When it comes to car designs and mobility concepts, the Canoo is certainly one of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in years. Throwing out many of the traditional ideas and ways in which cars are designed, marketed and managed, Los Angeles based company Canoo Inc., founded in 2017, has come up not only with a different kind of car, but also with a novel way of marketing it, or in this case I should say providing that car to their customers. With the first car scheduled to be available in 2021, it’s early days yet, but there are certainly things worth looking at. Most of those in my own estimation are genuinely positive, others most definitely are not. So let’s get to it.
Let’s start with the car itself, or rather with its chassis, which is based on the skateboard design. concept already favoured by other manufacturers. Not a new idea by now, but perhaps the best concept available today.
True to the skateboard concept, the Canoo’s essential technology is contained completely in its base, making it look a bit like an oversized skateboard turned electric car. Hence the name. At least in theory, this kind of platform can be equipped with pretty much any kind of superstructure, okay, at Canoo they call it “cabin” or “top hat”, from living room on wheels to miniature office to delivery van to mobile workshop. The company so far only speaks of a highly flexible design, and the current chassis is definitely too small for some of these purposes, but building a bigger one and finding all sorts of interesting uses for it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch.
Separating the car itself from its design is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this concept. Not only because of the potential for all sorts of different cabins, perhaps even boutique ones, but also because it seems genuinely well prepared for fully autonomous driving, and contrary to traditional car designs, the skateboard platform, in combination with autonomous driving, would easily allow for a purpose designed car instead of a regular car retrofitted for autonomous driving.
You cannot buy a Canoo. But you can subscribe to one. It’s not leasing, so there is no question of resale value or any other bother like that. The idea of the Canoo is very much about using a car, and very much not about owning one, contradicting the traditional idea of pride of ownership which is so much a part of traditional car marketing.
The subscription price includes not only the car, but also insurance, charging and maintenance as well as all the little other things like registration. The aim is to provide completely transparent pricing. One monthly fee and that’s it, no hidden costs anywhere. While this idea isn’t new, it’s still very attractive.
The company also assures that there is no commitment. You can pick up a car and keep it as long as you like. Or as short. You can pause your subscription. I’m not sure how this is going to work in practical terms, and what I’ve found online is a little short on detail, but that’s the idea. And I like it.
On top of all that Canoo’s approach is direct to customer. No resellers will be involved, again cutting down on costs. We’ll see how that works in real life, but it’s certainly a 21st century approach.
The first car slated to be available in 2021 is described as providing the space of a large SUV with the footprint of a small compact car. What I read so far speaks of minimalism and utility, a focus on what the users truly need. And while that is always a somewhat debatable question, the basic idea feels solid. There’s a bench seat in front, U shaped sofa in back and that’s it. It’s supposed to seat seven adults, which may be rather cramped given its exterior dimensions of 442 x 190 cm without mirrors. Unless of course five of those seven people have extraordinarily short legs.
Reminding us that electric cars have a much longer lifespan, Canoo also assures that they will keep them up to date with frequent refurbishments. And that’s another great idea, freeing the car itself from its other influences like fashion or secondary technological aspects as much as possible.
Talking about the design of this first production model also brings me to my one big headache with this specific design. Not the concept itself, mind you, but the design of this specific car. And that headache is concerning safety (no pun intended).
My first problem is about the seating arrangement in back. Sitting sideways, especially on a bench style seat, can be a lethal proposition in a frontal crash even at relatively low speeds. Human beings can’t stand much in the way of sideways negative acceleration, and seatbelts won’t be able to solve this problem, at best keeping the back passengers from killing the ones in front.
The other problem I’m having is the lack of a trunk or any other apparent way to safely store luggage. The designers proudly point to this as part of their novel approach. In real life, decades of crash tests have shown how any unsecured object in a car that has a certain weight or sufficiently sharp edges can become a deadly projectile during a crash and can pose at least a significant risk during full breaking. Even a six pack of coke can easily kill a passenger, let alone heavier or worse shaped objects like a suitcase or a toolbox.
As nicely futuristic and as space efficient as this design may seem, I regard the seat arrangement as a serious downside (responsibly no more than three people in a car designed for seven) and the lack of any apparent way to quickly store and sagely keep luggage as a deal breaker. But let me say it again: I’m very much limiting my criticism to this one specific design, not to the idea of the skateboard platform or any other aspect of the Canoo.
In-car tech and Entertainment
But now back to more positive aspects. Compatible with Android and iOS devices, the car’s entertainment system is dependent on the user’s smartphones. And that’s how it should be. No need to spend hundreds if not thousands on a car entertainment system and to waste valuable space when you already have one in your pocket, and stocked with what you want and set up the way you like it.
There also seems to be quite a lot of active technology to support the driver, from cameras to radar and ultrasound sensors, but descriptions of their functionality feel a little vague right now.
At the helm
The Canoo sports true steer by wire technology including redundancy. While this may raise certain safety questions, it also allows for a much more flexible design in terms of the position of the driver and the steering wheel. It also makes the idea of the skateboard platform possible, since nothing is sticking out into the passenger compartment, limiting design options.
Battery and range
Short and sweet: 0 kWh, 250 miles range and 80% battery charge in less than 30 minutes. The battery pack is of course part of the Skateboard design.
And that’s it for now. There are more details, a spec sheet, lots of photos and videos to be found on the website. If you want all of it, download the free press release (it’s huge), that has everything nicely structured.
I for one am certainly curious how this company and its products will be doing in the future and how the market is going to respond to this. Despite my serious safety concerns regarding the proposed first model, there’s certainly a lot here, and if it works, the Canoo can at the very least be a fresh, modern approach and perhaps a stepping stone into whatever individual mobility will be in the future.