Silicon Valley Spawns Another Electric Car Company

Renovo Motors is starting expensive and small—but so did Tesla

2 min read
A blue and white sports car with sparks flying in front of it.
Photo: Renovo Motors

If the Jeopardy answer is “A high-end, high-performance, electric car, designed and manufactured in Silicon Valley,” there has, until now, been just one correct response: “What is a Tesla Roadster?”

Starting in 2015, however, if all goes according to plan, Tesla will no longer be the only auto company making electric cars in Northern California. Last week Renovo Motors unveiled the 2015 Renovo Coupe, a 500-horsepower electric sports car that the company says goes from 0 to 100 kph in less than 3.4 seconds (that’s 0.8 seconds faster than the Tesla Model S and 0.3 seconds faster than the Tesla Roadster), and can fast-charge in 30 minutes. The price—US $529,000—is a lot more than the Tesla Roadster, which shipped in 2008 with a list price of $109,000. It will be manufactured in tiny tiny quantities in Campbell, Calif.; just 100 are expected to reach customers next year. It’s going for the high-end, high-performance niche—higher than Tesla. It’s not the first company to think there’s a market for an electric car with higher performance than a Tesla—Tesla co-founder Ian Wright parted ways with the company a few years back and founded Wrightspeed to go after that niche. (Wright never got beyond the prototype stage, and changed his focus to designing commercial powertrains instead of cars, aiming to be the Tesla of garbage trucks.)

Renovo has much in common with its Silicon Valley neighbor Tesla. Like Tesla, whose founders’ resumes include Wyse Technology, Network Computing Devices, NuvoMedia, Packet Design, and Paypal, Renovo’s founders came up through the computer industry, not the automotive industry. Renovo CEO Christopher Heiser worked at Verisign, LightSurf, and IDEO; Renovo CTO Jason Stinson was a long-time Intel employee. And the company is not shy about touting its Silicon Valley roots. Says its web site:

We are fortunate to live in the most innovative place on Earth. It is a place where companies born in a garage—like HP, Apple, and Google—can achieve incredible scale and impact in an amazingly short amount of time. There is no better place to build a company—and no better place to work.

Renovo’s engineers (the company says it employs around 20 people) have been working on the design for four years. The body design is a modified Shelby Daytona CSX9000, a 1964 racecar; the secret sauce is Renovo’s battery architecture and the distribution of the batteries in multiple packages around the car. A Motor Trend writer took a test drive and called the car’s acceleration “fairly epic.”

Renovo is taking orders now.

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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

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EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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