Startup Spotlight Podcast: Robert Bollinger, Bollinger Motors

This post is part of the Driven Startup Ecosystem Spotlight series.

This episode of Driven’s Startup Spotlight features Robert Bollinger, CEO of Bollinger Motors, a new electric vehicle manufacturer. Robert talks about his journey as an entrepreneur and what drew him to Michigan to start engineering the world's first all-electric sport utility truck and pickup truck.

Driven - Startup Spotlight: Robert Bollinger, Bollinger Motors
 

Driven theme: 00:06 [inaudible].

Devin: 00:06 Hello and welcome to the Startup Spotlight podcast on Driven the source for news and insight into advancing the future of next generation mobility. I am Devin O'Reilly, director of Entrepreneurship for the Detroit Regional Chamber. And with me today is Robert Bollinger, founder and CEO Bollinger Motors. Robert, welcome. Hi, how are you? Thanks for having me on. Absolutely. So, let's get right into it. We're here at Bollinger's Motors talking to you. Tell us a little bit about your personal background. How did you get here?

Robert: 00:35 How'd I get here? So, I always wanted to be a car designer. I went to school for industrial design, which is not the same thing, but, I went for industrial design, wanted to do cars my whole life, ended up being in marketing and advertising. Went through a number of companies, sold a company, made some money, and then was like, hey, let's go back to that car dream. So, was five years ago, we decided to start Bollinger Motors, and basically spent four years of us working on trucks and stuff like that. So it's always been a dream, it just kind of came a little bit later. But your initially from was in New York initially from Pittsburgh and then went to New York right after graduation cause I got a job and in the city, so it was advertising. So I just kind of started there in a weird, weird direction right off the bat.

Robert: 01:25 But, loved New York City and was there for like 25 years. Then I moved up to the Catskills after we sold a company and it was there that we had the farm. And then from there it was like, let's what about that childhood dream thing? So started a whole company up there and a little shed in the middle of nowhere. And, there was a lot of fun and just kind of took it day by day. Now we're here. Awesome. So, the company before, it wasn't related to mobility or automotive at all? No,  before that was organic hair care. So it was a friend sorted started the company and he needed help with this logo. And it's sort of as simple as that. So we made it a logo for him, and then I kept helping him and then he needed a partner in the business.

Robert: 02:09 So then I left advertising and then we grew that. He grew it from like up to a certain point. And then I helped grow with the rest of the way. So, we kind of sold it for a lot of money, which was really nice. And she helped fund this part of my life. So, it was there that I learned a lot from him about running a company and I realized that's what I loved is like when you do a startup or you're in a company like this where you are in charge of a lot of different things, but you're not really good, you're not really amazing at anything. You're just good at finding the right people, maybe. And then putting them together and then seeing what they're doing and helping it all come together. So it really always comes down to who do you hire a new and you have?

Robert/Devin/Robert: 02:51 Sure. But I'm, I love being kind of in that position where you're like, every day is a million different things. So you're up, you're up in the Catskills with Bollinger Motors. How did you end up here in Detroit? So we built the first prototype that while you see in our website, the two door B1, we built that fully up there, fully running an operation on. Then we revealed that in New York City in 2017 and from there it was about talking to vendors, improving on the components, engineering the truck, closer to production. And so we found ourselves, I'm constantly trying to hire engineers from the Detroit area mostly. And none of them would move out there because it's like, you know, this is where they live, this is where the work is. I'm gonna start pp, no one knows who we are. Why would they, why would they take that chance?

Robert: 03:40 I don't blame them. And then I was flying out here every month to meet with the vendors. So it's just kind of one day I was like, we have to move to where everything is. So we moved to Detroit last year, just a year ago. What does it mean for you to kind of be here in Detroit? I mean, obviously, you know, the engineers were here, but this is still Motown and so there had to be some kind of intrinsic interest or value in being in what we consider the motor capital of the world. Right, right. Well, when I first, the first time I came here to meet, with a vendor, I couldn't believe when you like drive down, I forget if it's Stevenson highway or where it was, but like every vendor that we had been trying to talk to was kind of like in the buildings right next to each other right down the road.

