Exclusive: Miles Electric—The Startup Below The Radar
The saving grace for Miles turned out to be European and Japanese engineering. The base vehicle for the Miles Highway Speed is a Hafei Saibao 3—a compact sedan built in Harbin, China, that sells for $12,000 with a gasoline engine. State-owned Hafei Automotive Group made roughly 240,000 vehicles last year; it had built the Saibao, introduced in 2004, using components from Mitsubishi. It also hired Italian design and engineering firm Pininfarina to do the styling, engineering, and European market certification. In other words, the Saibao had been designed to meet global safety standards.
With a base vehicle in hand, Miles engineers turned to the battery pack. The lithium iron phosphate cells come from Tianjin Lishen Battery, a large state-owned manufacturer. Lishen assembles its cells into the modules that make up the full pack, with a capacity of 37 kilowatt-hours. It will ship completed packs to Hafei, which will install them on its standard assembly line. Miles owns the intellectual property around the pack design, the battery management system, and the integration of components like the regenerative brakes and stability control software.
Making Sure It’s Right
Czinger, who had done business in China while at investment bank Goldman Sachs, knew the company would have only one chance to get it right. He called in experienced personnel and automotive consulting firms from the US and Europe to validate the components, the manufacturing processes, and the testing procedures. ”We’re doing a real manufacturing startup of a real car, without the massive capital,” he said proudly.
Indeed, in late August, a Chinese news service reported that an electric Saibao had passed a test replicating a frontal-offset crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While the Institute is entirely separate from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates safety testing, the results of its tests are highly publicized. Getting high scores from the IIHS has become a critical selling point for carmakers.
Assuming that the Highway Speed can be certified for sale in the US, buyers will get a conservatively styled four-door, five-passenger sedan with “ample” trunk space. Options will include power seats and windows, a sunroof, electronic stability control, a GPS navigation system, and Bluetooth connectivity.
The company quotes a top speed above 80 miles per hour, and 0-60 times of 8.5 seconds. Recharging requires a standard 220-Volt socket—used for stoves, clothes driers, and other appliances. The car will come with an 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty. As for range, Miles says the car will go 100 miles or more, giving 94 percent of Americans a safe margin over their daily driving distances of 80 miles or less.
The sticker price will be $40,000 to $45,000, depending on options. But with its battery pack well above 16 kilowatt-hours, a Highway Speed qualifies for the recent federal tax allowance of $7,500. States like California may sweeten the pot with their own incentives as well.