Creating a Tomahawk: How Dubuc is building a niche American EV
There's no shortage of startups trying to revolutionize the automobile at the moment, with brands like Lucid and Faraday Future promising big things from their electric cars. Dubuc Motors might not be taking on the mass market, but you can add it to the list of electric upstarts. Based in Quebec, its small team of engineers have worked to create a thoroughly modern sports car with a forward-looking powertrain and eye-catching, lightweight body. New Atlas spoke with founders Mario Dubuc and Mike Kakogiannakis about the project.
The two main men at Dubuc have been working together for quite a while now, having joined forces back in 2003. Mario Dubuc comes from an engineering family, and has a background in tinkering with cars. Meanwhile Kakogiannakis, while a fellow car enthusiast, didn't have a mechanical background, nor any direct connection to the automotive world. He was a successful property investor, before getting involved in the car business after he was introduced to Mario.
"When we met, we figured out fast enough that we shared the same passion in cars," says Kakogiannakis. "We started working 40 hours a week on ideas and doing market research on those ideas, validating them. Over the next 10 years we did prototypes, and we came to a point where we said 'we have a lot of content here that makes a lot of sense, and that's amazing. Let's put it into practice.' In 2013 we completely left our jobs to focus on building the ultimate sports car."
Rather than going down the path of petrol power, both men agreed motors and batteries should power their car. Although that seems logical now, it was much harder to source and develop electric parts when the project started back in 2003. It's worth remembering the Tesla Roadster didn't launch until 2008, and even the much heralded "roadster of the future" suffered some serious setbacks early on in life. We still view electric technology as young in 2017, imagine how fresh it was 14 years ago.
"When we started, electric cars hadn't been applied until Tesla came out," muses Kakogiannakis. "The components for the electric car weren't as widely available as they are today, and the cost was much bigger. As we progress in time, components are becoming cheaper and more available."
Since starting the project, the team has gone through about 10 different prototypes, trying to work out what the best approach to building an electric car was. Having narrowed the designs down, Dubuc has created two Tomahawk prototypes, one for testing and another to show potential customers at auto shows.
The Tomahawk isn't a family car, and it's not aimed at the mass market. One thing Dubuc and Kakogiannakis are very clear on is the fact they aren't going after big sales figures like Lucid Motors or Faraday Future. Instead, they want to plug a niche in the market. To start with at least, that niche is sports cars ... with room for passengers.
The car is a two-plus-two according to the company, but it doesn't suffer from the same lack of space that afflicts most four-seat coupes. Whereas cars like the Audi TT and Subaru BRZ have rear seats that are only good for kids, Mario Dubuc is adamant the Tomahawk isn't a traditional two-plus-two.
"It's a real two-plus-two that you can sit people in the back of," he says. "In the front, they can be about six-foot-five and 275 pounds ... someone five-foot-nine will be able to fit in the back. We cannot say it's a four-seater because it will sound like a sedan or an SUV. We'd rather use the term two-plus-two for a sports car."
On paper, that practical focus doesn't appear to have undermined its performance. Should the final car match its initial claimed performance figures, it will hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in a handy 3 seconds, with top speed pegged at 257 km/h (160 mph). Whether it will be able to do that without bursting into a flaming ball of shattered hopes and dreams is yet to be proven, but those are genuine sports car numbers, although still short of the ludicrous Tesla Model S and Model X. Estimated range is 595 km (370 mi) on the EPA testing cycle.
All of this electric goodness is housed in a bespoke aluminum chassis, wrapped in deeply scalloped aluminum body panels. We wouldn't call it pretty, but there's no doubting it is distinctive and, if you're buying a locally-built niche car, that's probably part of the appeal. The whole package sits on a fully-independent double-wishbone suspension, coupled with air springs for an adjustable ride height. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait until CES 2018 for a proper look, but the preliminary spec sheet certainly reads well.
"Right now we are working on two pre-productions cars," Dubuc tells us. "They're both going to be ready at the end of this year, to be unveiled at CES in Las Vegas. You're going to be able to see the car as a show car, and we're going to have another one to do all the testing."
Although launching the car will be a big moment, the hard work doesn't end there. Getting it approved for American roads is a complex process, and the team will need about 10 cars for crash testing and certification work. All things being equal, the team is hoping to produce 1,500 examples of the Tomahawk per year, selling them to customers who want an electric car but aren't content with what's on offer from Tesla or any of the mainstream manufacturers.
To get there, Dubuc will be raising money through an equity crowdfunding service called Start Engine, where it's already received more than US$6 million in reservations. Unlike regular crowdfunding sites where people pitch in money in the hope of receiving the finished product, this system essentially allows people to buy shares in the company. The teams says money raised through the crowdfunding service will be used to put the car through all the crash testing and certification work required to make it ready for use on the road.
All of this is, of course, hard work for Dubuc and Kakogiannakis, but they don't seem fazed by the challenge. Rest assured, we'll be keeping a close eye on their progress.
"When you really love something, you don't really feel much of the pain you might have been thinking of," says Kakogiannakis. "Having to work 13 or 14 hours a day is always a pleasure for us ... We knew we had something great and we're going to be servicing a market that has never been tapped before, so we're very excited."