Robert: 04:26 So I was like, oh, every single person's here. Because before that I was thinking, Oh, if Tesla's in California and BMW has some manufacturing in the Carolinas, whatever, you can do this anywhere. Right. But really, basically it's all the engineering is still concentrated here. I think for automotive. Tesla started here, you know, or a lot of companies come back here for their engineering and they might manufacture somewhere else. But, really just all the engineering know how is here. So, you know, it takes a long time to get a hundred years of knowledge, you know, behind all this stuff. So yeah. So talk about the, the products themselves. So, the B1 is the first product, correct? Correct. Yeah, that one, a two door B1, we're now making the four door B1, so he kept the same name to it, if you will.

Robert: 05:13 So the B1 is, we call it a sport utility truck, so it's basically a SUV style vehicle, but with, it's a lot more truck in our version we'd like to think of it. And then the B two is the pickup. So they're both four door. They're both identical in their DNA, like as far as like all electric dual motors in wheel portal gear hubs. So there it's basically six gearboxes are on this thing. Hydrogen [inaudible] suspension, self leveling, class three trucks. So they're very, very, you know, identical in many ways and similar, the rest of the way. And so when we make a B, three and before it'd be five, we're basically gonna stick with our, what we know best and what we've created. So there will always be in trucks and I'll always look like this. I'll always have these capabilities.

Devin: 06:02 So it's important to stress all electric, you know, that's, that's definitely one of the interesting parts about this. And talk about then, you know, with the way industry is shifting towards autonomous vehicles, what is your kind of market strategy? Where do you, what is the market for this vehicle? 

Robert: 06:20 Well when I first was trying to put this together in my head, I thought, I knew one day every vehicle is going to be electric someday. You know, and you could argue that, I guess, but, and how long that's going to take to get to that point. But I thought, well, I'm never gonna want to compete against Tesla. I don't want to compete against Ford. I, there's no way I can. So from the very beginning it was just try to make a very, very unique vehicle. So we basically just made what we wanted to be. And so with offer of capabilities, the storage capabilities, all the stuff that's in it and it turns out to be, you know, it has a lot of things in it that might add to the final cost, let's say, but it's just so much more capable than what's available on the market right now.

Robert: 07:05 And then it's, we've wanted to go with different kinds of look, you know, a more classic style that wouldn't need to be updated every year. It's not something you would buy one year and then it looks, you know, old fashion or whatever the word would be and you know, five or 10 years if you try. And I thought, well if you're developing an electric vehicle, a lot of times people try to go for futuristic and as the more futuristic you make it look, the more quickly it's going to look outdated, right? Cause the next person is going to make the next futuristic look. And it's just not, my style, it's not what I like anyway. So I'd like old, international and Broncos and stuff like that. So I definitely loved that world. So classic styling and basically we wanted to be a truck that you buy and you keep for the rest of your life.

Devin: 07:53 It's definitely got a timeless and minimalist look to it that I think is very appealing. So, talk about let's start going forward. Projecting ahead here. How has the demand been so far? And talk a little bit about kind of the strategy of the rollout of the product. 

Robert: 08:10 So back to your question, your other question, which I don't think I really answered with was was we, we are, we made this basically exactly the way we want it. Like we didn't do market research, we didn't ask anybody. We just made the truck we wanted. So when we revealed it originally, I was just like, I was like dying cause I was like, I have no idea how this is going to be received. Right? Cause if we had just made what we want. So it was received very, very well and we got a ton of press. We've got like I think 5,000 reservations within a week or something. So, and this is from nobody knowing anything about us to having a well done reveal and we, you know, brought in all the reporters that we could kind of thing. But it really took off and people were sharing the stories with each other and we just recently passed 30,000 reservations.

Robert: 08:56 So, we have a, that's with no money down and no price point out there yet, obviously, but it just shows a lot of interest in it. So, we just need a fraction of that for our first year's production. So I think we hit on the nerve, if you will, of something that's different, something that won't be made by the big three or necessarily anyone else. And, you know, with other electric vehicles coming out, we're distinctly different from them and that's great. They're doing their thing. We're doing our thing and it's hard enough to, for me to worry about what we're doing. I don't, I'm not really worried about what anyone else is doing. So, the people who love what we're doing have found us and, hopefully they'll buy it.

Devin: 09:38 I mean, do you have an idea of when, when, when might be the time where we see one of these on the road?

