Several challenges face Portlanders who want to reduce their carbon footprint but still need to get around in all conditions. Among the biggest are nightfall and wet weather, both of which make walking, biking and electric scooters more dangerous. Electric cars are much safer, of course, but also a lot more expensive. And even with state and federal incentives, they still average more than equivalent gas-powered cars because of their higher production costs.
Now there is a new alternative coming to town for about the price of a good used car. And it will make you the center of attention everywhere you go.
The ElectraMeccanica Solo EV is a fully enclosed, all-electric, single-passenger vehicle that can travel up to 100 miles on a full charge. Although designed for urban environments, it also can reach 80 miles per hour, making it safe on freeways. It costs $18,500 before incentives, which is less than half the price of the least expensive currently available new electric car. It is for sale now at Washington Square. Deliveries are expected later this year.
The Solo EV is a three-wheel vehicle, with the single drive wheel in the back. Because of that, it is technically an autocycle that must be registered as a motorcycle, like the three-wheel gas-powered Polaris Slingshot. But it drives like a car, with a bucket seat behind a conventional steering wheel. It is also equipped like a car, with an LCD digital instrument cluster, power windows, rear view camera, climate control, AM/FM/Bluetooth/USB, and much more standard equipment. And no helmet needs to be worn while driving it. Although small, the Solo EV still needs a whole parking space in a city.
The Solo EV definitely attracted attention during several extended test drives around Washington Square on a recent rainy Friday afternoon, beginning with its appearance. At first glance, it looks like half a car, with the two widely spaced front wheels clearly visible and the rear wheel tucked under the back end. But the body is swoopy and well executed in a composite material. It also has full doors on both sides of the 61.4-inch wide body for convenience and safety.
Although the liquid-cooled electric motor only generates 60 horsepower, the Solo EV accelerates well enough, thanks to 103 foot-pounds of instantly available torque and its low curb weight of just 1,735 pounds. The ride is a little jiggly but not unreasonable, and speed bumps don't unsettle it. Since the wheelbase is only 80.5 inches long, the turning radius is very tight. And of course, it is very quiet, with just a slight whirr from the electric motor that's easily drowned out by the stereo system.
Cargo space in the small trunk above the rear wheel is very limited, but a five-cubic-foot cargo "cap" can be added.
Big bet on small EV
Several companies have announced plans to produce vehicles like the Solo EV. The concept makes sense because most motor vehicle trips just carry a single person, the driver. Eugene-based Arcimoto is producing a three-wheel EV, but it is open on the sides. ElectraMeccanica is the only company to bring a fully-enclosed one to the market so far.
ElectraMeccanica CEO Paul Rivera was in Portland for the test drives to explain how the Canadian EV company can make a difference in the United States with its Chinese-built vehicles. Having a retail strategy starting on the West Coast was critical.
"I didn't want to be on a dealer line, I wanted to be able to build our own brand and have our own people represent us with our own look and feel," Rivera told the Tribune. Their direct-to-consumer model relies on having people in a mall walk up to the vehicle, sit in it, ask questions and schedule a test drive.
Kiosks are currently sited in five states. The SOLO's typical retail footprint is 200 to 400 square feet, which is very small. As Tesla learned, "You don't need brick and mortar," Rivera said. "We run a very asset-light model right in general. There's only 1,200 parts on the vehicle. It's basically a motorcycle, it registers as a motorcycle."
They included Oregon because "People who are forward thinking and dynamic, and the state gives a $2,500 incentive toward electric vehicles to the consumer," he said.
The first site was in Beverly Hills in Century City Mall. Next up is Clackamas Town Center.
The company also makes electric-powered versions of a classic 1960s sports car, but these eRoadsters start at $124,900.
The company founder, Henry Reisner, said he didn't like how most cars travel almost all of the time with three empty seats and had an underutilized, oversized powertrain. The Solo is his solution to this waste. The engineering and technical center is in Vancouver, B.C., and assembly is currently done by a contract manufacturer Zongshen in Chongqing, China. (Zongshen builds 3 million motorcycles per year.) It's just the same as designing a vacuum cleaner or a phone case in the United States, then finding a contract manufacturer abroad to make or gather parts and assemble them at low cost.
ElectraMeccanica recently selected Mesa, Arizona, in the greater Phoenix area, for its U.S.-based assembly facility and engineering technical center. Making them here will save on shipping costs and the Trump tariff, which is 27% and unpredictable.
Between 2015 and 2017, ElectraMeccanica built 64 vehicles, all low-volume prototypes. Forty-four found their way to customers in Canada and the United States.
One reason the Solo EV has an expanded, additional cargo box is so that it will appeal as a fleet vehicle for everything from gig worker delivery services to security patrols to parking enforcement. Government fleets are scrambling to go electric and ElectraMeccanica hired Sydney Dunn from General Motors to build a fleet sales team.
"The vehicle has pretty sophisticated telematics in it," Rivera said, using a catchall phrase for vehicular technologies, electrical engineering and computer science. "It already knows where it is at all times. We know where it is all times. And it has state-of-charge. So we can also tie into a delivery management system or a kitchen management system."
Rivera contrasts it with Oregon-made Arcimoto's three-wheelers, which have open sides.
"The Solo is much like a passenger car: heated seats, air conditioning and heat, Bluetooth, backup camera. … It has all of the same comfort features that you're used to in a car. And it has front and rear crumple zones and side impact protection and torque limiting stability control."
He adds they want to be part of the "shared mobility ecosystem" alongside scooters, ebikes and short-term car rentals, especially in places like college campuses.
The Solo EV is not approved for sale in Europe, China or Southeast Asia yet — it doesn't have the right configuration of lights, etc.
"By the time we get to 2023, it's our goal is to fit the vehicle into Southeast Asia and into the European markets with a slightly longer wheelbase."
He compared it to another piece of electronics you might spontaneously buy at a mall kiosk.
"This is like our iPhone one. This is the beginning for us."
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Jim Redden covers cars and automotive news for the Portland Tribune. Joseph Gallivan is a business writer.
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