‘The idea was that, once you buy this truck, you keep it for the rest of your life’The Bollinger Motors electric B1 prototype is larger in reality than it looks in photos. At first glance, the truck comes off as a modern take on an old Series Land Rover or maybe a Jeep CJ. But if the conceptual connection to utilitarian vintage off-roaders is readily apparent in the B1’s slab sides and ruler-straight lines, it has an in-person presence more in line with, say, a military Hummer.
Big and brutal, the B1 is a striking example of new technology fulfilling a classic design mandate. It's what the antihero of a William Gibson novel might drive -- aggressive go-anywhere personal transportation suitable for some cyberpunk near-future.
It looks, basically, like it means business.
And (if all goes according to plan), by the summer of 2020, Bollinger Motors will be in business building the four-door B1 SUV and B2 pickup in a factory in Detroit, of all places. This will, according to Bollinger, make the company the first new automaker to set up shop in the Motor City ... since 1925.
We still haven’t driven the B1 prototype, and production vehicles don’t exist yet, so we can’t tell you about how its impressive specifications translate to real life. But we recently headed to Bollinger Motors' Ferndale, Michigan, facility -- a little ways away from the newly announced Detroit factory -- to check out the prototype and speak with Robert Bollinger about his objectives, so we can fill you in about the intriguing philosophy that underpins the whole Bollinger Motors project.
In short, the goal is to create a non disposable truck: a 4x4 rugged enough to last for decades, simple enough for its owner to modify and flexible enough to evolve alongside rapidly advancing battery technology.
First, the specs. The prototype, and the production vehicles to follow, will be powered by two electric motors, one at the front and one at the rear, with a software-enabled “virtual differential” between the two. Production output is a stated 614 hp and 668 lb-ft of torque -- good enough for a 4.5-second 0-60-mph time and a 100-mph top speed.
The upcoming vehicle promises 52-degree approach, 30-degree breakover and 43-degree departure angles, which bests even the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. Geared portal axles contribute to a 10- to 20-inch ground clearance, depending on the hydropneumatic suspension’s setting.
The truck is designed with load-hauling in mind. “It will hold 5,000 pounds, so if you can figure out a way to get 5,000 pounds in there, it will level itself back out,” Bollinger claims. “It will use your batteries a little bit faster, leveling 5,000 pounds, but it’s there.” One cool, patented feature is the fold-down front end, which, when used in conjunction with the tailgate, creates an open pass-through tunnel clear through the center of the vehicle -- perfect for toting up to 40 2x4s, ladders, totem poles and so on.
Further, “it’s customizable in that you can take off the doors, take out the glass, take off the panels on the roof, the windshield.” And you’ll be able to load it up with aftermarket light bars and accessories to your heart’s content.
With a 120-kWh onboard battery pack, the truck can go an estimated 200 miles on a charge. Realistically, that’s probably enough for whatever daylong off-road excursion you have in mind, if not for full-on overlanding, but you won’t be locked into that range forever (read on).
Bollinger Motors is sourcing many components from industry suppliers, which is one reason Bollinger felt the company had to be located in Detroit. “We are not reinventing every component ourselves, so we’re working with vendors,” he says. “Motors are made to our specs. The battery, we’re buying at a module level, but it will be our own battery pack. We’re working on the structure of our truck, in a different kind of path with a smaller team, with lower overhead. We don’t need billions of dollars of investment.”
And yes, it will be fully road-legal. As for safety compliance: “This is a Class 3 truck. We see it as a low-volume category, and we guess the federal government does too because they don’t require crash testing. You either go full safety with seat belts or full safety with air bags. You choose one or the other, so we chose seatbelt,” Bollinger explains. “We are going beyond the Class 3 requirements; it’s our own due diligence, or due care, if you will.”
Even if you have no particular need for a truck like this in your life, the nondisposability philosophy behind it merits attention; it’s a rare thing in a world that tends to treat cars, even expensive ones, as big, replaceable appliances. Modern vehicles aren’t typically meant to last longer than they need to, whichthese days is somewhere north of 11 years. That's fine, given how most people use their cars, but it means that cabins are full of vinyl that will fade and crumble, packed with plastics that will crack. And that’s before you get to the increasingly complicated onboard electronics. Does anyone want to be the third owner of an aging digital-era German luxury car? Didn’t think so.
