The C-1 has a metal shell and two gyroscopes under the floor that keep the vehicle upright even in the event of an accident.

Lit calls their mutant electric vehicle the first gyroscopically stabilized "rolling smartphone."

The C-1 gets 200 miles to the charge, it’s relatively cheap (the vehicle will cost $24,000 when it’s released in 2014, with prices going down to $14,000 by 2016), and it can squeeze into tiny parking spaces.

Though it looks small, it can go on the highway and has a top speed of 120 mph.

Unlike other electric vehicle companies--Fisker and Aptera--the startup isn’t piling on cash to fix its problems. The company has two full-scale prototypes and applications for over a dozen patents, all with under $1 million in funding.

So far, Lit has racked up nearly 400 pre-orders. That’s nearly half of the 1,000 initial production run.

2012-10-28

Can A Mutant Electric Half-Car, Half-Motorcycle Disrupt The Vehicle Market?

The Lit C-1 doesn’t look like any car you’ve ever seen, but it still can go 120 miles per hour and gets 200 miles on each charge. Will people embrace the futuristic design enough to make the startup a success?

The first thing you see upon walking into Lit Motors’ three-story warehouse in San Francisco is the shell of a Land Rover Defender. It is, oddly enough, the inspiration behind the two-wheeled electric vehicle startup. When he was 23, Lit Motors Founder Danny Kim started a car production company and began the process of converting two Land Rover Defenders into biodiesel powerhouses that could get up to 32 miles per gallon. But then one of the Land Rovers nearly killed the now 33-year-old Kim when a vehicle stand failed while he was welding something onto the chassis. His next thought: Why do vehicles have to be so big and heavy?

The answer is that they don’t. The C-1, Lit Motors’ first product, looks like a car sliced in half. It’s the kind of thing that has less of a chance of maiming you while repairing it. But that’s not what makes it so interesting. The mutant one-seater electric vehicle is, according to Lit, the first gyroscopically stabilized "rolling smartphone"--not literally, but it has a touch screen that can integrate with a driver’s smartphone.

Kim spent years figuring out the design for the C-1, which has a metal shell and two gyroscopes under the floor that keep the vehicle upright even in the event of an accident. This thing may look from the outside like an encased motorcycle, but it acts like a car, right down to the steering wheel and foot pedals.

In many ways, the C-1 is superior to electric vehicles that are already on the market. It gets 200 miles to the charge, it’s relatively cheap (the vehicle will cost $24,000 when it’s released in 2014, with prices going down to $14,000 by 2016), and it can squeeze into tiny parking spaces--a boon for anyone living in a crowded city.

But Lit will still have to get over one big hurdle: the unfamiliarity factor. This thing looks strange, which will certainly appeal to some people. It will leave others with lingering questions about safety, highway-readiness (it can go on the highway and has a top speed of 120 mph) and whether it can actually stay upright. "They are going to need a lot of user testing and proof that this is going to work for ordinary folks to be able to demonstrate to people over and over and over again that this is going to be safe, efficient, and economical," says Jonathan Koomey, an advisor to Lit and a Research Fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.

There are reasons to be skeptical. The Aptera 2 series, a similarly quirky electric vehicle (this one was a three-wheeled two-seater) crashed and burned last year when Aptera Motors announced it was going out of business because of a lack of financing. When I asked Kim if Lit has any similarities to Aptera, his answer was simply "There is no comparison."

Lit does have its act together. Unlike other electric vehicle companies--Fisker and Aptera--the startup isn’t piling on cash to fix its problems. The company has two full-scale prototypes and applications for over a dozen patents, all with under $1 million in funding. Kim and his team are taking painstaking steps to make sure the vehicle is actually as cheap as they say; the full-scale prototype was built by hand to get accurate projections about cost at different levels of scale.

Vehicle sales will eventually decide whether the C-1 is viable. So far, Lit has racked up nearly 400 pre-orders. That’s nearly half of the 1,000 initial production run. Kim expects that the vehicle will be distributed via motorcycle dealerships and through partnerships with established companies.

"[Lit is] trying to define a new category. They’ll poach off people who are buying Smart cars and people buying motorcycles," says Koomey. "We’ll have to see how the big players respond."

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7 Comments

  • Roland

    Great product! If performance, quality and price are right, this will definitely have its place on the market, no matter whether it extends an existing niche or defines a new one. Customers don't think that complex, they just want to have a product that suits their needs. Good job, Danny!

  • phil innamorati

    IMO the only thing innovative about it is the fact that it's Electric...
    The C1 even borrows it's Model Number from the BMW C1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki...
    Which in turn 'borrowed' at lot of it's style/design from the '70's Quasar!
    In response to Alexandre's comment, Laars has replied that it's different from the C1, as it has a self balancing mechanism, utilising 2 Gyroscopes...
    Absolutely Nothing New there, as the Quasar Motorcycle of the 70's also had this facility!   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q...
    I think Kim & Ariel Schwartz (author of the article) should at least acknowledge the fact that style & design have been, at a bare minimum; heavily influenced by earlier designs!
    Like i said, the only thing innovative about the Lit C1 is it's Electric & that should at least be applauded.
    Personally, I'd prefer to ride in one of these than drive a Smart Car or Nissan Leaf; especially as growing up in the 70's, i always wanted to own a Quasar!

  • DreadUK

    The BMW C1 is an underpowered, glorified step through. It has no gyroscopic facility and runs on petrol. It is neither innovative nor particularly clever.

    From memory, and also from reference to the Quasar Wikipedia article you cite the Quasar had no gyroscopic facility therefore it had to be open sided to allow the riders feet to stabilise the bike when stationary. It was simply a recumbent motorcycle using petrol engines from a variety of sources and still suffered from most of the disadvantages.

    This C1 is genuinely innovative. the self stabilising gyro allows the occupant to be fully enclosed with both the weather and, arguably, crash protection advantages that offers. It opens up the market in Europe in a way not possible with the BMW C1 or Quasar because of it's weather protection.

    As for special training to drive/ride the C1 (comment below), if you can drive or ride a bicycle, car or motorcycle that's all you will need for the C1. It is likely to be even easier than a bicycle to ride as you don't need to balance, the gyro does all that for you.

    The individual components of the C1 are nothing new however, configured in this particular way, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The inventor is hardly a genius but his courage, determination and resourcefulness to get this from the drawing board to the street is commendable and the C1 will prove invaluable in London traffic as few people commute more than 30 or 40 miles per day.

  • Henry Balfour

    Damn !  I'd kinda forgotten the Qasar ... it was definitely ahead of its time.  There was one on the road in Australia in the late seventies...  It used a Reliant car engine, and had little park wheels that popped out of the sides.  By all accounts it was a very good handling bike.  Thanks for the memory.

  • Alexandre Sartini

    I don't think this will disrupt the market... First the model name is really familiar with the BMW C1 which is actually a motorcycle with a roof. Moreover, you will find other type of vehicle as the Renault Twizzy or the Piaggio MP4 with three wheels.

    So nothing very new as a concept of trying to mix things and in my point of view is that it requires a specific training to drive that... so no this will not disrupt the market in the near future !

  • Laars

    Two points of correction:

    1. The fact that the Lit is self-balancing makes it altogether different from the BMW.

    2. The fact that it is self-balancing means that it does not require specific training to drive, unlike the BMW.