After major interest for electric city cars expressed by SAB (Salonul Auto Bucuresti) visitors last fall, we followed Uniti’s project and recently had a chance to visit the team in Lund, Sweden.
Using the contact information on Uniti’s webpage, a welcoming response came quickly from Bianca Anghelescu, executive assistant for the start up team, with a warning “no visitor parking available”. Parking is just half of the story, but gave me immediately an understanding why somebody would focus on the car sharing business model, when designing a brand new electric vehicle.
Lack of parking space or expensive options in most European cities, makes you wonder if driving for an hour a day and parking for 23 hours makes any sense to own a vehicle ?
As I later found out from Robin Eriksson, Chief Marketing officer for Uniti, carsharing and peer to peer sharing were priorities from an early design phase, leading to software apps and access by phone, to avoid the current hassles with clasic car sharing models, where owner and customer have to meet, to assure the car key exchange.
A short a pleasant drive from Malmo, in the very south of Sweden, Lund is charming city hosting Sweden’s oldest university, tracing its roots back to 1438. The beautiful old buildings in down town, a significant cathedral and the traditional architecture open air museum Kulturen are recommended for visitors coming to enjoy the positive vibes of the city.
Finding the address was easy, but finding Uniti’s office is a completely different story, because at “Arkivgatan 1” there are three buildings A, B, and C competing for attention and there is no sign pointing to the entrance.
Luckily I see one person walking out of the first floor door and ask about Uniti and there it was. One large room at first floor with several rows of young people sitting in front of their computers and another smaller room upstairs with an early prototype, a white board and meeting space for the team.
“B, you have a visitor” was the short introduction to meet Bianca, who provided a first glimpse of the relaxed environment created by the young team, while Robin finished a conference call, during the very busy last days of the crowdfunding session.
Standing next to the Uniti prototype, I perceive the city scope of the design by the tight dimensions with one passenger seat behind the driver seat, but significantly wider body than Renault’s Twizzy.
Conceived initially as an European L7 category vehicle, the prototype is evolving currently to move into the M1 category, with more stringent safety requirements. Adding airbags and structural improvements to meet crash test targets, represent a significant challenge and team Uniti is relying on British engineering expertise for design and prototype manufacturing in Silverstone.
The next Uniti car will be a four seater, tells me Bianca, with the same basic ideas: electric, connected, autonomous as the entire automotive industry is currently stating. So what differentiates Uniti ?
Compared to the other electric city cars prototypes we tested in 2018, developed by start up companies in Aachen and Muenchen, Unity has a futuristic design and we are looking forward to drive it, to better understand the dynamic performance and road behavior.
The interior concept is Tesla Model 3 like, very clean with just one screen for all information and interaction with the car. However, there are significant differences in the business model, because Uniti will outsource manufacturing, similar to the very successful Apple business model.
Partnerships with major industrial powerhouses like Siemens and E-On will help to get access to the required know how for all areas of a complex and internationally regulated product, which is a vehicle. The same concept, of partnerships with existing major workshop networks, will apply for service and maintenance.
Online sales will probably dominate the future of automotive and Uniti got a great response form their “store within a store” experiment. After presenting the prototype at Media Markt, an electronics sales giant, Uniti received over 3500 reservations for their first electric city car.
From sourcing components and raw materials, to the end of life recycling process, I could sense a deep concern for the environment and ethical labor practices. With a bright smile Robin challenged me to “look around at these (young) nice people … do you think anybody in this room would intend to harm our environment ?”
The fundamental idea to get more mileage out of each electric car produced, and currently unfortunately parked for the vast majority of its life, is already environmental friendly and liberating so much needed parking spaces in our cities. Having parking structures, required for unused cars, replaced by parks and walking areas for people is the goal.
As my short visit was nearing the end, I was already planning to visit Uniti again, when a driveable prototype is available, to better understand how the engineering team located in Silverstone transferred some great ideas into reality.
Hope to see you soon again team Uniti !