“We’re hoping our (vehicle) lifespan is much longer” than that of an average mass-produced vehicle, Bollinger says, which only gives the big EV further green cred in our book. “The idea was that, once you buy this truck, you keep it for the rest of your life. So 15 years from now, when batteries are a tenth of the size and weight, it’d be great to sell a new battery pack to a buyer.”
Indeed, the medium-term Bollinger Motors product plan counts on rapidly improving battery tech. Electric drivetrains are fairly robust, with far fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines; even the weak point, the batteries, are proving to be somewhat longer lived than was originally predicted. But those batteries are still big and clunky, which is why, to offer a vehicle with market-ready range, Bollinger will start off selling long-wheelbase four-door vehicles. The two-door versions will follow after another generation or two of battery development and downsizing.
A modern truck built with the “wear it in, not out” mentality should appeal equally to old money types, environmentalists and anyone who likes well-made, long-lasting products. Save for the likes of Morgan, there simply aren’t many manufacturers out there designing and building new vehicles with a flagrant disregard for the average vehicle lifecycle.
The truck’s antifashion aesthetic should help with its longevity. “That’s why there’s the traditional styling; you’ll always want to have it in your lineup of cars. This might be a third vehicle, but you’ll always want to keep it,” Bollinger says. (Also, we figure that Bollinger saves a bundle on modeling clay, given that the B1 can be mocked up with plywood sheets and 2x4s.)
Bollinger doesn’t see any direct competition from the likes of Tesla or Rivian, even as he keeps tabs on them. “I was very anxious to see what (Rivian) was going to be,” Bollinger says, so he went to the big reveal at the LA Auto Show last year. “And when I did, it was like, OK, cool, this is not what we’re doing. It’s great for them. They’ll have a lot of competition ahead of them -- so will everyone getting into this -- but it’s a totally different animal than ours.”
As he sees it, while other manufacturers seem to be rushing to iPhone-ize their offerings, cramming as much cutting-edge tech into their products as possible, Bollinger trucks will be so simple and so rugged that they’re basically future-proof. Or at least broadly future-compatible.
Viewed from that perspective, the B1 and B2 will almost have more in common with a good cast-iron pan or a pair of Goodyear welt boots than they will with a new smartphone -- or a Tesla. They’re designed with durability and reparability, rather than obsolescence, in mind. Buy one to cruise around the family farm upstate, and there’s a good chance your grandkids or great-grandkids will learn to drive in it in a few decades. Though it might have benefited from a few upgrades in the intervening years.
Are Bollinger Motors' planned offerings niche products? Absolutely. (Though in case you haven’t noticed, there remains a healthy demand for cast-iron pans and Red Wing boots. Even, or perhaps especially, from supposedly tech-obsessed millennials.) And the price tag -- not yet disclosed, but take a new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon or Gladiator Rubicon, double it and you might be getting in the ballpark -- will further limit accessibility. Then again, you only have to buy it once ...
All that’s just fine with Bollinger. “I see it as a truck that, when a few of us got together in the country, up in the mountains, we decided we wanted to make. We didn’t have any accountants -- which now, you know, is not a good thing. But we put everything into it that we wanted in a truck, and we’ve had a great response,” he says.
But it won’t be too small of a niche, if Bollinger has his way. He’s hoping the Detroit factory will be building a few thousand vehicles a year within a few years’ time. As for pent-up demand, he cites 26,000-plus hand-raisers online. “That’s no money down,” Bollinger notes, “but there’s a lot of interest, and it keeps growing every day. And basically, I think what we created was something with a lot of attributes, a lot of capability, and it’s electric. The instant torque that comes from electric helps off-road. So it's not like you’re giving up anything. We actually use electric in the best-case scenario for a vehicle.”
The next steps: completing the next pair of prototypes by June, followed by a run of 10 development vehicles later this year. (We hope to drive one, or at least get a ride in one, soon.) Production, as we mentioned, should begin in summer 2020.
The Bollinger Motors project is an ambitious undertaking; it has been from the very start. Whether it all works out remains to be seen. The man behind the effort acknowledges that he’s operating at least partially on instinct here. “It’s not market-driven; we didn’t do any studies on it,” Bollinger says of the B1. “But it really connected with a certain core group of people who have been extremely vocal in their love of it. You either love it or hate it. It’s for a special area of the world, for what certain people are trying to do.”