The recent rise of electric vehicles continues to percolate new ideas about how to better get around in our modern society, and for the last several years, I’ve been lucky enough to live close to one of the more interesting EV petri dishes: Arcimoto.
In 2018, I journeyed south from Portland, Oregon to Arcimoto’s then still-forming factory in Eugene, a college town nestled in the verdant Willamette Valley. Arcimoto CEO Mark Frohnmayer has been a welcoming and informative host since we first made contact back then, and is likely one of more unusual CEOs of an EV company – or of any company. He’s certainly focused on making Arcimoto a successful business, but in our many conversations, it’s clear his larger agenda is to affect a positive change in the way people think about getting around today and into the future.
When I first visited in ‘18, I got to drive a close-to but still pre-production Arcimoto machine that they called an FUV, or Fun Utility Vehicle. It’s an unusual three-wheeled tadpole-style EV with two seats and a roll cage, and I drove it for a short bit around the streets near the factory.
As expected, it was fun. The name stuck. But Frohnmayer’s vision for the FUV goes far beyond it just being a fun, unusual toy, and when I see vehicles like the FUV or the ElectraMechannica SOLO, what I really wanted to know is: Once in final form, how do they work as real-world vehicles, in traffic, running errands, in the rain, and of course, having fun. The U in FUV is for Utility, after all, and Arcimoto does produce a single-seat delivery version of the FUV, as well as specialized versions for first responders. There is also now a sporty Roadster version without the roll cage, and perhaps a leaning version at some point in the future after a recent acquisition.
But the base FUV is a two-seater that looks like it’s made for having a good time rather than slogging out grocery runs. As time passed and the pandemic pressed on, I continued to check in and see if I could wrangle one for a review. Not quite yet, Arcimoto said as they got back into production and scrambled to fill pre-orders. Then, I started to see a few zipping around town in Portland.
Seeing how other businesses were being gut-punched by covid, I wondered if it was also going to be the death knell for the nascent Arcimoto. But Frohnmayer shepherded the company through the worst of it and despite the pandemic – or maybe in part because of it – the pre-orders continued to stack up, and the stock kept rising – unexpectedly peaking at over $36/share in February of this year – before settling back into the mid-teens where it is today. Arcimoto, known as (of course) FUV on the NASDAQ, is set to report quarterly financials on August 16th.
And then, finally, we recently agreed on a short loaner period for an FUV, and a truck and trailer arrived at my Portland home, where the driver carefully rolled a grey and green FUV onto the pavement and into my garage. My loan period was only for several days, so I immediately put the key in and started piling up the miles.
As noted, the FUV I had in for review is the base unit produced by Arcimoto. It has two wheels in front and one out back, seats two people front to back rather than side to side like the Polaris Slingshot, and runs on electricity that powers two front motors – one for each front wheel. It’s 80 inches across and 113 inches long, so while it has a foorprint, it’s still fairly small compared to even a compact car. It has a motorcycle-style handlebar and twist throttle rather than a steering wheel and gas pedal, and it is classified as a motorcycle in Oregon. However, since it is “full enclosure” (it has a DOT-spec rollbar and transparent roof – and even a windshield wiper), you are not required to wear a helmet to drive it or ride in it in Oregon. My machine (Frohmayer says it’s called “The Hulk” due to the colors) had no doors but doors are an option. Summer was in full swing when I got it, so I didn’t miss having the doors.
Suspension is out in the open air on the FUV, and the rear monoshock has a simple preload adjustment collar for quick changes to rear wheel action.
A color LCD panel keep you apprised of speed, battery level, time, range, distance traveled and other data bits. There was an optional rear trunk compartment on my review machine, as well as heated seats and heated handgrips, which are standard. A built-in Bluetooth stereo with small marine speakers is a bit short on bass but loud enough to sing along with your favorites. Brakes are hydraulic discs all around, but they do not have ABS. LED projection headlights and LED brake and marker lights give the FUV excellent nighttime illumination and visibility. Plus, you might say it kind of stands out in traffic.
The twin motor setup produces 77 horsepower to push the 1,300-pound FUV and range stretches from about 35 freeway miles to over 60 miles of mixed city/highway driving to about 100 miles if you’re going to stick to city streets. I found those figures to be accurate to conservative. It recharges using Level II quick chargers or you can plug it in like a toaster to a wall outlet with the included adapter. It takes longer to charge the way, but that’s what I did and woke up each morning to a full charge. Top speed is specified as 75mph or 80mph depending on which version of the sales literature you read… more on that later.
One important feature is the regenerative braking system, which is controlled by the onboard computer and a small vestigial brake handle by the right handlebar grip, similar to a motorcycle. There is also a foot brake which operates all of the brakes, but the clever small bar lever is really fun to use as it slows the FUV while feeding power into the battery. If the battery is full, the regen system is off or reduced and you are told this on the LCD display, so the foot brake is the way to go (er, stop). But once battery power slips under 80 percent, the regen brake control lever is ready to use in full and if you ride motorcycles, it will be second-nature to use it. Or you can just keep using the foot brake.
