Key to Wheego Electric’s Survival: Be Patient, Stay Scrappy

By · April 29, 2013

Wheego LiFe

Wheego LiFe

Remember Wheego Electric Cars Inc., the start-up producer of pure electric low-speed vehicles that seemed destined to die along with so many other fringe EV makers? Well, it didn’t.

Wheego, based in Atlanta, Ga., is alive and kicking. Indeed, Wheego is planning to introduce a new model in the next 12 months. Wheego has survived because it has not overestimating demand for its product, CEO Mike McQuary told “We’ve always had a realistic expectation of what the market will be,” said McQuary. “We build a batch of cars and we sell them.”

McQuary won’t reveal sales or profit for the privately held company, which is supported by about 40 investors. (That usually means sales are very low.) “I think I am still the largest shareholder,” said McQuary. He also would not reveal how much money the company has raised through five years of existence.

He was, however, happy to talk about plans to launch a pure electric SUV in the U.S. in the next year. The SUV, with an imported body from China and components sourced in the U.S., is undergoing crash testing right now, said McQuary. “It is hard to fix a timeline on that,” he said.

Wheego will likely launch a road show for the SUV model next month, McQuary said. The company is aiming for a MSRP of $44,000 before federal and state rebates, he said.

Wheego’s 25 dealers in 15 states (plus Japan and Bermuda/Cayman Islands) are excited about the second model, said McQuary.

Life in a Niche Is Better Than Death

Wheego is currently selling only one model, the LiFe pure electric vehicle, the body of which is also sourced in China. The Wheego LiFe was sold until the end of 2012 based on an exemption from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards requirement to have Electronic Stability Control. The current version of the Wheego LiFe comes equipped with the necessary safety equipment, said McQuary.

The LiFe takes its name from the 30 KwH Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, which Wheego sources from Flux Power in Escondido, Calif. and Voltronix USA of Huntington Beach, Calif.

The tiny two-seater gets around 100 miles per charge, takes five hours to recharge at 240 volts, and has an MSRP of $32,995. Unlike Wheego’s first EV, the low-speed Whip, the LiFe has a top speed of 65 miles per hour.

The LiFe has a surprising customer base, said McQuary. A large number are being sold to retirees, he said. “It didn’t jump out at us as we did our market research,” said McQuary.

In retrospect, it makes sense, he said. Retirees are on a fixed income and don’t want to face fluctuating fuel costs; their travel needs are often local; and they are just a couple so don’t need backseat space. Gated communities haven’t been big customers. They generally buy low-speed electric vehicles, while “ours are fully-fledged Department of Transportation-approved cars,” said McQuary.

U.S. Plus China

The EV market in the U.S. has been slow to take off. McQuary, who is best known as the co-developer and president of Mindspring, an Internet service provider, compared the EV market to the web, which took years to catch on.
McQuary isn’t just betting on a growing market in the United States. Wheego recently signed a deal to produce electric cars in China, he said. McQuary wouldn’t reveal the name of Wheego’s Chinese partner.

“Within 12 months there will be a Wheego assembly line in China,” he said. “We should be assembling and selling cars there.”

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