Small electric car at a low competitive price

Düsseldorf Compared to industry giants like Volkswagen or Tesla, ACM is tiny. Just ten employees are working on a new electric car in Munich. CEO Paul Leibold and his team have invested eight years of development in a small electric car that has some things that the competition lacks. It is not only light and safe, but also versatile and very inexpensive.

What sounds like a research and development aid project could soon make it big on the market. Customers are queuing up, the technology seems ready for series production. The well-known contract manufacturer Magna International now accepts ACM as a customer. “This is an important basis for our company,” says CEO Paul Leibold, who wants to present his “City One” for the first time at the IAA trade fair.

For a small developer, working together is an accolade. Call Magna and place an order – it’s not that easy. The Canadian-Austrian group is picky, countless start-ups in the field of electric cars want to do business with the contract manufacturer. “They only use their resources and engineers if they believe in the project,” says Karl-Thomas Neumann. The former Opel boss sits on the ACM advisory board.

Unlike the big car companies, ACM does not target private customers, but primarily taxi companies, leasing companies and other fleet operators – especially in Asia or Africa. Letters of intent have already been signed for the sale of a total of 208,000 vehicles – a total of three billion euros in sales.

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ACM stands for “Adaptive City Mobility”. In order to implement the idea of ​​this “adaptive urban mobility”, the Munich-based company wants to build a vehicle that offers space for up to five people, can also be used as a small truck and, with an exchangeable battery, eliminates possible range fears. At 950 kilograms, the weight of the vehicle is significantly lower than that of many of its competitors.

The head and heart of the company is Leibold. The 53-year-old is well-known in car circles and worked at BMW on the i3 electric car. The industrial engineer has been working with ACM on his latest idea since 2013. Its development is funded by a consortium of the Federal Ministry of Economics, the Fraunhofer Institute for Embedded Systems and Communication Technology and Siemens were also on board.

Now the start-up wants to take the step from the development phase to production. Magna has drawn up a feasibility study for this, and many qualified engineers are currently working on the vehicle. The first test vehicles are to be produced in 2023, and mass production in factories in Asia is to start in early 2024 at the latest.

“A space miracle”

In the spring, Leibold called the former Opel boss Neumann. Would he like to take a look at the ACM concept? Neumann was reluctant at first, but Leibold’s enthusiasm and know-how convinced him. After a test drive with the City One, the car manager even invested in the start-up himself. “It’s a space miracle,” says Neumann of the small prototype.

Creating a lot of space – that was ACM’s premise. After all, the vehicle should not only be used as a taxi. In addition, the small electric car is also practical for delivery services: the rear seat can be folded down so that an entire euro pallet fits into the cargo hold. “It is possible to put them in with a forklift,” explains Leibold proudly.

ACM City One

Technologically sophisticated: the City One has a fixed battery and exchangeable batteries in the trunk. There is also an option for exchangeable batteries that can be carried on the roof rack.

So far, Leibold has collected around 40 million euros in investor money, and a new round of financing is currently underway. It will be significantly larger, ACM is in talks with several strategic investors, including from the Arab and Asian region. “There is a lot of interest,” says Leibold.

The reason for the interest: The City One is entirely designed by the customer and is well suited for urban traffic in countries that, unlike in Europe or the USA, do not have a network of superchargers. Without fast charging stations, the range quickly becomes a problem for many fleet operators.

ACM wants to create as much flexibility as possible with a new type of battery system. The vehicle has a permanently installed lithium-ion battery and exchangeable batteries, which together enable a range of up to 240 kilometers.

The replaceable batteries, each weighing ten to twelve kilograms, are located in the trunk, optionally they can also be carried on the roof. They can be exchanged in a few simple steps and thus provide a further 100 to 120 kilometers of range. The batteries in the 48-volt vehicle can be charged in eight hours at any household socket, and in five hours at a charging station.

Digital platform

The ACM City One costs 10,000 to 15,000 euros, depending on the equipment. A low price that, according to Neumann, can hardly be reduced further through production and development. But ACM tries in another way to reduce the so-called “Total Cost of Ownership” or total costs of the vehicle owner.

ACM City One

Lower the price by all means: easy processing in the interior of the City One from ACM.

For example through advertising income. The vehicle has a 40-inch digital monitor on the tailgate, on which digital advertising can be played. According to calculations by ACM, fleet operators can earn at least 3000 euros annually, which ACM shares with advertising partners and fleet operators. The vehicle can therefore earn its purchase price in this way alone after a few years.

ACM wants to control the business with a digital platform. It is currently developing an offer together with the Porsche subsidiary MHP. Companies or private customers could book the vehicles there for order journeys and thus avoid empty journeys. Another idea: insurance companies could evaluate the vehicle data for money.

Up to 300 employees

The business model seems to hit a nerve. The Chinese mobile phone chain D.Phone ordered 35,000 vehicles in order to offer them to customers with a flat rate. With one caveat, of course: ACM has to get production going and achieve the promised vehicle data. “The market is huge,” says Leibold.

Accordingly, ACM is now positioning itself differently, wants to hire up to a hundred employees at short notice, especially in the software and development area. The company’s idea of ​​outsourcing should be retained, however, and as many processes as possible, such as production, should remain outsourced. “We want to stay small,” says the CEO, who has a maximum of 300 employees in mind.

There is no shortage of applicants. According to Leibold, a thousand applicants responded to a recent job posting for ten positions. “More and more people are realizing that the climate change needs radical solutions,” says Leibold.

More: IAA wants to convince with a new concept – but important industry giants are missing

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