RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW – ARRIVAL BUS

By: Fabian Cotter, Photography by: courtesy Arrival Ltd


COVERSTORY: If the bus of the future were here today, what could it tell us about the here and now - or how best to get us to from whence it came? Arrival’s comprehensive e-vehicle ‘microfactory’ paradigm won’t just theoretically blow your mind, its practicality will put it at ease, too. UK operator First Bus, living up to its name, is behind the wheel … ‘right now’.

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW – ARRIVAL BUS
Arrival’s vertically integrated approach allows it to, “…develop innovation at pace without the constraints of waiting for technology progression in the supply chain. This enables a best-in-class product, with a superior total cost of ownership than both fossil fuel and electric vehicles currently on the market,” the company explains.

Daydreaming as a kid, one might wistfully wander off into some imaginary world picturing futuristic people and places, and how the former moves in the latter in this assumedly utopian scene. While the outfits might be magnificently ‘bad catwalk’ chic, and with the urban venues and spaces now gritty and characterful or pristine yet drearily sleek, it will be the modes of transport that capture the full scope of your own fleeting imagination.

Hmmm. If only one could draw…

While generations have produced seemingly bazillions of deftly talented artists and creatives who can put pen or paint to paper to capture their own fantastic visions, some - names need not mentioned - are kind of left to bask in all the underrated glory that bent stick-figure drawings with ill-matching lengths and squiggles can bring.

In that context, when you see some building or vehicle supreme in its design at the time, the overwhelming feeling in that moment of abject removal of bias and judgement is ‘wow’. And that’s not even an internationally recognised emotion, if you want to go and check. Yet such is the impact of Arrival’s stunning ‘back in black’ e-bus design that’s close to completing pre-public use trials.

Add in the disturbingly ingenious production methodology behind it - based around what Arrival Limited calls ‘microfactories’, underwritten by cool autonomous ‘skateboards’ transporting parts around a factory floor - and that sense of wow is more than enough for the hamsters on treadmills above in your head to stop and scratch their heads as the cogs of thought enmeshed in the brain come to a grinding halt.

More wow. A bigger wow… A different type of wow altogether now fills the head.

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What the Arrival concept represents - a technology company creating the world’s first Generation 2.0 electric vehicles – isn’t so much an EV range into a rapidly expanding marketplace (the Arrival Bus, commercial Van and ‘ride-sharing’ targeted car), but an entirely new way of manufacturing thought.

New materials, cleaner processes and what would inarguably be landmark less set-up and production costs and space requirements means a revolution impacting sundry products and industries globally isn’t just coming soon – it’s here. Right now. Big time.

Arrival’s ambition is to remove all barriers to electric vehicle adoption - starting with cost. The company has taken a unique approach, designing its vehicles entirely from the ground-up. The result is affordable, light, modular electric vehicles with a range of up to 300km and a 50 per cent reduction of total cost of ownership (TCO) lower than fossil fuel equivalents, it claims.

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OPERATOR USE

For the past year, Arrival’s proving-ground trials have been underway and they are in conjunction with First Bus - one of Britain’s leading bus operators - with public road trials expected to commence soon in Q1 2022. The trials will see Arrival’s vehicles operating on existing First Bus routes in the UK. Arrival is expected to begin production of the bus in Q2 2022, it states.

The new partnership started just seven months after First Bus announced its commitment to purchase no diesel buses after 2022 and to operate a fully zero-emission fleet by 2035. First Bus already plays a leading role in the operation of low or zero-emission vehicles, with electric buses in Leeds and Glasgow, the country’s biggest electric Park & Ride fleet in York, and a 99-strong fleet of biomethane buses in Bristol, it confirms. Last year, the company also introduced the world’s first hydrogen-powered double-decker fleet in Aberdeen, Scotland.

When Arrival unveiled its electric bus mid-2020, it created a new and improved public transportation experience for all users, it says - from the drivers and passengers to the engineers, cleaners and fleet owners - and reducing operating costs for operators, making the transition to electric vehicles more economically viable, it adds.

The initial trial vehicle configurations are a combination of familiar requirements and new innovative features, which will be activated throughout and made possible by Arrival’s smart connected hardware and end-to-end fleet management solutions, Arrival explains. Telco Blackberry will be taking care of any autonomous driving software.

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The single-deck Arrival Bus features a single front door with a passenger seating capacity of 36 across the entire flat floor, allowing greater accessibility, as well as more usable standing space and ability for passengers to travel more comfortably, the company states. It is equipped with up to 310.8kWh of energy storage capacity with the option of both an AC and DC charge, it confirms.

