Get me a taxi to Electric Avenue, please
Clipper Automotive wants to help taxi drivers (and beyond) go electric for less
Today’s startup wants to make a big impact on city life by making EV taxis cheaper and more accessible to bring to the road. Scroll down to read all about Clipper Automotive.
But first, I want to give a shout out to a couple of launches this week in the wider ecosystem surrounding this newsletter:
Pilot Round is a new platform designed to help very early-stage companies raise enough funding to get their startup off the ground over their next 3-6 months. You can find out more and sign up to give it a try at www.pilotround.com. Pilot Round is an evolution of Black Box, which we covered back in December.
Having talked to plenty of deep tech startups in my life, I know how many of them struggle to explain what they do in an accessible way. With this in mind, friend of PreSeed Now, Hailey Eustace has launched Commplicated with the mission of “simplifying deep tech communications” via a range of services. Well worth a look.
Clipper Automotive has a big idea to help taxis go electric faster, for less
With new petrol and diesel vehicles set to be banned from sale in the UK from 2030, and similar deadlines popping up around the world, demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is set to soar.
But even if prices of those vehicles drop, meeting that demand entirely through new car sales will be difficult. And it’s not just normal cars for personal use - what about commercial vehicles? Clipper Automotive has developed a way of converting existing Hackney Carriages (AKA black cab taxis) into electric vehicles.
“We've found a way to build the cheapest possible drivetrain. We've put it into two black taxis and we've driven 10,000 miles with it to prove that it works,” explains co-founder and CEO Janosch Oppermann.
London-based Clipper is now gearing up to start commercially producing its electric taxis, having gained a licence to operate them in Oxford. The plan is to rent them rather than sell them outright, “de-risking” the move to electric for taxi drivers who rely on their car for their livelihood and may have reservations about change.
Old for new
A key factor behind what’s going on here is that Clipper is using parts recycled from old EVs made by the likes of Nissan, Tesla, Vauxhall, and Jaguar Land Rover. Oppermann says these parts are refurbished and modified to suit a taxi. For example, they’ve used a Nissan Leaf motor, adapted to work with a rear wheel drive vehicle.
In addition to replacing the guts of the taxis, Clipper has replaced one air vent with a screen that shows information about the battery.
I can imagine some PreSeed Now readers getting turned off by the mention of reused parts. But hey - Tesla’s original Roadster was a modified Lotus Elise, and vehicle startups have to begin somewhere. There’s also a strong environmental benefit to getting maximum use out of pre-used parts.
The key innovation here is how Clipper has worked to get fresh use out of existing technology and solve a real problem. Oppermann says they have developed their own vehicle control unit to make all of the different parts work properly together.
The result is a vehicle that, at least judging by videos the startup has posted to YouTube, is a hit with cabbies.
“Cabbies absolutely love us,” says Oppermann. “We've got 400 drivers signed up. Some of them are fleet operators who've got more than one cab. Councils obviously love us as well, because this decarbonises their city centres and it improves the air quality.”
Clipper’s pure EV taxi is up against Geely-owned LEVC’s hybrid TX taxi, which is, as Oppermann puts it, “the price of a nice Tesla”, despite not being fully electric.
Clipper aims to significantly undercut the rental price of a TX (around £325 per week), matching the rental price of a diesel taxi, at £250 per week. Oppermann says that because drivers don’t have to pay for diesel, if they charge at home they could actually save £10 per week.
The story so far
Oppermann’s background is in software engineering. Bored with writing business software, he and his co-founder bought a taxi and a written-off Nissan Leaf and set to work on an EV conversion project.
He says the first attempt was a learning experience. It turns out you can’t just place the innards of a Leaf underneath a taxi cab body, connect it all up as-is and expect it to work well.
“It did work, but it is a terrible idea. The Leaf refuses to work unless it has the steering column, pedals, shifter, and instrument cluster from the Leaf, which is all a total botch job to get into a taxi.”
A better approach was using parts from other vehicles while maintaining as much as possible about what makes the London-style cab a legendary vehicle that drivers enjoy working with.
Learnings from that failed version of ‘cab zero’ eventually led to a working prototype they used to get Innovate UK funding to produce their first two proper vehicles.
Getting the vehicles insured for the road proved tricky, and it sounds like it was a headache to get Clipper’s taxis licensed in Oxford. Oppermann says there were lots of application forms and tests to complete for various bodies before they were finally greenlit to have their cars one the taxi ranks of a city.
“The licensing inspectors all across the country have passenger safety and driver safety at the top of their mind, and I'm fully behind that; I'm pro-regulation.”
However, he says it’s looking promising that it will be a much more straightforward process to get licensed in other local authority areas now that a lot of the paperwork is in place.
With a lot of the regulatory admin now sorted, Oppermann says the plan is to produce 20 vehicles this year and 200 next year, scaling up to thousands per year from there.
Investment, expansion plans, and challenges ahead
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Clipper Automotive’s investment and growth plans:
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