Atlis EV Pickup, Platform Targets Medium-Duty Market
Atlis Motors purpose-engineers nearly all the vital components for an electric pickup and platform capable of spanning several market segments.
Electric-vehicle (EV) startups no longer are a phenomena – and the subset of startups focused just on EV pickup trucks seems to add a new player nearly every quarter. The business plan for most is predicated on acting, in varying degrees, as integrators of existing components, particularly for highly engineered systems such as batteries and traction motors.
Mark Hanchett’s vision for Atlis Motors is different, although it’s been around since the birth of automotive: he intends to do it all. The CEO and founder of Atlis isn’t content to develop and manufacture Atlis’ own NCM (nickel-manganese-cobalt) lithium-ion batteries and traction motors. Atlis even plans to set up his own charging network, a DC fast-charging arrangement that Hanchett claims will enable full recharging of an Atlis pickup’s largest battery pack in around 15 minutes.
“We’re making our own motors. We’re making our own controllers. We’re designing our own gearboxes,” confirmed Hanchett in a February 2021 interview with SAE International. He concedes it isn’t logical or cost-effective to engineer safety-critical or commodity items such as airbags, glass, and switchgear and seats; Atlis will purchase those parts.
But batteries, motors, electronics, charging – that’s a lot to develop, particularly with the knowledge there is so much off-the-shelf engineering readily available. Hanchett is unfazed. “To be successful in this space, you have to own the largest-cost item that goes into any application that you’re developing, whether it’s vehicles, energy storage, charging systems, whatever that is. If you don’t own that cost, you don’t own the end value of whatever it is you’re building,” he insists.
It’s first important to understand the market Atlis plans to address with its XT pickup and the XP skateboard-type architecture intended to underpin all Atlis models. Like much of the pickup market, it’s a segment-straddling proposition. “Atlis’ real focus is what we call a Class 2B up to a Class 6,” said Hanchett. “Initially we’re doing Class 2B to a Class 3/Class 4, technically Class 4 by gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). That’s our initial focus. That’s what we’re chasing after.
“But we would never turn down consumer buyers,” he asserted. “Consumer buyers buy big diesel trucks because of what they do in a work environment. But we also understand that consumers operate in that space even if they don’t technically do it as a job function. The sweet spot’s really going to be in a Class 3, Class 4 market area: that’s where we find no one else is chasing that particular market position,” Hanchett said. “That’s where we see actual growth in the existing market and that’s where we see us coming out and making a dent.”
Including a dent into diesel, which dominates the medium-duty pickup and chassis-cab segments. “Atlis wants to own everything that is ‘work,’” he said. “The future of Atlis is, if you own a construction company, every vehicle and piece of equipment that you operate is one day powered by that Atlis ecosystem.
“If you’re a fleet company, or a construction company that manages fleets or vehicles, maybe you’re a contractor for tradesman jobs, electrician, plumber, I picture the future as you have a fleet of vehicles in operation, you’ve got team members out there doing work,” he continued. “We’re providing the platforms, vehicles and equipment to be able to accomplish that, and you can really focus on your market and what you’re trying to deliver – and not on that backend, how-do-I-keep-things-running side of things.”
The backbone of Atlis – whether it’s a pickup, a chassis-cab or even a flatbed – is the XP platform, a skateboard-type arrangement with the battery pack situated between the frame rails. Photos show stout rails and independent suspension front and rear. It is the basis for the XT pickup, but Atlis said it can be purchased as the platform for all manner of vehicle builders seeking a medium- to heavy-duty full-electric chassis.
“Think of [XP] as a set of modules plugged together to create a system. You’ve got an identical drive module, which contains all your drive systems, motors, gearbox, controllers, brakes, suspension, subframe assembly, steering – all of that in a drive module,” said Hanchett. “It’s a complete assembled unit and it could be bolted to anything really. Then you have a battery pack module, which is completely self-contained. That could bolt to anything.”
Hanchett says the XT pickup’s footprint generally mirrors the range of what’s available today in the upper light-duty/medium-duty pickup range. “The only thing that differentiates the XP platform, from say, a 176-inch [4740-mm] wheelbase from a 244-inch [6198-mm] wheelbase is the frame, the structure that it’s bolted to. Our XP platform is really being set up in such a way that we could expand that to whichever length we want. There is a given wheelbase/track/width, there is a given range for it.