The Arrival Bus has been developed to not only have common suspension front and rear, but common wheels and tyres - estimating the bus to be up to 40 per cent lighter than other battery-electric buses in the market today, it says.

Arrival’s vertically integrated approach allows it to, "…develop innovation at pace without the constraints of waiting for technology progression in the supply chain. This enables a best-in-class product, with a superior total cost of ownership than both fossil fuel and electric vehicles currently on the market," the company explains.

At the trial’s start, president of Arrival, Avinash Rugoobur, said: "Today is an important day in the transition to a more sustainable, user-focused transportation ecosystem and we are thrilled to be partnering with First Bus on this trial and for people to experience the Arrival Bus on public roads."

"Cities around the world are pledging their commitment to a zero-emission transportation future and Arrival is providing them with the ideal product to help them achieve that in the Arrival Bus. We are working in partnership with operators and cities globally to support improvements to public transportation networks whilst creating vehicles that can be tailored to local needs."

The vehicles will be going through rigorous validation and testing ahead of certification, Arrival states.

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THE BUS

Whilst, in theory, there is only so much one can do with a bus in terms of design - a rectangle on wheels, in layman’s terms - in the overall matt-black finish and with such expansive, open glass spaces encouraging panoramic clarity of vision, the Arrival e-bus is decidedly gorgeous.

Its futuristic edginess comes from the very fact it’s not exuding edges at all - least not anything sharp enough to catch the eye at a moment’s glance and ruin the ruse.

Arguably there are similar global bus designs, or elements of, already around, or at least emerging (and they would be by now once they had seen this bus), but there’s just something uber-cool about its dark hues and simple luxury that would make you want to get on that bus. ‘Destination irrelevant’. Ticket cost? Who cares? Here, take double!

And that’s just where buses need to be to encourage more people to use them - particularly now as e-cars bring new novelty to having a personal ride in the home garage.

As Arrival explains: "Every feature of the Arrival Bus is designed to create an unrivalled experience for both drivers and passengers."

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"The layout is inclusive and accessible. The low, flat floor, widened passenger doors and user-friendly ramps ensure passengers can manoeuvre through the bus safely and easily.

"For even more space, the battery modules are integrated into the base of the bus for optimal weight balance, ensuring easy manoeuvring and letting in natural light from the roof.

"Floating cantilever seats give a more streamlined, sleek appearance and allow for easier cleaning. And thanks to the vehicle’s modular design, seating can be configured to meet customer needs."

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MICROFACTORIES?

When ABC magazine asked Arrival to confirm if such a bus would be available in Australia or this region soon, given that Arrival has production facilities in the USA and anything made for the UK would be right-hand drive as per our market requirements - we kind of didn’t receive an answer.

The initial ‘Okay, that’s weird…’ was eventually dispelled because once you go further down the rabbit hole of the production philosophy, there’s the epiphany of sorts that ‘they really don’t have to answer’. And that’s because, from what can be determined and the implications of it, the Arrival e-vehicle concept means, it would seem, globally they ‘won’t be coming to us’, but ‘we’ll be coming to them’. Seriously…

The magnitude of this seemingly ethereal interpretation of ‘how we think of things, make things, put things together and then get it out there - fast', relatively efficiently and ‘cleanly speaking’ pretty much speaks for itself.

And to better understand the clever simplicity behind it all, it’s worth carefully listening to those who helped conceptualise it in the first place.

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THE MAN

So, what drives ‘changing the traditional automotive industry’?

"I’m getting this question – ‘why is Arrival different?’ - many times and I would say that, actually, everything is different: the people, culture, technologies we are using, materials, components, method of manufacturing. The only thing which [is] probably similar to other companies [is] that our products are called ‘van’ and ‘bus’, but everything else is different," said British-based Russian billionaire businessman and Arrival founder and chief executive Denis Sverdlov, recently.

"The automotive industry, the way how it is now, was developing for more than 100 years and it was a lot of innovations and a lot of optimisation with the process and, today, we believe that the industry isn’t the maximum level of efficiency.

"What we understand today [is] that is not enough, because we still get vehicles which are expensive and that’s not sustainable and that’s why we started Arrival in January 2015, with the idea to reinvent the way vehicles are made.

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"The vehicle, the way they are designed today, cannot be assembled by microfactories. The vehicle must be designed to be assembled by microfactories. If you take a normal car today, only to make the body system, you need to have at least 1,000 robots. In our case, all assembly processes [use] less than 70 robots.

"We invented grid-based components, new material technologies, to do the body systems, and a new software to manage our factories, and also in-vehicle software. So, if you combine all those things together, microfactories, components, materials and the software, those are enabling technologies which makes it possible to make best-in-class vehicles.

