This EV Is Specifically Designed for Uber, Lyft, and Amazon Gig Drivers
EV startups are a dime-a-dozen these days, but every now and then one of them makes a pitch that strikes a chord, as the Indigo Flow did at CES 2022. Indigo was founded by MIT professor Ian Hunter to industrialize the “robotic wheel” he’d invented. That’s a glorified name for a wheel-hub motor and suspension all-in-one package. We’ve seen these before, but this one features a novel electromagnetic active suspension component that seems intriguing. Equally intriguing is Indigo’s proposed roadmap to putting gig-economy workers into a new electric van at a cost per mile of 50 cents with no down payment.
Introducing the Indigo Flow and Indigo Flow Plus
These electric van models aim to provide a smoother ride and more space for passengers and parcels in a package that’s light and efficient enough to deliver 250 miles of range from a 40-kWh battery (with an 80-mph top speed). With the IndiWheels robotic wheels moving all suspension and powertrain elements out to the corners, the Flow gets a low, flat floor that affords 106 cubic feet of cargo space—similar to a Ford Transit Connect.
Early estimates suggest a curb weight of under 2,000 pounds and a payload rating of around 800 pounds. The driver sits front and center, with a roomy bench seat in the back of the Indigo Flow—a great arrangement for ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft. Sliding doors make it easy to load passengers and cargo in tight spaces. Oh, and the Flow Plus commercial electric van is essentially the Flow minus the windows and seats.
“Robotic Wheel” Hub Motors
Indigo describes its robotic wheel system as a 30-hp/184-lb-ft dual-stator hub-motor design, operating on a 350-volt electric architecture. Multiplying by four, that adds up to 120 hp and 736 lb-ft. (Remember, in-wheel motors must do without the torque multiplication of a transmission or final drive unit, so that’s more like 92 lb-ft being distributed from an inboard motor to all four wheels.) Obviously with a motor at each corner, torque vectoring and yaw control are a snap.
Each wheel hub unit incorporates a brake (we presume they’re drum style as energy recuperation accounts for 90 percent of the deceleration), and the active suspension element. All of this fits neatly within an 18-inch tire and wheel envelope.
The vehicle’s weight is carried and damped by a traditional coil-over shock unit at each corner (MacPherson-type struts on steered wheels, and simple control arms on non-steered wheels). A secondary strut connects the body to a lever arm that appears to pivot concentric with the wheel. When sensors detect a bump or dip, another motor rotates this lever arm in one direction or other to apply the necessary force to help pull the tire up and over or push it down into and back out of the obstacle, greatly improving ride quality in this lightweight vehicle. Naturally this system also provides digital suspension roll control.
Range and Charging
The Flow is expected to go 250 miles on a 40-kWh battery (small by modern EV standards, thought that range figure is not) for a gasoline-equivalent efficiency rating approaching 200 mpg-e. And Indigo says it will be possible for this smaller battery to be recharged via level-two charger during the break between three-hour Amazon Flex shifts.
The 50-Cents-Per-Mile Roadmap
Radically shrinking the mass of the vehicle and size of the battery, using compact wheel-hub motors (which will be built by Jing-Jin Electric Technologies in Farmington Hills, Michigan), is expected to drive the Flow’s purchase price down to less than $25,000.
Indigo’s CEO Will Graylin also owns OV Loop. This fintech insurer is working on a comprehensive vehicle rental program for the Indigo Flow that will leverage telematics, insurance, credit, and identification data to create a “universal digital wallet” and generate a “driving score” for the owner/operator. Good drivers opting into the system will qualify for cheaper insurance, which conceivably can put them into an Indigo Flow for less than 50 cents a mile with no down payment.
By targeting drivers in the gig-economy, working for Uber, Lyft, Amazon Prime, Door Dash, etc., Graylin reckons his competition isn’t other new EVs. It’s big, heavy, used cars that are affordable to acquire but not necessarily to operate. By engineering the Indigo Flow (and a proposed smaller three-wheeler that has yet to be named) specifically to suit the needs of local package and passenger delivery operations, then offering targeted components such as financing and insurance, Graylin believes Indigo will land a “one-two punch.”
When Can I Get an Indigo Flow?
Reports last year pegged the start of production in late 2022, but the CES announcement didn’t mention timing, so we figure it’s safe to assume that timing has slipped. But some recent talent acquisitions suggest this startup has some staying power, chief among which is Volker Kaese. He recently joined as Chief Technology Officer from Audi and VW after having led development of the 240-mpg Volkswagen XL1. Hey, 200 mpg-e should be a cinch for him!
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