Yesterday RTEV launched over at the Georgia Tech Conference Center. RTEV is an electric vehicle (EV) company focused on delivering affordable electric low speed vehicles (LSVs). The keys words here are affordable and low speed, a strategy a bit different from the high end aimed Tesla and Fisker cars that were featured in a Wall Street Journal on the same day. Low speed vehicles are a U.S. Department of Transportation classification for cars that can be licensed and driven on roads that have speed limits of 35 MPH or less. RTEV intends to produce such cars and sell them to short distance commuters in the $20,000 range.
Like its fellow Georgia car company Carbon Motors, this is an interesting story. RTEV is led by Mike McQuary. Mike was the President and COO of MindSpring and then EarthLink (ok, he really was not the COO at EarthLink even though he had the same responsibilities, but that is a story for another day, he was also my direct boss during those seven years.). In addition to being CEO of RTEV Mike is a partner in Ellis, McQuary, Stanley and Associates. Those three and their associates are into all types of stuff that more often then not turns out well and one of the things they decided to do was go buy a company called Ruff & Tuff Products and convert it into an EV company.
RTEV is comprised of two divisions, Ruff & Tuff and Wheego. Ruff & Tuff currently manufactures and distributes recreational vehicles under its Ruff & Tuff brand, all of which are easily and inexpensively converted to be street-legal LSVs. Last year they sold about 1,000 of these at $8,000 a pop through a distribution network that they have already put in place. In the second half of this year RTEV will introduce a line of electric scooters and bicycles under the Wheego brand, to be followed by the auto shaped LSVs in 2009, and full-size, full-speed electric vehicles in 2010.
RTEV is essentially using the profits of Ruff & Tuff to help fund the development of Wheego. Last fall the company raised $5 million (full disclosure: I am an investor). They expect to go out and get a venture round sometime within the next year.
In addition to its middle market approach and distribution, RTEV claims a few technical advantages that distinguishes it from other electric vehicles currently on the market. The company uses long running dry cell sealed (AGM) batteries, which require no maintenance and will not harm the environment. The vehicles also feature on board high tech chargers and battery systems that can be upgraded to travel up to 70 miles on a single charge—and plug in for a recharge on any standard home 110 volt electrical outlet.
Mike pretty much imported MindSpring’s core values into RTEV and added a new one “We care about the environment and believe that if everyone does a little bit to help with preservation it can add up to a big change for the better.” In the launch announcement he said something very CEO like about “a perfect storm of macro-events.” At the event he climbed into the trunk of the prototype and rode around in there so he could pitch reporters while they test drove. A sight to see. Classic McQuary.
It will be interesting to see what “McQ” can do with this one. I made my bet that he can turn it into something.
Update: A profile on McQuary appeared in the Atlanta Journal the day after I wrote this article.