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“I’d rather see my daughter leave in a vehicle like this rather than on a moped, you know?”
Robert Hoevers, CEO of Dutch startup automaker Squad Mobility, is clear about his cars (or, rather quadricycles), who they’re for, and what they can do. There is no startup CEO hype-building here, just a clear business proposition.
Squad’s vehicles, however, are unlike almost anything else on the road thanks to their solar charging capabilities. With the cars available for pre-order and nearing production, we sat down with Hoevers to find out how the company has grown over the years.
Building a Different Kind of Car
Squad’s cars, known officially as the SQUAD Solar City Car, are based around their roof-mounted solar panels.
“It’s magical because, when the battery gets low, we just push the car outside to charge. It’s amazing,” says Hoevers.
“It’s such a nice technology to have all three aspects of solar energy — energy generation, energy storage, and energy usage — in one single product. It feels really special to me when you see it working.”
The small solar-powered cars are built around the EU’s L6 and L7 small vehicle regulations, meaning they weigh well under 500 kilos and can be driven by 16-year-olds.
“You can see in the design, a kind of a blend between motorcycles, bikes, and two-wheelers,” says Hoevers.
“It’s very normal to see a chassis spaceframe on a motorcycle or two-wheeler but in cars, they always try and hide it. We clearly show the chassis for a few reasons. First and foremost, because it’s safe. It’s a full roll cage.”
“It also adds to the ruggedness and durability of the vehicle, which is very important for sharing platforms because, in sharing platforms, people are not so careful with the vehicles. And, last but not least, there’s a lot of glass in the car to give a good view around. In small cars, it’s easy to feel confined. We wanted to give a very roomy feeling with nice visibility all around and the frame serves as a protection for the glass.”
Of course, Squad’s vehicles aren’t completely reliant on the sun for their power. While they can charge up to 20 km of range per day “in Europe,” you’re not completely abandoned if the sun doesn’t come out.
“The chance of the battery going flat is quite slim,” explains Hoevers, “because it also charges on other lights.
“Last week, here in Amsterdam, it was charging a tiny bit using inside lights. However, you can charge it on a regular plug or a Type 2 charger.”
However, the Squad also comes with four swappable batteries each with 1.6 kWh of capacity, offering a 100 km range.
But, that’s not really the point. The Squad solar cars aren’t designed to offer exceptional range or performance — the company even says that most microcars only drive 12 km a day. Instead, they’re about changing the way people think about mobility.
Squad started accepting pre-orders last month, with prices for privately owned vehicles starting from €6250 plus VAT.
“We want to grow to 20,000 vehicles per year,” says Hoevers.
“There’s huge demand, pre-orders are going quite nicely. We are now at around 53 orders a day that come in completely automatic by the website.”
However, those orders are coming from a wide range of customers.
“Yeah, some of those pre-orders are individual vehicles, but also a lot of companies that would like to have a car, or maybe a few more. A lot of companies see applications on-premise or in a city centre — you know, real estate companies, medical companies, or service and repair.
“But most of our interest comes from sharing. Those can be public sharing services in cities or confined to, say, gated communities or fleets of people in a specific area.”
However, while you’d be forgiven for thinking that densely packed European cities would be the prime candidates for an almost free-to-run, shareable, electric run-around, you’d be wrong.
“It [the sales interest] is really global but we are going to start in Europe with sales. But there’s a lot of interest from sometimes the most unexpected areas. A lot of Caribbean islands but also islands in general, Malta, a lot of the Spanish and Italian islands.”
The idea of a small electric vehicle to transport guests around expansive resort grounds or help them access the beaches that are just a bit too far away to walk to certainly sounds appealing.
Building the Dream
However, with the vehicles yet to truly hit the roads, it will still be a while until you see Squads on the road or on your holidays.
However, the company isn’t sitting still and has plans for the future.
“We’re going to focus on the L6 vehicle together with the L7 vehicle — the L6 can go up to 45 kph and the L7 can go up to 70 kph — and also to increase the functionality for sharing platforms,” says Hoevers.
These remote sharing functions are seriously ambitious.
“Remote sensing, remote diagnostics, remote maintenance, state of charge monitoring, status operations,” says Hoevers, explaining the plans the company has in motion.
“Also real remote control. Say if you have a few hundred vehicles in the city and the fire department calls you and says ‘You’re in the way, can you move your vehicle?’ then what would be ideal is if the central operator were able to, with remote control, move the vehicle out of the way without having to go there.”
The longer-term vision, however, is for fleets of Squad cars to be able to meet passenger demands easily and quickly.
“We foresee our vehicles with autonomy moving through the city as a flock of vehicles towards places where there is high demand.”
In fact, according to Hoevers, Squad vehicles use less energy per person and per kilometre than even public transport, which would seriously challenge the urban mobility orthodoxy.
Of course, mass transit will still have advantages, just as Squad cars will have advantages over other small urban vehicles.
However, despite being powered by the sun, from talking to Hoevers, it’s clear that Squad Mobility and its cars are no pie-in-the-sky idea.