Five reasons why Renovo could be the next American electric carmaker

·Managing Editor

Building one car is easy. Welding a chassis, bolting in an engine, hammering sheet metal — these are skills that thousands of people possess, and many regularly put them to use for just such ends. It's building more than one car, especially serial production of a model that's supposed to be modern, safe and powered by a new energy source, where the hurdles often become insurmountable.

Outside of Tesla, no other electric-car start-up has come close to full production, and the list of the fallen EV hopefuls runs to more than 20 in the past decade alone. So what makes Renovo — a California start-up hawking not just an everyday car, but a $529,000 supercar — any more likely to survive, let alone thrive? After riding in the Renovo Coupe and literally kicking tires, there are five reasons to take it seriously:

1. Renovo actually built a car: Most EV start-ups never let outsiders actually ride in a test vehicle. Renovo invited us to ride shortly after the reveal in Pebble Beach, during a drive where CEO Chris Heiser did not hold back or baby his machine. The mule wasn't finished, and featured the big red "kill" button that engineers always place in test machines — a welcome sign of a car that's actively under development rather than merely a static showpiece.

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2. The Shelby Daytona body/chassis: Heiser and team have learned much from Tesla's success, the most important being that there's no need to start from scratch. Tesla's first model, the Roadster, was an imported Lotus that the company retrofitted. By using the modern CSX9000 Shelby Daytona chassis and body still built in Nevada by Carroll Shelby's shop, Renovo makes the same shortcut — it doesn't have to re-engineer a chassis or hire designers, focusing instead on the power systems and software that will determine whether it succeeds.

About that: Renovo uses a pair of motors feeding a single power axle, with modules of batteries positioned around the chassis for a better weight layout. By using two motors, Heiser says the car can more easily switch from performance to power-saving modes.

"We didn’t want to stray too far from the original layout," Heiser said. "You know you’re going to drive something special — we wanted to make the experience very much an homage."

3. Supercar customers: Many EV builders promise some kind of commuter or high-volume car, the kind of electric vehicle well-established automakers like Nissan and General Motors still haven't mastered. By playing to the supercar audience — one that wants something distinctive above all else, and is willing to put up with teething troubles of small-batch vehicle production — Renovo has a better chance of actually moving its vehicles out the door next year.

4. Performance: The claimed 0-60 mph time of 3.4 seconds puts the Renovo firmly in supercar territory — faster than a McLaren 12C. But I can say that after a couple of full-power runs in the Renovo, few things can mimic the same feeling of being shot from a cannon. It's not just the total power but how quickly it comes; since electric torque is instantaneous, there's no half-second wait for the engine to rev. (Yes, you can only go 100 miles on the 30 kWh of electricity the Renovo holds, but I suspect most owners won't take it grocery shopping.)

5. Silicon Valley: There's a reason BMW, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and several other automakers have all opened offices in Silicon Valley to hire and hunt for software expertise over the past few years. As cars become more complex, and the demands of customers and regulators more intense, software becomes just as important, if not more so, than any other automotive engineering field. Heiser and team all come from software and tech companies like Intel rather than the auto industry, which he thinks of as an advantage.

"If you could cut this car in half, you’d see more electronics and software than hardware — that’s what Silicon Valley does best," Heiser said. "We’re not coming to the automotive industry; it’s coming to us."

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