"It’s a perfect time for companies like us to step into this industry and actually change it. We found a way how to break the role of economy of scale. We have much better product, green product, but it also has better pricing, as well. This perfect combination where you don’t need to have a compromise between being green or being efficient. So, with our products, it comes together," he explained.

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SAVING TIME, MONEY

Arrival Automotive CEO Mike Ableson, said: "One of the things that makes Arrival different is our microfactory approach to assembling and manufacturing vehicles. A microfactory is a much, much simpler process as compared to a legacy automotive manufacturing plan."

"A typical automotive assembly plant takes literally years to construct. We can do that whole thing in six months or less. So, it’s maybe one sixth the amount of time and maybe one tenth of the [capital expenditure]," explained.

Arrival Elements CEO Tracey Yi said: "When you look at our elements and components, they’re modular, they’re based on a 10 by 10 grid; they’re stackable, they’re plug and play. It’s amazing."

"Designing our products ourselves, owning the IP [intellectual property], gives us the ability to upgrade that and prioritise the products that we need. It’s easy installation, easy replacement, agility for the future," she stated.

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PRICE PARITY

"The brief was really clear from the start," recalled Arrival chief of materials Rob Thompson.

"How do we build vehicles at price parity with a conventional diesel vehicle?

"Now, what that means when you’re putting a large, expensive heavy battery into a vehicle, is that you need to make the body system lighter and lower cost.

"If you were to take a conventional steel panel and compare it to ours, then we’re less than half the weight.

"The materials that we’re developing are thermoplastic-based composites, and we can recycle those an infinite number of times," Thompson explained.

"We have far higher ductility and what that means is the panel rebounds from impact. So, rather than having to repair or replace, our panels actually survive much longer out in the field, massively reducing the potential repair bills for our customers.

"The way it began was … was really clear at the start, he [Sverdlov] was like ‘with everything that you know, how would you build a vehicle now and what’s really exciting in the world of materials?’ And so that’s where we started from; we just dug into where all the development was, where robotics was going and where polymer chemistry was being developed, where recycling was strongest," Thompson explained.

"We looked at all the key players and all of the opportunities that presented themselves.

"We rethought the vehicle architecture and rethought the materials to create something genuinely new.

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"We’ve taken a completely different approach, a radical approach to how we make our vehicles. So, we’re using distributed microfactories and that means that we needed to develop materials and processes that could fit that model.

"So, we needed to do away with the big heavy expensive steel stamping tools, paint lines, welding lines - these things that cost billions to set up and are with a company for years, decades even. We wanted to establish a very nimble and agile approach to manufacturing.

"You have to develop the material and the process together to achieve the microfactory model.

"If you were setting up a production line for a conventional metal standard car … you’re looking at something like a million Euros a square metre for the tooling and a 12-month lead time. Now, with our process, we’ve got that lead time down to just a few weeks. And our tooling investment is tens of thousands instead of millions. So, we can turn around products very quickly, we can go from prototype to production very quickly, and it really supports this microfactory model.

"Everything starts from a fabric; all that we’re doing is fabric-based. And that, in itself, is fundamentally new," Thompson stated.

"We’re trying to build all of the performance that we want in the finished material into fabrics. So, what we’re doing is we’re mixing the garment industry, conventional textile industry at automation, and we’re bringing those things together.

"And so we’re finding this really nice serendipity in some places that we just wouldn’t have discovered if we weren’t mixing these different industries together. And it’s gotten to the stage where we bring rolls of fabric into the factory and we deliver finished panels to the vehicles at the other end of the factory," he explained.

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VEHICLE CHOICE

Arrival president Avinash Rugoobur explains the reasoning behind which types of vehicles the company makes.

"We always get the question ‘why commercial vehicles first?’ and it’s actually because it’s an underserved market," he said.

"So, right now, you have very few vehicles that you can go and get and you’re not able to do anything bespoke or custom with those vehicles, you get what you get.

"It’s a market that cares about the total cost of operating, which electric vehicles enable, and Arrival further enhances that. And then it’s a growing market. It’s a large segment; there [will be] two million vans by 2025 and Arrival has the best-in-class product. We’re able to scale rapidly; we’re able to really use the technologies to enable these customers to improve their operations.

"We can work with cities and customers and we can create [vehicles] at any volume, again using the same microfactory, so it’s a win-win on both sides."

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PANEL AND PAINT

Thompson continued: "What we can do with a composite material that you can’t do with monolithics like metals is that we can build in additional strength where we need it."

"We have far higher ductility. So, in a low-speed impact, where you’d expect to have to replace the metallic body system, our panels actually bounce back from that and don’t require replacement. So, rather than having to repair or replace, our panels actually survive much longer out in the field … massively reducing the potential repair bills for our customers.

