Classic and Boxy
Bollinger Motors: a Refreshingly Traditional 4×4 Company
Car manufacturing tends to be a Byzantine process. Protocols stifle. People pour out of every building crevice. There’s a patina of fastidiousness while the broad vision gets lost. Bollinger Motors operates a bit differently. Its flat brick building is tucked away in a nondescript industrial park in Ferndale, Michigan. There’s no front desk, just a sign on the glass to ring the doorbell; one of the 15 or so employees will let you in.
The entryway contains modern furniture and the precise amount of artful, black and white photography one would expect. But, the greeter is an enthusiastic, tennis-ball wielding canine named Paco. The person who takes your coffee order is the CEO you’re there to interview.
Robert Bollinger launched Bollinger Motors in 2014. The company unveiled its B1 SUV in New York in 2017 and a B2 pickup version last fall. After completing the move to Metro Detroit, Bollinger Motors is moving toward production. The company will begin taking deposits in 2018 with the goal of getting the first truck off the line by mid-2020.
The place to start with Bollinger Motors is the company’s distinctive aesthetic. The B1 doesn’t look like an EV concept or like anything else rolling off a line. It looks like an old Ford Bronco or Land Rover Defender — a lot like them. The B1 will remind you more of those traditional SUVs than either of the remakes that debut this year.
Bollinger Motors went classic and boxy for the look. But, it was also a necessary byproduct of the production process. “We wanted to make it ourselves by hand and not stamp pieces,” Bollinger said. “So, once you have flat sheets that you’re bending, you’re in that camp. It limits you, but in a good way I think.”
With established players and other nascent startups preparing to crowd the EV truck and SUV market, Bollinger believes the appearance of the B1 and B2 will help the company build and maintain its niche. “Even though it harkens back to classic design, we’re bringing that back knowing that no one else will probably do that,” Bollinger said. “We are comfortable being the opposite of what other people are doing and that’s kind of our thing.”
The B1 and B2 won’t just look the part. A drool-worthy spec sheet highlights should be supreme overlanding performance. The dual motor system will produce 614hp and 668lb-ft of instant electric torque. The trucks will accelerate from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 100mph. The range will be about 200 miles, a bit more in city driving with regenerative braking.
Both vehicles should be spectacular off the pavement. The battery packs in the floor offer a low center of gravity. An all-Aluminum body cuts weight. The B1 and B2 will have near equal (45/55) weight distribution. They will have 15 inches of ground clearance and bigger approach (52 degrees), break over (30 degrees), and departure (43 degrees) angles than a Jeep Wrangler. The B1 and B2 will be rated for a 5,000lb payload and towing up to 7,500lbs. Not having an engine or firewall permits a storage pass-through from trunk to frunk.
While other manufacturers fetishize connectivity, Bollinger Motors plans to sever the digital connection. The B1 and B2 won’t offer autonomous capability. There are no current plans for a digital cloud infrastructure. The trucks will have manual windows and door locks. Driving a B1 or B2 won’t be a pure ascetic throwback. You’ll be able to connect your phone to the stereo. But, the goal is to offer an escape.
“You’re not going to feel like you’re in prison,” Bollinger said. “Heated seats will be an option, that kind of thing. But, we want to keep it all about being hands on so, when you want to leave the rest of the digital world behind, our truck is the one that you leave it in.”
Sticking with the purity of vision will help Bollinger Motors carve out a niche. But, it may also keep the trucks as niche vehicles. There’s no bench seat in the second row for a fifth passenger and there won’t be one. The B1 and B2 won’t have airbags. Federal safety requirements for a Class 3 Truck can be met using seatbelts. That should not bother vintage Defender owners who already do without. But, it may limit the B1’s appeal as an over-qualified kid transporter. “If someone really, really wants airbags,” Bollinger said. “They don’t need to buy our truck.”
Scaling up for production will be a significant challenge in 2019. Bollinger Motors plans to double its employee count in the coming months, to about 30. While outsourcing engine production (with in-house tuning) and battery production, diminishes staff requirements, that’s still tiny. The company also must finalize plans for its manufacturing facility.
Another issue, typical for any EV company, will be getting the cost down. The cost of battery tech remains, in Bollinger’s words, “ridiculous.” He believes established automakers investing billions in EVs will help bring the cost down. Taking a cue from Tesla and GoFundMe, Bollinger Motors is considering offering a more expensive Founders Series of trucks to start. “If we’re super low volume and the first 1,000 limited edition is this much, and this will help us succeed to start making them, I think people understand that,” Bollinger said.
Battery tech is also a prime reason Bollinger Motors will only offer the four-door B1 to start. With present battery density, they need the floor space from a longer wheelbase to achieve the 200-mile battery range. Bollinger does not think this will be too much of a sacrifice. Market research suggested a number well north of 50 percent of buyers would choose the four-door option anyway. “It worked out perfectly,” Bollinger said. “We didn’t have to give up something. This is probably what people are going to choose anyway, and we need the space. So, this is a great way to start.”
The B2 pickup, which shares architecture with the four-door B1 through the C-pillar will be the “obvious next step” in the production sequence, both for ease and because Bollinger, a truck enthusiast, wants it. Bollinger Motors plans to double back with the two-door B1 after that, potentially as a lower range (100 miles or so) runabout.
Bollinger promises the company will reveal pricing in 2019. He is still confident about meeting the goal of producing a first production B1 by summer 2020. “It all works out on Excel and calendars,” Bollinger said. “We just have to stick to it.”