I’ve been writing about Nobe, a small Estonian start-up that’s hoping to build a genuinely charming little electric car, for a few years now, and while I love the car I have to admit that they haven’t exactly had it easy. First, there’s the difficulty of starting up any new car company, and on top of that, they suffered a crippling fire that destroyed most of their prototypes. But don’t count them out. Nobe has recovered and made a great decision: they’ve partnered with Sandy Munro. Yes, that Sandy Munro, of Munro and Associates, to handle the engineering of the car for production. Now, all that hope may actually turn into cars you can buy.
After seeing a number of makers of three-wheelers try hard and fail, most famously Elio, it’s really encouraging to see a company like Nobe realize the considerable difficulties of getting a car to production and reaching out to a real legend like Munro for help.
Elio bit themselves in their monowheeled ass when they tried to re-engineer the old Geo Metro engine for no good reason. That started the path that doomed them. Nobe now has a partner that will not make idiotic decisions like that and will do the opposite—turn this lovely concept into something that can actually be built.
Elio did do one good thing for three-wheelers in America, though: they got rid of helmet laws in most states, so you won’t have to wear a helmet in your future Nobe, because, come on, who wants to do that.
I went to Munro in Detroit for several important reasons, but a major one was to see the Nobe prototype in person. I have to say, it does not disappoint. The design is just right, in that ineffable way that somehow makes it feel familiar like it’s something that has existed since 1963 and goes for big money on Bring a Trailer, if you can find one.
The proportions and size are spot-on, too, and reminded me of my old Volvo P1800; I had assumed it would feel much smaller, like a microcar, but it really doesn’t. It feels like a classic sports car-sized car, like the Alfa Romeos it sort of resembles upfront, or perhaps a Karmann Ghia.
Even if you have some sort of deep-set anti-three-wheeler prejudices lurking deep inside you, I think the look of the Nobe can change that; the tapered, Jetsonian rear and that unbroken taillight band feel like refugees from a future when we were still hopeful that our ‘topias would start with “u” instead of “dis.” It’s just a charming, delightful-looking machine.
Of course, underneath, this one I saw is all prototype. That’s where Sandy comes in. Using his decades of experience, he’ll be engineering the chassis, drivetrain, batteries, everything, to make something safe and usable and buildable.
Sandy’s talking about having three-wheel drive, which so far I think has only been implemented in a Peugeot concept scooter thing; the Nobe could be the first production car ever to use three-wheel drive. He also talks about using the seat-belt-housed airbags that Munro developed, and a lot of stability control to make the Nobe stable and safe.
It’s already in the preferred “tadpole” style of three-wheeler, with two wheels up front and one at the rear, so there should be no Reliant-Robin-on-Top-Gear kind of shenanigans.
As far as specs on the car go, it’s not yet finished, so nothing’s final, but talking to Roman, the CEO of Nobe, I was told some numbers they’re “striving” to hit: a range of around 200 miles (using a 40 kWh battery pack), and a price for the coupe of about $29,957 (weirdly specific, but ok) and around $35,000 for the convertible. Power is likely to be around 100 horsepower or so, it seems? So, this will be a real EV with real range, just one wheel less than you’re used to.
Of course, no start-up is a sure thing, but I have much more confidence in Nobe’s chances now that they’ve teamed up with Munro. Like all start-ups, they’re looking for money, and while I have no stake in this, I do genuinely like the car, so I’ll just leave the email address where you rich types can go if you feel like investing in a start-up car company sounds more fun than buying another fighting horse or caviar volcano or whatever the hell rich people spend money on.
I think I’d just like to live in a world where these things were driving around.