Innovative EV start-up uses McDonald’s inspired strategy

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Helixx says its electric car production is inspired by Mcdonald’s and uses new ‘digital twin’ technology to ensure quality.

British start-up Helixx has announced plans to produce a line-up of four quadricycles aimed at developing nations in Asia, produced using an innovative process inspired by McDonald’s.

The electric quartet are all based on the same underpinnings, engineered to L7e regulations – so legally limited to 15kW and a maximum kerb weight of 450kg (rising to 600kg for cargo vehicles).

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There are two commercial variants: a van with 2100 litres of cargo space and a utility with a 1.64m2 bed. The two passenger models, a minivan and an open-sided tuk-tuk, offer a top speed of 80km/h and a range of 112km.

All feature swappable 2kWh lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery packs. Multiple can be installed to give a total capacity of 4kWh, 8kWh or 12kWh, with the highest giving a 200km range. Helixx CEO Steve Pegg says that the company is evaluating whether the vehicles can support an eighth pack, which would boost the range further.

None of the vehicles will be sold directly to consumers, said Pegg, but rather leased to fleets and business operators on a subscription basis. The company aims for this subscription to be charged at just $0.25 (AUD$0.37) per hour of use.

To ensure profitability, the UK-based company will oversee small regional factories operated under licensed partnerships, in the same way that a business might opt to become a fast-food franchise.

“You can go anywhere in the world and build 95% of all the components in the local region,” explained Pegg. “If there’s a press shop, a foundry, you can make anything.”

Some components – namely the batteries – have to be sourced by Helixx, given the difficulty of their production. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on making use of local resources to reduce the vehicles’ costs (both financial and environmental).

Pegg added: “We got our inspiration from McDonald’s franchises. You don’t have to know how to cook to own McDonald’s franchise. You don’t even have to cook. All you do is follow a set of processes. You don’t need to know where your supply chain comes from.”

To ensure consistency in the quality of the vehicles potentially built all over the world, Helixx plans to use a software framework that it’s developing with technology giant Siemens. This utilises a ‘digital twin’ – a virtual model of the vehicle – with cameras, sensors and special processes on the factory floor to ensure that each step has been completed correctly.

“We can do all of that here through the UK mission control,” explained Pegg. “If we’ve got a network of factories and one has an error, we can then look at those and what’s happening as if it’s in the room next door.”

This means factory staff don’t need to be trained extensively in how to produce the Helixx vans, they “just follow a set of processes, they click a red thumbs-down button or a green thumbs-up button, and the process continues from that”.

By leasing its vehicles to fleets through a subscription model, Helixx can also take full control of what happens to a vehicle at the end of its life.

Pegg said: “There’s a lot of talk about circularity and ‘end of life’ and ‘second life’ in a lot of products, not just automotive. But the fundamental problem with that is as soon as you sell it to somebody, the problem isn’t yours any longer and you’re kind of hoping that the consumer is going to be responsible enough to [recycle].

“That isn’t the case; there’s a big difference between recyclable and recycled. In order to make sure that Helixx does have full circularity, [the vehicles] can only be obtained by a subscription or keeping the ownership within the Helixx platform. And the vehicle has been designed and materials have been designed in such a way that it has full circularity and recyclability without the need of excessive processing chemicals.”

At the end of a vehicle’s life, Helixx plans to either upcycle it into a different model – converting a pick-up used on a building site into a van used around town, for example – or exploit the “100%” recyclability of its materials.

Helixx is currently developing its first driveable vehicles and aims to deliver these by May.

Pegg said: “It’s really important for us as a start-up business to have something physical that somebody can get into and touch and feel, and not just the renders that make the business look like vaporware. Really I’ve spent enough time in start-ups in my career to know how to manage the public perception of these ‘bold’ ventures.”

Helixx is also working towards building a pilot factory in the UK, which will eventually serve as its ‘mission control’ hub for the global factories. This will be replicated in Singapore – whose economic development board is in talks with Helixx – to test the viability of establishing a localised supply chain. The company is also discussing terms with “major industrial players” in Indonesia and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), according to Pegg.

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