Boxing clever: Bollinger Motors B1 electric SUV

5 August 2017

Bollinger Motors B1

New York based startup Bollinger Motors recently revealed the B1, a battery electric SUV that it hopes to put into production in 2019.

Bollinger’s straight-edged, boxy design could hardly be more different to sleek EVs like the Tesla Model X, but the B1 does boast a Tesla-sized battery, with the choice of 60kWh or 100kWh packs that should be good for 120 or 200 miles between charges.

I spoke to company founder and CEO Robert Bollinger to find out more. Incidentally, he pronounces the first syllable of Bollinger as in the word “boat”:

Robert Bollinger

GreenMotor: What made you decide to start an electric car company?

Robert Bollinger: I always drew cars as a kid and for some reason I wanted to start a car company and call it Bollinger even when I was eight years old. Back then it was to do some Ferrari kind of thing.

In high school I followed the engineering track and was going to be an engineer but at the last minute I said no, my dream was always to be a car designer. So I went to a school for design. That turned out to be an industrial design degree not a car styling degree, which in the end turned out to be a great education for what I ended up wanting to do, which was not a Ferrari but a truck.

Q: How long have you been working on the B1?

In 2013, we sold a company that I was a partner in and because of that I had some financial ability to start something. I started Bollinger Motors in 2014. It was just me and a garage that needed renovating.

I put out an ad for a car designer and engineers late in 2014. They were really funny ads: ‘Hey, I want to start my own electric car company! Who wants to help me?’

I got a huge response. I’d wondered if I’d be taken seriously but people were willing to take a chance. In early 2015 I got designer Ross Compton on board, from the UK, and then Karl Hacken as chief engineer.

The truck idea didn’t come together until October 2015. I have a farm here in the Catskills in upstate New York, and I was trying to figure out what the market needs, and what I wanted to make. And I realised what I actually need, personally, is a truck that can do this, this, and this. Wouldn’t it be cool if it was electric? That was a big a-ha moment.

I had been trying to buy an EV for my own personal use and there’s nothing on the market for me. I don’t need a Model S – that’s huge. I don’t need a little e-Golf. What I need is a truck.

Bollinger Motors B1 in SUV and pickup configurations

Q: The B1 looks pretty big in pictures but is actually quite compact – about 1.9 metres across means it’s medium SUV sized. How did you decide on the right dimensions?

I used to own a Jeep Wrangler, but really you couldn’t get anything in it – you and your dog and that’s it. And I’ve had pickups where it’s just spinning out on gravel because the engine’s in the front and traction’s in the rear. None of this makes sense. So the idea was to bring the best of everything into one truck, so you don’t need anything else other than the B1.

I also wanted to be able to fit 4x8 sheets of plywood in the back, but how often do you carry 4x8 sheets? You don’t need a full bed all of the time. It’s 49 inches between the wheel wells, so they fit in and hang out the back, and you just secure them.

Bollinger Motors B1 rear view

Q: How did the boxy styling develop?

The basic idea of it being simple, flat pieces was because we’re trying to make it ourselves. So there are lots of flat sheets of aluminium, bent into shape, and a lot of pieces milled here, from solid aluminium.

The general idea came right away, but then it was insanely hard to actually design it. Because once you’re in the world of this wheelbase, and you want clean and straightforward boxy, you are automatically in the world of Land Rovers, old Ford Broncos, old International Scouts. But we didn’t set out to do a retro look at all.

Bollinger Motors B1 cabin

Q: The interior looks pretty retro, with round dials and a flat dashboard...

The idea was to mimic the outside and have the same kind of aesthetic. And not to have a big computer screen. When you’re driving around in this hands-on truck, you don’t need much. So to me the round dials aren’t retro.

We have a speedometer and a tachometer that shows motor RPM, and a battery gauge. Whenever I drive an electric car, the screen constantly says how many miles are left. A big part of range anxiety is this car screaming at you: you now have 77 miles! So we have a regular little battery level that looks like a fuel gauge. Then we have an LED screen you can click through if you want the exact miles.

Bollinger Motors B1 front interior

Q: Is that a hose-down interior?

All the dials and the radio are marine grade, the dash is sealed to about the same level. The floor’s higher than the door sill, so if you open the door, all the water will come out.

Right now the prototype has leather seats, just because I had them done that way, but we’d offer cloth and vinyl and whatever. The floor has a texture painted on it so you don’t really need floor mats, you can just sweep it out.

Q: There’s no airbag in the steering wheel. How do you get around that requirement?

The B1 is a Class 3 truck. We’re fully compliant with all the Federal regulations for Class 3 – there’s just fewer of them that cost billions of dollars to get through, like crash testing.

There are tons of people out there who buy pre-1968 vehicles, that don’t have any of this stuff. They know that and they’re fine. Hey, you know, it’s not been crash tested and doesn’t have airbags, but it’s a Class 3, strong-ass truck. You make the decision.

Bollinger Motors B1 pass-through hatch

Q: I like that the B1 has a front trunk like a Tesla, but with a hatch through to the cabin. That looks handy.

The centre console is also empty through the middle, so you can slot in lengths of 2x4 or some pipe. It’s the right height for your arm to rest on, so it’s lower than the full height of the pass-through door. If you need to load right up to the top you can take the console out, and then it’s a separate little table you can use for camping.

Bollinger Motors B1 on the farm

Q: The B1’s specs include a weight of 3,900lb or about 1.7 tonnes. Is that with a 100kWh battery or a 60kWh battery?

The prototype is the 60kWh version. Everything was based on 60kWh at first, but then we started talking to another battery vendor. That’s when we came up with the 100kWh pack. It will be heavier but still fit in the same space. We’re talking 100-150lbs more [45-90kg].

The batteries are in their own boxes underneath the floor, and they come out separately. The packs can be updated as batteries improve relatively easily.

Q: Is the battery liquid or air cooled?

One is air cooled and the other liquid. The next wave of innovation and upgrades will happen as we go into production. So for instance we might switch to one provider, and that would probably be the liquid cooled one, but it’s too early to say.

Bollinger Motors B1 chassis

Q: You have two motors for all-wheel-drive. Are they identical front and rear?

The whole entire back and front of the truck are identical – mirror images of each other. The vehicle control unit keeps them synchronised, and manages the battery.

Q: Most EVs aim to be slippery, to maximise range. That’s clearly not the case with the B1...

I’ll admit we didn’t go through a lot of aerodynamic computer testing. Basically we saw this as a vehicle on a farm, over rocks, on trails, not always on a highway. And I’m just completely in the camp that range anxiety is not an issue. There’s no issue with our truck for range. I choose not to get into that discussion. Here’s the miles, if it’s not right for you, don’t buy it. But chances are, it fits 95% of the population’s daily use.

Bollinger Motors B1

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