High hopes for the future
Mike Ableson recently joined Arrival as CEO of Arrival Automotive North America. John Challen talked to the former General Motors VP, who has big plans and high hopes for the future—and is charged with leading the company’s expansion into North America.
John Challen: What attracted you to Arrival?
Mike Abelson: I was particularly interested in the vision of accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. We see electrified commercial vehicles as an opportunity because their users have tasks that electric vehicles are ideally suited for. Also, for the good of the environment, the vehicles you want to replace first are commercial ones because of their high usage levels and subsequent emissions.
JC: What makes Arrival stand out over a traditional OEM or Tier 1 supplier?
MA: What any company can aspire to do with electric vehicles is offer them at the same price as traditional liquid-fueled vehicles. I would argue that Arrival is ideally suited to deliver on that, which is part of why we call them “Generation 2.0” vehicles. Too many companies think the key to reducing the cost of the vehicle is reducing the cost of the battery. Arrival has found ways to reduce the cost of the rest of the vehicle outside the battery so that the overall cost is on a parallel with today’s vehicles.
JC: How has the company reduced costs?
MA: Being focused specifically on commercial vehicles, we have some opportunities with how we design the vehicles and how we apply the technologies to make them more efficient from a total operating cost standpoint. With commercial vehicles, we talk about a device on wheels, knowing that operators are buying a vehicle to get a job done. We have also tuned the manufacturing process because a traditional factory is suited to hundreds of thousands of vehicles and costs millions of dollars to operate. We’ve developed a process where we believe we can manufacture in the region of 10,000 vehicles a year and make them profitable.
JC: What does Generation 2.0 commercial vehicles mean within Arrival?
MA: The most important point is our goal of having the same price for our vehicles as ICE vehicles. Another element is the idea of upgrading them over the air. Some of the enabling technologies, such as the manufacturing process, the electrical architecture, and the design of the components, are all enablers for the overall Generation 2.0 vision.
JC: What will the Arrival vehicle range look like in 2030?
MA: When you talk about 2030, it’s interesting from the point of view of autonomous driving, and that is one of the aspects we are designing our products with in mind. I don’t know exactly what the vehicles will look like because what I say today will probably be wrong, but we’ll consistently work closely with our customers to understand what they want.
JC: Would you compare the vehicles to cell phones or mobile devices?
MA: That is why we talk about the vehicles as devices on wheels, because we are moving closer to the model of smartphones. In the company we have a variety of people who have a background in that industry and, as a veteran of the auto industry, it’s fascinating for me to talk to those guys about devices. We want to create devices that get the job done, but that also get better over time. The care and the effort that goes into making the user interface as easy to use as possible is also comparable with smartphones, but there is also lots of opportunity for us to improve that.
JC: What are the mid- and long-term aims for Arrival?
MA: We think the concepts we have around Generation 2.0 vehicles can be applied to all areas of the commercial vehicle space. We design our products in a flexible way and can adapt them very quickly when we understand the needs and wants of our customers.
JC: What are the biggest challenges for Arrival?
MA: The biggest near-term challenge is getting into production. We’ve got a lot of product work done, but we need to get the vehicles out to the world, which is the focus for the next few months. We haven’t announced any production facilities; one of the key enablers that we have is the idea of micro-factories, which allow us more flexibility in terms of location and the ability to add factories depending on demand. So our main factory and site selection is an advantage because we can react more quickly to demand, compared with others who have to sign factories off three or four years in advance.
JC: Can we expect to see collaborations between Arrival and existing OEMs?
MA: We see autonomous driving as an important development in the CV space, and we are designing things specifically on the platform and the setup of the electrical architecture to make it ready to accommodate an autonomous vehicle system. The fact that we are making it autonomous-ready, I’m expecting a lot of interest from developers of various autonomous vehicles.