Like many start-ups, fledgling Swedish brand Uniti aims to disrupt the automotive industry. Not just with the One, a three-seat electric car engineered and (initially) set to be built in the UK, but further into the future, with a business model aimed at selling the car to companies as a mobility service for its employees rather than to individual customers.
Autocar UK speaks to the firm’s CEO, Australian-born Lewis Horne, to gain an insight into his outfit’s plans and the man himself.
You don’t see yourself as a car enthusiast, but you’re CEO of a car company. How did you end up here?
“I’m not a car guy. I’m a technology generalist. I’m pretty inspired by all of the stuff that is happening and all of the different people working to change the way the world works, which is critical. I’m somebody who doesn’t like cars very much! But I do like really beautiful, clean, simple consumer electronics – like a MacBook. I think: why can’t we have that in a car?”
Describe your operating model and why it’s different from that used by other car companies.
“We have only shown a small portion of our plan – the business to consumer [B2C] component – but there are many more big stories to come. Our model is based on recurring revenue, not traditional sales. We’re like Apple. Apple does not produce anything – they are a software, design and branding company – and that’s the same operational model that we have. There are plenty of people who are great at manufacturing and we won’t try to be best at that.”
But you are building the cars yourself, for now?
“Yes – low-volume production in Norwich for the first couple of hundred units and we use that to parlay into bigger-volume production. It’s baby steps. Is it the best place for high-volume production? I don’t necessarily think making 50,000 cars in the UK is a good idea.”
Why are you in the UK now, then, and specifically Norwich?
“The fundamental engineering criteria was to build a safe car that is lightweight and the UK engineers are the best in the world at that. A bunch of them are in Silverstone. A bunch happen to be in Norwich. I won’t comment on any specifics of who our engineering partners are, however.”
How soon will you have the Uniti One on UK roads?
“We’ll certainly have cars driving around London soon. As it stands today, we can be delivering cars a whole lot sooner than mid-2020. The reason why we manage expectations is some of the added rigour that needs to go into the safety systems and the airbags and the programmes, a result of our decision to homologate it as a car and not a quadricycle.”
How can you make any money from a low-volume EV that costs £15,000?
“It’s not a low-volume product but we don’t depend on high-volume B2C sales. The first vehicles we don’t make any money with simply because we spare no expense with the details, the materials, components and so forth. I would be extremely happy if the first few hundred customers were blown away by the quality of the product, the quality of the service: that helps with the bigger picture.”
Does the UK’s decision to leave the EU have an impact on your business?
“We’re well aware of the implications of Brexit and we’re prepared for it. But we’re not emotional about it. I’m aware that there are challenging things that can happen in the world but we’re here to do something good. There are always challenges to overcome. There have been many, many other crippling challenges for us and there are many more to come.”