“That doesn’t look safe.”
The statement would follow me for days. Every time I mentioned I was test driving Arcimoto’s Fun Utility Vehicle — an open air, all-electric three-wheeler — a friend or co-worker would pipe up to state, what to them, seemed like the obvious.
After all, most cars have four wheels, not three. They also tend to have doors and airbags too.
Arcimoto’s FUV (or Fooove as I chose to pronounce it) has something most of those fully enclosed sedans and subcompacts do not: It’s a thrill to drive without feeling like a deathtrap.
Legally speaking, the FUV is a motorcycle. I think of it more as an electric go-kart that hits 75 mph on the highway. If you’re like my colleague Brian Heater, however, your first thought might be “Flintmobile.” Another colleague wondered if it was more like an ATV. While yet another friend later said the FUV reminded them of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.
Whatever you conclude on first blush, one thing’s for sure: If you want to drive something that everyone will hastily form an opinion of, then oh boy is this the car for you.
A quick, 10-minute walkthrough and lap around the block was apparently all the training I needed before an Arcimoto staffer sent me off on my own in the FUV.
I picked it up at GoCar Tours Las Vegas, and really that’s the rub. The FUV could be a neat little neighborhood cruiser, but in a town like Vegas, this three-wheeler screams touristic excursion. Arcimoto may as well’ve built it for soaking in the spectacle of the Strip, but I’d like to think the little guy also introduced some flavor of its own to the otherwise SUV-dominated roads.
The FUV features heated seats and handlebars to compensate for the wind chill. There’s also a steel panoramic roof (that GoCar filled in with ads), a hand and foot break (the former is regenerative), Bluetooth speakers and a projected 102-mile range in the city.
I adjusted to the handlebar throttle (and missing steering wheel) quicker than I expected. At a traffic signal, I queued a few songs I felt comfortable subjecting passerbys to, sank deeper into the front seat and rode around like I had real errands to do.
I’m a habitual, smug pedestrian and don’t own a car, but as I pulled into a pharmacy parking lot and tugged my tote bag out of the trunk (a small, lockable “cargo box”), I thought: “Hey, three wheels are better than none.” I was riding high on Pixies’ Doolittle album and the novelty of it all, cruising down virtually empty roads shortly before CES attendees and cabs would clog Sin City’s arteries.
Then the traffic came.
The FUV is tiny, but it can’t exactly weave around traffic like a conventional motorcycle. Still, there were moments I deeply appreciated its small stature, and steered around stretches of cars that were taking up half the lane waiting to turn.
Plus, I could park just about anywhere. It takes up so little space that reserving an entire parking spot for the FUV seems almost wasteful.
Riding around with a passenger in the back was also a joy. You may not believe it, but the roof does a nice job of reflecting sound, so I could easily chat with my colleague Natalie Christman while she filmed from the rear seat.
Having someone along with you also means you’re bound to spot more reactions from pedestrians. In our case, they ranged from blank stares and upward nods to outright yelling. It isn’t easy to hear what someone’s shouting from the sidewalk across ultra-wide streets, but I made out some variations of, “what’s that!?” and “Is that new?!” (It isn’t. The FUV debuted in 2019.)
Then the rain came.
My stay in Vegas was exceedingly wet, as rare storms dumped buckets on the city. I considered this a challenge for both myself and the FUV. I agreed to endure a couple days of chilled knuckles and wet pants, so long as the goofy little vehicle did not slip ‘n slide us beneath a hulking pickup. It didn’t!
The rain wasn’t too challenging. Sometimes my hands went a bit numb despite the heated grips. (If I owned a FUV, I would just keep a pair of gloves in the back.) Occasionally, I dodged puddles. It was a small hassle to brush rainwater off the seat and the roof mostly did its job.
In a sprinkle, I sipped an iced latte and jotted down notes on how cold I felt. Why am I this way?
Other FUV downsides included the extra-heavy steering. It really made me work to get around turns from a full stop, handling almost like a car without power steering. I was told when I picked it up that the latest iteration of the FUV addresses this and steers lighter.
After a while, the attention got old, too. I’m an introverted trans lady, so I’m not here for the stares that accompany a visually loud vehicle. I don’t see this as a deal breaker, though — just an observation. I also love very goofy cars, so this is more of a personal contradiction than anything else.
The FUV is certainly goofy. However, in normally dry locales like Las Vegas or say, Los Angeles, it struck me as, dare I say, practical. I would prefer a teeny city car with doors and windows, and there are three-wheelers on the market that offer just that, including Electra Meccanica’s SOLO.
With room for a passenger (unlike the SOLO) and an overall breezy driving experience on a single charge, I still think Arcimoto’s FUV is less silly than it initially lets on.
The name makes it seem like a car best left for tourists; I’d happily ride it around my neighborhood for light errands. It seemed sturdy and dependable in the three and a half days I spent with it, and riding on three wheels seemed just as natural to me as four. (Side note: I did take it on the highway, reaching around 60 mph, and that was a bit too thrilling for my taste.)
There are plenty of reasons to opt for an extra small vehicle, especially if you live in a dense area. For one, smaller vehicles require fewer materials and smaller batteries, which at least in theory should translate to lower emissions. Smaller vehicles are also less likely to kill pedestrians.
If you have any safety concerns, you can check out what Arcimoto has to say about that here. A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch that the FUV’s “steel upper frame meets the FMVSS 216a Roof Crush Resistance standard.”
The car also includes a crash-sensor that disconnects the battery on impact and “dual 3-point safety seatbelts.” That means you have to buckle up twice when you get in.
No shortage of FUN; literally short on funds
If you want to try the FUV out for yourself, you may want to hurry. After laying off dozens of staffers, Eugene, Oregon-based Arcimoto alerted investors in January that it was running out of cash.
“We have halted our production of vehicles and will require substantial additional funding to resume production,” the automaker said.
Without fresh funds, Arcimoto warned at the time that it “will be required to cease our operations and/or seek bankruptcy protection.” The startup’s market cap sat around $13.5 million when this story was published, a far cry from its $1 billion-plus high two years ago.
The FUV starts at $17,900 before subsidies, but the price creeps above $25,000 with upgrades like fancier seats, half doors, a rear cargo box and cup holders. Arcimoto also sells used FUVs; on its site, the company has one listed for $16,800.
If you know something about Arcimoto, reach out to this reporter via email or Twitter DM.
The Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle is a blast (that might not last) by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch