Just over two years ago I reviewed the car startups that mattered and attempted to predict their real chances of making a car. That is, producing a car on a mass scale, not just throwing together a concept with some duct tape and calling it a car. Let’s see how everyone is doing!
Back then I rated ten companies on a scale of zero to five Hyperloops. Zero Hyperloops meant the company in question had zero chance of actually making a car, while five Hyperloops meant it had a 100 percent chance.
The companies and their 2018 ratings, in order of actually-making-a-car-likelihood, were Tesla (4.8 Hyperloops), Nio (4.05 Hyperloops), Lynk & Co (3.7 Hyperloops), Byton (2.9 Hyperloops), Karma Automotive (one Hyperloop), Zoox (0.6 Hyperloops), Faraday Future (0.4 Hyperloops), Lucid Motors (0.3 Hyperloops), Elio Motors (Lol), and Nuro.ai (Nah).
I think those ratings hold up for the most part, but to be a bit more thorough I will now attempt to group these companies together based on their current status and assign them new scores.
I will put Tesla, Nio, Lynk & Co in this group.
Tesla’s stock has been soaring in recent months as it got its China plant up and running and the Model 3 has largely been a success. It still hasn’t had a full year of profitability but you’d have to agree that it is successfully making cars.
Nio has two production models out and selling to the public in China, with a third coming soon. Nio is definitely making cars, but it also isn’t selling them at rates to justify what was once a $4 billion valuation on Wall Street. It emerged Thursday that Nio might get a $150 million investment from Guangzhou Automobile Group, one of China’s biggest automakers, to help keep the lights on.
Lynk & Co began selling cars in China in 2018, and plans to enter the European market this year with a subscription-based model. Owned by Geely, which also owns Volvo, Lynk & Co sure does seem to be making and selling the cars.
I will put Byton, Karma Automotive, and Rivian in this category.
Byton is the one with the giant screen. It showed a production-ready version of its all-electric M-Byte SUV at CES this year, and it seems like it’ll begin actually making any day now, with a plan to bring it to the US in 2021. It lost a top executive to Faraday Future this year but still seems to be plowing ahead.
The new Karma Rivero is going to cost $130,000, a hybrid super-ish car built on the DNA of the Fisker Karma. You can order this thing now (I think), and deliveries were supposed to start near the end of last year. Is Karma making cars? My colleague Justin Westbrook has photographic evidence of a Revero in Brooklyn.
I did not include Rivian in my original guide to the car startups that matter because, back then, Rivian did not matter. But since then Rivian has attracted investment from actual companies like $500 million from Ford and $700 million from Amazon, in addition to billions elsewhere. The all-electric R1T truck will probably happen.
Nuro was co-founded by former Google engineers and is trying to make autonomous delivery vehicles, about to hit the ground in Houston in partnership with Walmart after further seen about to deliver Domino’s pizzas there in its custom-built vehicle the R2. This seems like it’ll happen, thanks in part to $940 million from SoftBank.
I will put Faraday Future, Zoox, Lucid Motors, Elio Motors, and Nuro.ai.
Faraday Future is somehow still around, with said shiny executive from Byton. Faraday still has its prototypes but nothing in production yet. It plans to start production sometime this year but only if it gets hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment.
Zoox, which I and other people did not know much about in 2018, is out in Vegas testing an autonomous taxi service.
But we now know that Zoox is not trying to make a car from the ground up, but rather just autonomous software and hardware to put on other cars. Zoox, therefore, is not an automaker. Correction: A representative wrote me to say that Zoox is in fact developing its own vehicles aside from the ones in Vegas, which are based on Toyotas.
Zoox is creating autonomous mobility from the ground up, transforming mobility-as-a-service by developing a fully-autonomous purpose-built fleet designed for A.I. to drive and humans to enjoy.
Zoox believes designing from the ground up for autonomy is the right approach to enable the new era of mobility. A retrofitted car is not optimized for A.I. to drive and humans to ride in. The best way to fully realize the promise of autonomous mobility is to design a vehicle from the ground up.
I have also updated the Hyperloop score.
We first saw the Lucid Air way back in 2016. The company wanted to get it to the US market by 2018, but that didn’t happen because of money issues. After a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, it got back up and running. Now it’s being run by the guy behind the Tesla Model S, and will apparently have a production version of its Air unveiled in New York City in April. We’ll see!
This electric van was designed by the lead designer of BMW’s i3, a good car. Will it ever be made at scale? Who knows!
Negative one (-1) Hyperloops.
That is all for all the car startups that matter! If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll notice that my original ratings were pretty accurate, with the glaring exception of Nuro, which I am ashamed of.
It would be unbecoming to point out specifically how accurate the others were, however, so I will decline to do so. I definitely got a lot of things right, though, but you won’t hear it from me. Did you notice how many things I got right? I didn’t. I also won’t mention how many emails I got saying, “Wow, you got so many things right.” I won’t mention those at all.