Think of the possibilities: The Bull City as a new Detroit but minus the pollution of fossil fuels?
Don’t think that is a fantasy, especially the way startup Organic Transit is already selling its ELF cars – one-person vehicles powered by electricity from batteries and solar panels as well as pedal power. Call them a high-tech mix of bicycle and rickshaw with proprietary production and design technology to protect against copying.
With a first round of venture funding about to close and sales so hot founder Rob Cotter is more than tripling his sales forecast of the $4,000 vehicle for this year, the ELF may turn out to be the hottest solution for many people to traditional vehicles who have taken a pass of hybrids and $40,000 battery-powered cars.
Cotter could only smile with pride – except when he had to shout “Slow! Slow! Slow!” to someone test-driving the ELF who almost pushed for enough electric power to send the vehicle out of control.
Organic Transit turned the courtyard of the American Tobacco District into a showroom Monday. And plenty of inquisitive folks donned helmets before talking the ELK for a test pedal-drive. The American Underground at American Tobacco purchased an ELF for use by tenants.
Americo Rodriguez, who works with the wellness team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, tried out an ELF and was more than happy to talk about the experience.
“This is really, really cool,” Rodriguez said after removing his helmet. “I was impressed with how fast it went.
“It has a lot of get up and go.”
Powered by a battery that charges from a standard outlet, the ELF is capable of speeds up to 40 miles per hour. And depending on a variety of factors – strength of the battery charge, sunlight for the solar panel on the roof of the vehicle, how much a person decides to pedal and the terrain – an ELF can take a rider miles and miles at a pretty good clip.
Cotter, a long-time auto industry veteran who started Organic Transit through Durham’s Startup Stampede business accelerator program, marveled at the success the company has enjoyed in less than a year’s time.
“We’ve gone to manufacturing and delivering vehicles in 10 months,” he explained. Organic Transit employs some 15 people who build the vehicles with 80 percent of materials supplied by U.S. firms.
In December and January, the company sold 60 ELFs – “with no advertising,” Cotter pointed out. He’s soon off to a trade show in Germany as an invited guest, and distributors across Europe are already wanting to talk business.
“The interest is ridiculous,” he said, almost laughing. How far and wide? ”From Brazil to Bangkok to Brussels.”
Cotter now believes the company can sell 1,000 vehicles this year. He had originally estimated 300.
More options (such as doors geared to specific environments) and models (for two people; room for a child) are already in the works.
The firm has also developed an app that includes a variety of data (battery level, even calories burned by the rider) that soon will be added as a feature through a high-tech heads-up display, or HUD, on the ELF’s windshield.
And Cotter believes sales will increase even more rapidly once Organic Transit vehicles are available in Europe as well as developing nations where, as he put it, people are not so tied to “old motor systems.”
Investors have already line up to put money behind Cotter “at a valuation I wanted.”
“We don’t have to look for investors,” he said proudly. “They find us.”
Perhaps the money people believe that in a world growing more concerned about fossil fuels – or people looking for cheaper transportation – that the ELF just might be the next big thing.
If so, someday the Bull City might be the new Motor City.