Austin electric car maker tries to carve out space in crowded market

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A company founded last year in Austin is jumping into the electric car market, trying to carve out a niche in a crowded marketplace.

After debuting a new model at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas this month, Austin Electric Vehicles says they’re on the right track and will start shipping two new vehicles to interested dealers later this year.

Wednesday, the Austin-based restaurant chain Mama Fu’s planned to test drive one of them, the three-wheeled all-electric commuter car called the 311, at the Circuit of the Americas track. After trying them out on their delivery routes the next couple weeks, CEO Randy Murphy said, they’re planning to buy 15 to 20 of them to replace gas-powered cars in their fleet to start. They may buy up to as many as 50 of them.

But, the commuter car, which AEV says tops out around 50 miles per hour, has not been the company’s focus the last four months they’ve been in production.

Amanda Smallwood, an assembly technician there, was working Tuesday to put together the 411, an all-electric low-speed utility truck that AEV says fills a hole they found in the market. COTA used several of the trucks for logistics during races.

For Smallwood, bolting the cab of a light-duty truck to a chassis containing six gel batteries is a big change of pace.

“I used to put together Ikea furniture when I first moved here,” the Kentucky native said. “I’ve learned a lot since I started working here.”

The 411 is the first model AEV designed and is building regularly in a refurbished warehouse situated behind the Jaguar and Land Rover dealership on 5th Street downtown. “We have a pickup truck version, we have a van box version,” said Bruce Riggs, AEV’s chief operating officer, walking down a line of the trucks in the warehouse.

For the most part, the company sees the 411, limited as a low-speed vehicle to 25 miles per hour, as fulfilling a need among maintenance staffs at colleges, office parks and other large campuses.

Brian Buccella, AEV’s chief revenue officer, knows it won’t compete with Tesla — and he doesn’t want it to. At CES, close to a dozen dealers signed on to carry the trucks and commuter cars in several states. “Our entire sales team is extremely busy right now just calling on customers from that show,” Buccella said.

The 311 will start shipping in July, Buccella said, and the 511, a four-wheel drive truck, will hit the market in September. Now the company is looking for more space, while employees like Smallwood are right where they want to be.

“It’s the future, you know?” she said. “It feels great to be a part of that.”

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