startups reinvent electric cars, Le Lab/Ideas

Few industries have as many barriers to entry as the automotive industry. Elon Musk has certainly succeeded in setting a new brand on the landscape with Tesla. But this is Elon Musk, and even he struggled in his early days.

After that, Western neo-constructors (Rivian, Lucid Motors, Fisker, Hopium) began to attack this market. But they all experience industrial and financial failures. Some have even opted to stop spending along the way, like Dyson…

This does not scare Thibaud Elzier. In 2022, the multi-entrepreneur (Fotolia, Gama, Folk, Iconic House) and founder of the startup studio Hexa founded Kate, an electric car manufacturer aimed at the general public. “This is the first time I’m starting an industrial project where I’ll play an operational role,” he explains with budding enthusiasm.

Purchase of NoSmoke

He does not step alone because he is united Mathias Goldenbergwho leads the initiation and Pierre Escrieut, who is the technical director. To save time, the partners bought NoSmoke, a manufacturer of beach cars, founded in 2012, whose factory is located in Cerise (Deux-Sèvres). “I wanted to rely on an industrial tool and existing technological expertise, but also already have a revenue line,” comments Thibaud Elzière. Last year, NoSmoke claims to have achieved a turnover of 4 million euros.

While automakers are increasingly producing larger and more technology-laden vehicles, Kate’s creators are convinced that the future belongs to electric minicars, which will be limited in weight, speed and equipment. The brand name is also a reference to the “keijidōsha” or “kei cars”, these small cars that are very popular in Japan.

NoSmoke has produced approximately 200 beach carts in 2022. Kate plans to release a revised version in March 2023, and in parallel, is working on the creation of a four-seater electric quadricycle (K1), which will open pre-orders in a few months. .

A fast pace of execution while the automotive industry is often characterized by cycles of years. “We didn’t exist six months ago,” says Matthias Goldenberg, who claims he wants to replace heavy cars with light vehicles for those who need them every day. Price will be crucial to hoping to reach the masses. “The idea is that the K1 costs €15,000 without the environmental bonus,” he said.

Kate is not the only French startup that believes in the potential of fuel-efficient cars. Gaël Lavaud, PhD in mechanics, founded the startup Gazelle Tech, which develops a car made of composite materials to reduce weight and therefore energy efficiency. It hopes to start production in 2024.

Benoit Trouvé created MidiPile: a startup that wants to decarbonize last-mile logistics. For this, the entrepreneur imagined a pedal cart with a capacity of 300 kilos. “We’re developing a vehicle category that doesn’t exist,” he says. Thanks to a collaboration with an industrialist from Charente, the first series of 15 machines should be produced by the end of 2023.

What these startups have in common is having leaders who have detailed knowledge of the automotive world. Matthias Goldenberg and Pierre Escrieut met at equipment supplier Valeo; Gaël Lavaud worked for Renault and Goupil; Benoit Trouvé is a former PSA engineer.

These entrepreneurs know the technical challenges of creating new vehicles, but also the difficulty of creating production lines. “It takes a lot of money to start a project with such ambition,” said Thibaud Elzière, whose company hopes to sell 40,000 cars over the next five years.

Nowadays, the task is more difficult. As the global economy slows, investment funds are cautious and prefer to fund startups that are profitable or have a solid path to becoming so. However, in hardware, this prospect is often far from …

Attract consumers

To prime the pump, Thibaud Elzière personally invested in Kate. But he plans to raise the money in the next six months. His thick address book must be a treasured possession. Gazelle Tech and MidiPile are also looking for new money.

Apart from investors, these young shoots will have to convince consumers. Not won in advance: Despite the fact that these vehicles, which take the aesthetic codes of 4X4s, are at the forefront of the International Energy Agency, the share of SUVs in the sale of new cars in France continues to increase. their heavy impact on the environment. The good news is that the craze for electric minicars is also growing. For example, Citroën had unexpected success with the AMI. Kate, Gazelle Tech and MidiPile hope to meet them on the roads soon and above all compete with them for market share.

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