Current Motor Makes Waves with its Mini-Fleet-in-a-Box
Michigan is home to a number of innovative mobility and transportation startups seeking to change the ways we move people and goods around the globe. Add Current Motor to the list. The Ann Arbor-based maker of electric vehicles and solar charging stations (with a manufacturing plant in Manchester, MI) is starting to get the world’s attention for its mini-fleet-in-a-box, a self-contained transportation solution for the developing world and hard-to-access places.
This fall, Current Motor was honored by NextEnergy and the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation initiative as the winner of the annual Michigan MobiPrize, given to entrepreneurs who are developing and commercializing innovative mobility companies in the Great Lakes State. A few weeks later, the company traveled to India to accept an award for its technology.
The mini-fleet-in-a-box contains four industrial-strength electric cargo motorcycles that go faster and carry more weight than motorcycles meant for consumers. They come in a 20-foot shipping container equipped with solar panels. It serves as a charging station capable of charging the motorcycles in about five hours.
“It’s a green solution that literally works out of the box,” said Lauren Flanagan, co-managing director at Belle Capital and Current Motor’s executive chair. “We give them everything they need, including spare parts and cleaning products.”
The intended customers are those in the developing world where fuel is expensive or hard to come by, remote mining operations, large global manufacturers, the military, and medical or rescue operations. “If you’re in a situation like Hurricane Sandy, where there’s no power and no fuel and it’s too hard to get a big vehicle in to do search and rescue, you could have our fleet dropped in by helicopter,” Flanagan said.
Motorcycle ridership is relatively small in the United States, she said, but globally, it’s a popular mode of transportation. Many overseas businesses opt for motorcycle fleets instead of cars or trucks, especially in Brazil, Russia, China, and India. Originally, Current Motor planned to design vehicles for the consumer market before realizing it’s an expensive and time-consuming industry to break into.
“We realized our business model was too hard to achieve but we had this great technology, so we started looking at what else we could do with it,” Flanagan said.
The technology behind the fleet’s motor, powertrain, and shipping container was developed by Current Motor and is patent-pending. The motorcycle is powered by lithium-ion batteries and has no belts or gears. It has a top speed of 70 mph, can carry up to 400 pounds, and can go approximately 50 miles on one charge. It also has a full telematics system with GPS and communications that can run on radio frequencies.
“That’s very important when you’re in a remote location or in an emergency,” Flanagan pointed out.
The charging station comes equipped with 12 250-watt solar panels, and the motorcycles can be charged anywhere.
“The doors of the shipping container open almost like flower petals, with the solar panels on the inside,” Flanagan said. “You leave it open during the day to charge the batteries and close it up at night. When it’s fully open, it has a 22-foot wing span. It’s also very mobile—you can put it on a ship, truck, or helicopter and easily move it from place to place.”
Current Motor, which was founded in 2010 and has a team of 14, is backed by Belle Capital, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., former General Motors executive Bob Lutz, Rush Trucking founder Andra Rush, and a number of angel investors. The company has raised a total of $3.4 million to date.
In 2016, Flanagan said the company will accelerate its commercialization efforts and plans to raise more capital to expand its sales team. It has “big customers” in Brazil and China already, she said.
“We’re a small but mighty company,” she added. “We have a good basis for going forward.”