"I’ve worked on material development for a long time, and you have to have a lot of faith in the opportunities that materials present and it takes a certain type of culture to understand the opportunities of that.

"There’s very few places in the world where you could do the sort of work that we’re doing, and at Arrival the collaboration between the teams, the trust between the teams, it’s unlike anywhere else that I’ve been.

"And it means that innovations like this, they can … really thrive and the whole organisation gets behind an opportunity, whether it be an engineering opportunity or material development or robotic solution, and they help bring that to life."

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RECYCLING AND ‘SUSTAINABILITY’

"Our composite materials are fully recyclable, so any waste that’s generated during the process can be reused and recycled into new products," confirmed Arrival head of sustainability Jon Steel.

"We’re doing this from the two kinds of sources of waste. There are materials that come from off-cuts from the ply cutter and materials that come from the trimming process, once the material has been moulded. Both of these material [sources] have the potential to produce new components for vehicles, or they could be reused in other applications," Steel explained.

"If you were to take a conventional steel panel and compare it to ours [Arrival’s is] less than half the weight. If we take 125kg out of a conventional body system, then that equals something like [an additional] 10km range per charge, or about 800kg of CO2 in the lifetime of a vehicle.

"So, through this material development, we’re making a significant impact on the sustainability of the vehicle."

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BLACK ROCK

As reported via Bloomberg, on 19 November 2020, Arrival Ltd. had agreed to combine with ‘blank-cheque’ firm CIIG Merger Corp. in a deal that would, "…raise cash and give the electric van and bus maker a listing on the Nasdaq."

"The transaction, which gives the combined company an enterprise value of US$5.4 billion [AUD$7.56 billion], will provide Arrival with approximately US$660 million [AUD$923.4 million] in cash, the two companies said in a statement Wednesday, confirming an earlier Bloomberg News report," it stated.

"CIIG also raised US$400 million [AUD$559.6 million] in new equity to support the transaction. Arrival will be listed under the ticker ARVL."

The report added: "Arrival said Wednesday it will use the infusion to fund growth. The company, founded in 2015 and led by chief executive officer Denis Sverdlov, raised US$118 million [AUD$165.1 million] from funds managed by BlackRock Inc. last month, and dedicated those proceeds to projects including a ‘microfactory’ to produce energy-efficient vehicles in South Carolina. The October fundraising round valued the company at about 3 billion Euros [AUD$4.79 billion], according to BloombergNEF.

"Arrival has signed contracts worth US$1.2 billion [AUD$1.68 billion] with production planned to begin in the fourth quarter of 2021, it said in the statement. Other investors in Arrival include Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. UPS has ordered 10,000 vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems such as automated braking and lane-change warnings, which could lead to autonomous movements within the company’s facilities.

"Annual electric van sales will grow to 2.3 million units in the US, Europe and China by 2030, BloombergNEF has estimated, projecting that large fleet operators such as Amazon.com Inc., DHL and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA will drive demand.

"CIIG, led by chairman and CEO Peter Cuneo, raised about US$260 million [AUD$363.8 million] in a December 2019 initial public offering. Cuneo will become the non-executive chairman of the combined entity.

"Cowen & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. advised Arrival, while UBS Group AG and Barclays Plc acted for CIIG, according to the statement."

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ABOUT ARRIVAL

Arrival was founded in 2015 with a mission to make air clean by replacing all vehicles with affordable electric solutions produced by local microfactories, it states.

Six years and more than 2,000 people later, Arrival is driving the transition to EVs globally by creating products that are zero-emission, more desirable, more sustainable and more equitable than ever before, it says.

Its in-house technologies enable its radical new method of design and production using rapidly scalable, local microfactories around the world, it confirms. This method facilitates cities and governments in achieving their sustainability goals whilst also supercharging their communities, it states.

"We are a technology company, a product company, a supply chain company, an automotive company, a mobility company, a fintech company and a service company - all rolled into one with a shared goal of true sustainability," it outlines.

"This vertically integrated business model is how we can have the radical impact our world needs today," it adds.

Arrival (NASDAQ: ARVL) is a joint stock company governed by Luxembourg law. 

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Specs

MAKE: Arrival

MODEL: Arrival Bus

BODY: Modular platform, thermoplastic-based composite material

CHASSIS: Fully flat floor layout

BATTERY: Max. capacity - 310.8kWh

RANGE: Between 200-408km (payload dependant up to 8,000kg)

SEATING: 36 cantilever ‘floating’ seats ex. driver. Passenger capacity – 80-125

MISC.: Single front door; interior panoramic wrap-around LED screens; glass ‘skylight’ roof

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