it though.

  • avatar

    Funny you mention those ground-bound Me109s Lokkii. Once on one of my families many road trips my dad got us lost. We wound our way through roads that became narrower and less travelled. Lo and behold, we came across some eccentric farmer who was determined to corner the world’s (or at least Canada’s) supply of these machines. He had a huge long row of them, sitting on the edge of a field. As usual, I couldn’t possibly find the place again several years later. Seems to me there are places that really only can find when lost. A tear in the space-time continuum :) I have dozens of similar stories.

  • avatar

    A few points/corrections for the discussion:

    First, the Pulse is a two-seater, arranged in a tandem configuration for efficiency and stability, not a single-seater (i.e. it’s a different product than the Sparrow).

    Second I would take issue with the statement about “I love impractical, toylike vehicles” — the dominant vehicle usage pattern in the states are solo trips and less than 40 miles per day. The Pulse offers considerable advantage over solutions like motorcycles in terms of weather protection, safety and carrying capacity while still having a relatively light footprint. The Pulse was designed specifically to be highly practical, as well as quite a lot of fun to drive. It’s not about green guilt – it’s about appropriate transportation solutions.

    Last, the styling of the Pulse is not final — any constructive feedback/criticism would be most welcome in the community discussion forums on site.

    Mark Frohnmayer
    Founder, Arcimoto

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Mark: Apologies for getting the passenger number wrong. Text amended.

    As for the practicality issue, I made that characterization because I have a hard time seeing the Pulse as a replacement for a “real car.” While most trips do not require more capability than the Pulse offers, the Pulse is limited to those short, daily, solo commutes for which public transportation is often a viable alternative. Inter-city trips may only happen once a week or once a month, but there’s a reason that your gas-powered competitors (Yaris, Fit, etc) are capable of them: that capability is fundamental to consumers’ expectations of a $20k vehicle.

    Anything that costs the same price as an entry-level gas vehicle but is incapable of providing the same level of freedom seems to me to be relegated to fighting for a niche consumer. Of course, the fact that there are nearly as many cars in America as people helps your argument: the Pulse could be a viable alternative to, say, a Yaris as a second car intended only for commuting.

    I’ll be in touch with Mr Stafl. I hope we can get an in-depth interview and a road test at some point. More information and a sense of how the car drives (there’s nothing wrong with a toy if it’s fun!) will improve our conversation about your company. Meanwhile, thanks for correcting my oversight and joining our discussion.

  • avatar

    I think I’ve one upped a few peeps, as I have tested out the pulse. I felt alot safer than on a motorcycle, could see very well, especially since I was in the “bones version” and was surrounded by the skeletal roll cage like structure. I trust the end-all results of design and engeneering will be up too a commuter’s needs and lifestyle. At over 60, I’d almost move back to a city, so I could commute.

  • avatar

    I own an electric car. It is not a Neighborhood vehicle and has limited speed and range. It does one thing better than anything else… it runs for cheap.

    It was a surprise to me that it became our primary car, I would have thought that its limitations would have us back in the gas burners when we need to go someplace.

    But the lion’s share of our driving are short store hops, and until we need to visit relatives, the gas cars sit unused in the driveway.

    Just a note from the horse’s mouth. Having an electric car has been very, very nice for our budget. We consider owning it a blessing.

  • avatar
    Chris Jordan

    Fantastic idea! Three-wheelers will continuously be scoffed but make so much financial sense. I have had a 1993 and 2005 three-wheelers for a while, and have had trikes since 1980. I went electric motors in 2001. But with rental ‘scoop coupes’, a Spider reverse trike and two Zap PU three-wheelers; almost no comparison can be made in this area when it comes to usefulness, economic comparisons, or accident avoidance of three wheelers in my CA town. A line of solar charging stations is planned from San Francisco to Los Angeles and I hope three-wheelers will be considered in that project. I would sure enjoy many more of these!

  • avatar

    A line of solar charging stations is planned from San Francisco to Los Angeles and I hope three-wheelers will be considered in that project.

    Current electric vehicles, like the Pulse, take 8+ hours to fully recharge, if not longer. You are not driving from San Francisco to LA with an electric vehicle unless you want the journey to take 3 days.

  • avatar

    I hope they sell all that they can build. It’s not the right product for my needs.

    A Zenn EV would be better for my needs if only it could do 45 mph – the max speed of my commute.

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