Saddling up the FUV, the first thing you have to do is strap in. Both rider and passenger use double sets of seatbelts, one on each side that criss-cross your body. Simple enough. Next is a sort of multi-step startup procedure designed to make sure you don’t inadvertently goose the FUV forwards or backwards when you power it up, and once you do it a couple of times, it becomes muscle memory. The first day I had the FUV I rode it solo, and initially in a large empty parking lot near my home, just to get a feel for it. I’m a life-long motorcycle rider and a fan of three-wheelers because they are an interesting mashup of car and motorcycle, and there is a lot of innovation in the space right now, but new FUV riders should approach with caution and learn the dynamics of their vehicle, no matter what it is.
Having driven the Polaris Slingshot and ElectraMechannica SOLO, I felt fairly prepared to set out in the Arcimoto, but it has a key difference that made me do a lot of laps in that parking lot before venturing into traffic: As noted, it has handlebars, while the Slingshot and SOLO have steering wheels. And for a lifelong motorcyclist, the FUV handlebars were working exactly opposite of how they do on a motorcycle. This is not to say they were working incorrectly, they were working just fine – in the vehicle at hand. It’s just that on a motorcycle, they way you turn the front wheel at speed is “backwards” from what you might think (especially if you don’t ride). On a motorcycle, riders use a technique called “countersteering,” likely called that because at first, it seems very counter-intuitive. On the FUV, you use what I guess should be called “normal” or maybe “trike” steering, but to me it felt odd at first. So I took some time to acclimate myself before riding in traffic.
Once I got out amongst city traffic, the FUV was a total hoot. For one, it’s fast. Not Tesla Plaid fast, but still, pretty damn fast, and being essentially out in the open enhances the feeling of speed. Grabbing a handful of throttle easily outruns most cars. And since it’s electric with no gear changes, it just keeps on accelerating as you twist the right grip. If you’re a motorcycle rider, turning corners will feel a bit odd at first since the FUV does not lean, but you get used to it pretty quickly, and since there’s two driven wheels up front, the grip is tenacious. Things you normally worry about while cornering a motorcycle – gravel, oil, coolant spills, small debris – aren’t worries any more.
If a wheel gets into something slick, the other wheel still has grip and the FUVs traction control steps in immediately to keep things stable, and it’s quite seamless in operation. I actually tried some aggressive turns in my parking lot sorties and at no point did I upset the FUV to the point where I thought it would tip. Out on the street, the steering is precise and speed-sensitive, so if you’re going at a good clip, you can’t wrench the bars into a sudden too-sharp turn. Motorcycles work in much the same way, just without the electrical assist system in the FUV. The traction control, paired with the power steering voodoo designed by the Arcimoto team, has resulted in both vehicle behaviour and speed-appropriate steering input control that works very transparently to keep the FUV planted. It was a very impressive display of control dynamics for such a speedy and maneuverable machine.
Satisfied with the FUV city manners, it was time to step things up a bit. My teenage son popped into the rear seat and we filled the rear cargo box with camera gear and snacks. With a 100-percent charge showing on the display, I pointed the FUV towards the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway and Multnomah Falls. We took the long way to get there, tracing along the Sandy River and through tiny towns and burgs as the sun started dipping down. June is good weather in Oregon for the most part, and temperatures were in the 70s. Perfect riding – and FUVing – weather.
The experience of taking the FUN on a longer ride is much more akin to a motorcycle experience than the Slingshot or SOLO, certainly due to the handlebars but also because you sit “up” in the FUV at about the same ride height as a crossover SUV. And since you’re out in the open save for the transparent roof and windscreen, you really feel much more like you’re on a touring motorcycle…. without being on one. Which is interesting, as Mark told me at a recent EV event in Portland that he’s never ridden a motorcycle, and was forbidden by his parents to own one. I was as well, but I was far less obedient than Mark, apparently.
The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway is more of a country road, but with a lot of turns and some impressive elevation changes. The FUV had no problem dialing up the 55mph speed limit, but most of the highway was posted 45mph or slower (some of the corners are posted as 15mph to give you some idea). Whether cruising down the 55mph straights or curling through the tight 190-degree switchbacks, the FUV handles precisely and gives the rider confidence. Yes, you should lean your body into the corners because: it’s fun. But it was on this most scenic of highways that I got a rare instance of pushback. I was doing some photo passes (slowly and safely, and the road was near-deserted) and I pulled onto the shoulder to turn around when a woman in an SUV pulled up very close to me, rolled down the window and cursed me out for… riding such a contraption. Not for some weird traffic move, but just for what I was riding. “Those are illegal! You should not be on the road scaring people with that thing! I’m calling the police!!” she howled, then gunned her engine and roared away, overshooting a tight 20mph corner so much she almost rolled her SUV into the oncoming lane. Thankfully, there was no oncoming traffic, and the highway is a very popular motorcycle road as well.