“Traditional truck-chassis, body-on-frame construction, that’s our approach initially, because we see marketable opportunities from a platform perspective beyond what Atlis is doing today,” he continued. “We want to drive electrification in the niche markets that are not being chased after today that can have a lot of value with electrification. From our perspective, we could build an XT pickup truck of a certain size, then we can grow all the way up to a Class 6 truck on that platform.”
Meanwhile, the XP platform’s drive units, comprised of Atlis-designed traction motors, gearboxes, axles and associated hardware and software, also are designed to be interchangeable – and easily removed for repair. Hanchett declined to give specifics about motor power or design, but with makers of yet-to-be-produced light-duty pickups espousing total outputs of 1000 horsepower and more, it’s safe to assume the medium-duty Atlis XT will have the power and torque to fit the probable duty cycle.
“It all works within the Atlis ecosystem,” Hanchett forecasts. “Whether that’s the maintenance side, the charging ecosystem, the manufacturing ecosystem, the service side, parts side. Imagine all of that. Like you have a very niche vehicle application that you’re trying to develop for a specific customer or problem you’re trying to solve, imagine just being able to basically shop and plug these things in and develop a vehicle – and it works within an ecosystem that’s being developed around it.”
He said plans currently are for every truck to have four-wheel drive (via a traction motor/single-speed gearbox at each axle), independent front and rear suspension and load-sensing regenerative braking. Starting price is projected to be $45,000. A dual-rear-wheel configuration also will be available. “I’d love to build a 6x6,” Hanchett offered, “but that’s just for fun.” But the 6x6 notion underscores his vision for modularity’s advantages. “How do we spend a bunch of money up front so we can build five or six different vehicles for a fifth of the cost?”
Batteries and charging
Hanchett said that most batteries currently used in production EVs were developed from consumer-electronics platforms. That obviously doesn’t sync with Hanchett’s vision of purpose-engineered components for nearly all aspects of the Atlis’ XT platform. Instead, announced in early February 2021, it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korea’s Media Tech Co. Ltd to be the sole supplier for the design, development, manufacturing, installation and calibration of the production machinery for the electrode, assembly and formation lines for a limited-run prototype cell-production line at Atlis’ headquarters in Mesa, Ariz.
Atlis at the same time also signed an MOU with Malaysia-based Greatech to act as the company’s strategic partner for production of battery packs. Greatech, Atlis said in a release, will supply all parts, equipment, and machinery required to form Atlis’ limited-run prototype battery pack assembly line. Hanchett noted it was crucial to develop a proprietary battery chemistry suited to the Atlis duty cycle. “You own that – it’s something that is yours,” he said. “We also needed to ensure that it would meet our requirements with regards to fast charging, high energy output.” To that end, Atlis is jointly developing its lithium-ion chemistry with the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute (CNI) under a three-year master research agreement.
“We found a university that really wanted to work with us, that has expertise in this space, that has the facilities and capabilities. That’ll help Atlis get to a solution much faster,” Hanchett said. “To put it in perspective, we’re going to finalize our chemistry solution by the end of this quarter versus the end of .” Atlis’ battery packs are intended to be scalable, and although Hanchett wasn’t ready to reveal pack-capacity specifics, the Atlis website said sizing starts at 125 kWh and there is expected to be three pack sizes. The closest description of its form factor, he said, is prismatic.
The form factor is specifically tailored not only for manufacturability, but to assist with precise thermal management, said Hanchett. “We are a little over four times more efficient in transferring heat in and out of the cell than anything else that’s on the market today, or anything that we see coming on the market, including Tesla. The cooling channels, the busbars, the battery pack structure itself, all is designed with thermal management in mind. Versus the traditional approach is you run tubes through it to cool it and then you pump it out to an external radiator or an external heater, or you got a quad valve, an octovalve. We don’t have any of that complexity in the design, which is the very novel thing.”
That thermal management, he added, is one of the operative factors in achieving the planned high charging rates of up to 1600V DC, according to reports. Hanchett said the company intends to set up its own network to support the high-capacity DC charging. Unlike the strategy for light-duty charging, which is focused on high-travel corridors, he said Atlis charging locations would be more oriented to commercial-activity hubs its vehicles would support. Conveniently, though, the XP platform can be recharged from any existing network using the industry-standard SAE J1772 charge coupler.
As with many vehicle-production schedules, timing for the XT pickup has slipped, Hanchett admits. “We’re hoping to get that first prototype built this year, but given current schedules, sometime in 2022 is a much better guess. We’ll push as hard as we can to do it as fast as we can, and then start ramping up production in 2022. We have enough reservations today – a little bit less than 40,000 – to cover us through 2024.”