start-ups reinventing electric cars, Le Lab/Ideas

There are few industries with as many barriers to entry as automotive. Elon Musk has certainly succeeded in installing a new brand in the landscape with Tesla. But that’s Elon Musk, and even he struggled in his early days.

At its inception, Western neo-constructors (Rivian, Lucid Motors, Fisker, Hopium) set out to attack this market. But they all experience industrial and financial setbacks. Some even prefer to stop costs along the way, like Dyson…

This does not scare Thibaud Elzière. In 2022, the multi-entrepreneur (Fotolia, Gama, Folk, Iconic House) and creator of the start-up studio Hexa founded Kate, an electric car manufacturer aimed at the general public. “This is the first time I have embarked on an industrial project where I will have an operational role,” he explains with the enthusiasm of a novice.

Getting NoSmoke

He is not alone because he has teamed up Matthias Goldenbergwho leads the start-up, and Pierre Escrieut, who is the technical director. To save time, the partners bought NoSmoke: a manufacturer of beach cars created in 2012 whose factory is located in Cerizay (Deux-Sèvres). “I wanted to rely on an industrial tool and existing technological expertise but also have a profit line”, commented Thibaud Elzière. Last year, NoSmoke claims to have achieved a turnover of 4 million euros.

As car manufacturers increase the launch of cars that are larger and full of technology, the founders of Kate have a firm belief that the future belongs to electric microcars, whose weight, speed and equipment will be limited. The brand name is also a nod to “keijidōsha” or “kei cars”, these small cars that are very popular in Japan.

NoSmoke has produced around 200 beach carts by 2022. Kate plans to release a modified version in March 2023 and, at the same time, is working on creating a four-person electric quadricycle (K1) whose pre-orders will open in a few months.

A rapid pace of implementation as the automotive industry is characterized by cycles often counted in years. “Six months ago, we didn’t have any,” insisted Matthias Goldenberg, who said he wanted to “replace heavy vehicles with light vehicles for those who need them every day. The price will be decisive hoping to reach the masses. “The idea is that the K1 comes out at 15,000 euros without the ecological bonus,” he specified.

Kate is not the only French start-up that believes in the potential of fuel-efficient cars. Doctor in mechanics, Gaël Lavaud founded Gazelle Tech, a start-up that designed a vehicle with composite materials to reduce its weight – and therefore its energy efficiency. He hopes to start production in 2024.

Benoit Trouvé created MidiPile: a start-up that wants to decarbonize last-mile logistics. For this, the entrepreneur came up with a pedal cart with a load capacity of 300 kilograms. “We’re creating a vehicle category that doesn’t exist,” he said. The first series of 15 machines should be produced by the end of 2023 thanks to a collaboration with an industrialist from Charente.

The common point of these start-ups is to have leaders with detailed knowledge of the automotive world. Matthias Goldenberg and Pierre Escrieut met with equipment supplier Valeo; Gaël Lavaud worked at 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 setting up production lines. “It takes a lot of money to start a project of such ambition,” admits Thibaud Elzière, whose company hopes to sell 40,000 vehicles in the next five years.

The task is more difficult this time. As the global economy slows down, investment funds are cautious and prefer to finance start-ups that are profitable or have a credible path to becoming so. However, in hardware, this prospect is often far…

Attract buyers

To make the pump prime, Thibaud Elzière personally invested in Kate. But he plans to do a fundraiser in the next six months. His thick address book should be a valuable asset. Gazelle Tech and MidiPile are also looking for new money.

Beyond investors, these young shoots need to convince buyers. It was not won in advance: the segment of SUVs, these cars that borrow the aesthetic codes of 4X4s, continues to increase in sales of new cars in France even if the International Energy Agency is at the fore of the finger. their heavy impact on the environment. The good news is that interest in electric microcars is also growing. Citroën, for example, had unexpected success with AMI. Kate, Gazelle Tech and MidiPile hope to see them soon on the roads and, above all, to compete with them for market share.

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