I was dumbstruck for a moment. The FUV is street legal and plated, and is about as “scary” as Herbie the Love Bug. But for some people apparently, the appearance of change is hard to deal with. It was the only negative experience I had with the FUV; indeed, everywhere I went on it, people shot photos of it, waved, smiled, asked for rides, and asked for information. I think I sold a dozen of the $17,995 machines (before incentives and rebates) in my short review period. Honestly, the FUV made more people smile than any other vehicle I have ever reviewed.
Early one Sunday morning, I took the FUV to the local interstate where the speed lmit is a bit more brisk. Driving such a machine at speed elicited a few stares from car and truck drivers on the freeway, but the sensation for me was again very motorcycle-like. Arcimoto has said top speed for the FUV is alternately 75 or 80mph. I’m here to tell you it gets to that point quite quickly – and at least in the vehicle I had in for review – goes a fair bit past it as well. And while I thought the FUV might be twitchy on the freeway, I was surprised again at how settled and confidence-inspiring it was at high speed. Steering took effort – as it should – and was extremely precise. Some multi-link tadpoles can feel a bit loose at speed, but the FUV tracked flat, straight and true, even when I hustled it through some fairly hot corners heading into downtown Portland.
The motorcycle-like experience on the highway may take a short bit to acclimate to if you don’t ride motorcycles, but if you do, you’ll feel right at home for the most part, with the benefit of more traction and braking power from the three contact patches. The ride is stiff to be sure, and I’d equate it to a mid-range sportbike (or sports car) in that regard. I definitely knew if went over a heave or expansion joint, but those hits never unsettled the FUV, which uses a sophisticated suspension setup that is settable for preload on the rear shock. Here’s hoping future versions allow for rider adjustment of the front suspension to a certain point but for now, the ride is as firm as it needs to be, but it was also fun to watch the open-air front suspension work as it skimmed over speed humps and around corners. Good stuff for us gearheads.
As a test of real-world usability, I rode the FUV to my day job while I had it in for review, and more than few errands. Admittedly, I tried to find any excuse to buzz around on the FUV because, yes, it truly is FUN to ride. The small rear cargo box is roomier than than expected, and I fit three bags of groceries and 24 cans of soda and suds in with room to spare. I think four people watched me load it up in the parking lot while asking me questions. This is a vehicle that generates a lot of questions, and a lot of joy. It definitely makes you feel like a bit of a rock star.
Finally, there’s one small factor about the FUV that was unexpected. There’s a lot of debate about the “sound” an EV should make since they are very quiet in general, and personally, I think they should all sound like the FUV, not some cartoonish generated sound. The twin motors of the FUV are pretty much out in the open and make a most delightfully harmonious whir, with just enough gear whine mixed in to make people notice it’s nearby. At rest, it is silent. But underway, it sounds so sci-fi cool, and never annoying – and it’s a natural, organic mechanical noise. Nearly everyone I gave rides to (which is a LOT of people) noticed the sound and loved it. No need to change a thing there.
It’s easy to call a Tesla or Mach E revolutionary, and to an extent, these and the other electric cars coming to market are revolutionizing the automobile industry. But at their core, they are still just cars, same as it ever was. The Arcimoto FUV is revolutionary in that is again asks a question that, as a motorcycle rider, I’ve been asking since I started riding: How much vehicle do you truly need? If you’ve got a business and two dogs and soccer practice for three kids, cars, trucks and minivans makes sense – until you’re the only person in it, which judging from what I see out on the roads, is most of the time in most vehicles. I have a family and a pretty typical life, but while I had the FUV, my regular car sat unused in the driveway. Nothing I needed to do that week – go to work, take the kid to practice, get groceries, run sundry errands, go rent a movie, go help a friend – required my car (or my truck). I did it all in the FUV. Granted, the weather cooperated, but with the optional doors and windows, the FUV would still be my vehicle of choice in the infamous Oregon rain.
The Arcimoto FUV is an affordable, effective and useful vehicle that can drastically reduce the miles you put on your car, which will in turn decrease your gas bill. It can, in a way, pay for itself over time. Plus, it’s great fun to drive, and brightens the day for anyone who sees it (or gets a ride in it). Nitpicks? Not many. I think the rear trunk should be standard as it is so useful, and maybe some weather wings on the windshield to expand the rain shadow as it were. A bit more sonorous stereo would be a nice perk. Otherwise, more range and more power are always nice, but you can say that about pretty much any electric vehicle out there today.
Most people drive less than 40 miles per day, a distance well within the FUV’s mixed city/highway range. I’ve had many conversations with CEO Frohnmayer, and that is a points he returns to again and again. How much “vehicle” is really needed? Many people in many countries get by with bicycles, motorbikes or scooters. In the U.S., we aim a bit higher than to “just get by” with our vehicles, and the Arcimoto FUV both represents and neatly fills that difficult niche between the car and motorbike by combining the best attributes of both in an affordable, entertaining and elegant electric solution. And Frohnmayer nailed the name as well.
Fun Utility Vehicle indeed.
For now, the FUV is only avaialble in Oregon, Washington, California and Florida.
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