I drove Arcimoto’s bizarre electric three-wheeler through New York City traffic

Arcimoto CEO Mark Frohnmayer has one rule for driving his hot-off-the-production-line electric three-wheeler: “Do not crash the FUV into the other FUV.”

FUV stands for “fun utility vehicle,” which is the name of the delightfully weird electric vehicle. (It’s also Arcimoto’s stock ticker.) My first thought was that it was a dad joke gone too far, but Frohnmayer corrects me: his own mother came up with the name.

It’s a brisk November afternoon in New York City, and I’m driving a red FUV, with Frohnmayer seated behind me. We’re cruising along Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side, following close behind an orange FUV being driven by Arcimoto’s press guy, Jon. Frohnmayer has to yell in my ear to be heard above the rushing wind. There are, after all, no windows or doors on the FUV.

I twist the right handlebar and the FUV silently springs into motion. Arcimoto says its vehicles can accelerate from 0–60 mph in 7.5 seconds, but city traffic laws and common sense prevent me from putting that claim to the test.

A minute later, I almost break Frohnmayer’s one rule.

 

In my defense, driving an Arcimoto FUV is pretty similar to driving a motorcycle, which I do not know how to do. In fact, you need a motorcycle license in some states to legally drive one. I don’t have a motorcycle license, probably won’t ever get one, and consider myself more of a bike guy anyway. Which is to say, at one point I accidentally mash down on the brake while simultaneously twisting the handlebar, causing my FUV to lurch forward and nearly graze the back tire of the orange FUV in front of us. It’s a close call, but fortunately Frohnmayer is in a forgiving mood.

He’s in town, after all, to celebrate Arcimoto’s big milestone: three years after introducing its first prototype, the company has begun making its first deliveries to customers.

Admittedly, it’s been a slow start. The company’s manufacturing facility in Eugene, Oregon, is only building one FUV a day, but plans to step it up to two a day later this month. Its ultimate goal is to build 50 vehicles a day, but it probably won’t hit that mark for another 12-18 months. This would help achieve Arcimoto’s goal to generate 10,000 FUVs a year.

Whether the company will find a market for that many FUVs is another test altogether. Arcimoto’s first customers are “early adopters who’ve been following the company, drinking the Kool-Aid for a long time,” Frohnmayer says. But eventually he wants Arcimoto to become a mass-market company with broad appeal. In other words, nothing like the current electric tricycle market that exists today.

Sure, three-wheeled motorcycles like the Polaris Slingshot, the Vanderhall, and the Can-Am Spyder have their customers, but the market is decidedly niche, and Americans overwhelmingly prefer four wheels. Their taste in vehicles runs pretty large, which is why SUVs and pickup trucks rule the road today.

Currently, there are only 22 Arcimoto FUVs on the road. The company has received 4,128 preorders, which require customers to put down a $100 refundable deposit. This could translate into $70 million in revenue, which currently exceeds the company’s own market cap of $40 million.

But Arcimoto thinks it can appeal to customers beyond the tiny three-wheeled segment. Frohnmayer is counting on people who move to cities, where parking is a premium, and discover that supersized cars aren’t compatible with their dense environs. But direct-to-consumer sales aren’t the only revenue play; Arcimoto is also trying to spin up a few pilots to test the FUV’s potential as an emergency vehicle, a rental vehicle for tourists, and as a last-mile delivery solution.

Plus, for a vehicle of its size, the FUV actually doesn’t feel like driving a microcar or an electric trike. The driver is at the same level as a typical-sized crossover. And the front-wheel suspension makes navigating Manhattan’s notorious pot-holed streets less strenuous.

 

 

 

 

Arcimoto CEO Mark Frohnmayer and his two FUVs.
 

Not much has changed about the FUV since we last drove it at CES in 2016. There have been a few modifications to the interior: Bluetooth speakers replaced a cupholder and there’s a new panel of buttons directly below the handlebars, some of which won’t be operational until a later date.

The FUV retails for $19,900, which is not exactly cheap. It has a top speed of 75 mph, a city-driving range of just over 100 miles, and comes with creature comforts like heated seats, heated grips, a phone mount, the ability to pair your smartphone to onboard Bluetooth speakers, lockable storage, and removable half-doors for some protection against the elements.

The biggest thrill is all the questions and curious looks you get from passersby, many of whom shout questions like “How much does it cost?” and “Is it electric?” The two FUVs parked in front of Tom’s Restaurant (made famous by Seinfeld) draw a slew of curious onlookers who pepper Frohnmayer with questions. He calls it “parketing” — a mashup of marketing and parking.

People love stumbling across a new weird thing out on the street, but when it comes to car buying, they skew conservative. Asking people to ditch their gas-guzzler for an electric vehicle is tough on its own. Asking them to completely change form factors is truly monolithic in its difficulty. When you discount Tesla, EV sales in the US have been basically flat for the last six years.

Frohnmayer is aware of this challenge, and welcomes it. The naming of the “Fun Utility Vehicle” may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but the selling of it will be very serious. After all, we’re talking about a market segment where the leading player has tried (and sort of failed) to spell the word “S-E-X-Y” with the names of his first four vehicles.

“We built it for daily trips, we built it to solve everyday transport with a much lighter footprint,” Frohnmayer says of the FUV. “But what we discovered along the way is that it is the people who are just having a ton of fun with it… But maybe our target customer has a sense of humor.”