Robert: 09:44 Yeah, so our production schedule has us doing the first roll offs off the assembly line end of next year. So end of quarter fourth, quarter 2020. That's when we'll have our first run ups in our first, we'll have the DV builds by then all their testing done by then. And then, so 2021 is the real like full year production is our plan. And how, how is the, the capital raising activity been so far and you know, what are your goals there? That's been going, we've, we started that just recently actually. So that's less than, that's only like four or five months in the making. So far up until now it's been funded by me, which has made it both good and, you know, it's all my money, but in a good, it's good in the sense that we just can just do what we wanted and now that we can prove out our following and I think when we take it, you know, put it out there for actual deposits and prove that people want it, it'll, it'll go from there. But we've had a lot, we have a lot of interest in investments. We were just having to fill a few unknowns at this point and will be a lot further along soon, hopefully. Sure.

Devin: 10:54 So, as I mentioned in the beginning where you're here live, so any background, we're here live at Bollinger Motors. So, any noises we hear are those vehicles being worked on right now? Real noises. Yeah, exactly. But speaking to that the eventual strategy is to be in this, in the city of Detroit in kind of a full production. We'll talk a little bit about kind of the next step of being in, in the city of Detroit and, and making the car there. So we've been,

Robert: 11:23 To be honest, we've been searching for place to do that for over a year now. It's very difficult. There's, you know, a lot of people outside the city, outside of Michigan are like, oh, there's gotta be tons of buildings available because you know, it's coming back and all that kind of stuff. So it's true and not true. There's a lot of buildings, but they need an insane amount of work. And so it's makes it more difficult. So that search is continuing. So we'll know more about that soon hopefully, but we don't have that nailed down. But all the other PR work being done to prepare for it's time. We have our factory layout, we have our vendors support for that or engineering support for the actual factory. We have you know, from our own all our components in all the sourcing that's happening, you know, so it's, we hope that once we get a building, we push the button on all the ordering and get the stuff in there. Yeah.

Devin: 12:15 And when we talked before, I really, a I really liked kind of your, your thoughts about, you know, where, where you do end up being a part of that community, making sure that we're, you know, wherever the location is that you're building these vehicles, that, you know, the community knows about it and you kind of feel a part of that. Right,

Robert: 12:31 right, right. My whole thing back, you know, back in New York when it was just so much about the truck, it's still all about the choice. The most important thing is that the truck gets made, right. So whatever's the right decision for that will be the one that will be the thing that, that we go with, obviously. But when I came back, I remember originally from Pittsburgh, so there's a feeling about Detroit that feels familiar to me, that's like smaller city that I love. And so when I came here and were looking around at buildings, I just felt like, oh, it'd be really cool just to be part of something where you can actually maybe have a impact or you know, do something, you know, as opposed to being in such a huge place or in the middle of nowhere where, I mean you still, wherever you hire people, you hire people in.

Robert: 13:17 That's great. But yeah, I just wanted to be part of the history of Detroit I guess when I first came here and saw it. So I'll, I'll, we'll see how it pans out cause it's, to be honest, it's very difficult to find a place to manufacture in the city and we don't have the same leverage as like FCA and others where you can just say, oh, you, you know, come out and say we're going to hire 5,000 people and then people throw billions of dollars out to, to, to make that happen. We don't have that kind of leverage. So, like the rest of what we're doing, we're doing it, we're doing it our way. We're doing it with our own money, with our own people, where their own, you know, sense of, you know, drive. But it's a, it makes it hard but it makes it fun. So

Devin: 13:57 it's a true mobility startup journey. Yeah. Yeah. So, so how can people kind of follow along with your story? How can, how can those listing keep up with what's going on with Bollinger and their continued progress and success? Yeah.

Robert: 14:10 Where you constantly post stuff cause we like to show exactly where we're at. A big part about the company is as being very, clear and honest and open about our journey. So, mark or brand director and hunter designer, they, they handle a lot of the postings and so you can follow us on all the regular social media. But Bollinger Motors that com is recently written, so it has a new journal page on it. You can find that to see pictures of vehicles, spots and videos some behind the scenes stuff. We're starting to close that off a little bit cause there's some stuff we can't show but we tried to show as much as possible. Okay.

Devin: 14:48 Very cool. So you're on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, all that. Yeah. All right, fantastic. Well, we're really looking forward to see a, to see what happens next. Cool. Thanks a lot. And you can also find out more about Bollinger Motors and the Detroit region's leadership and next generation mobility by visiting www.detroitdriven.us

Driven theme: 15:12 [inaudible]

Devin: 15:13 special thank you to we work for providing to studio to record this podcast, a platform dedicated to businesses of all sizes, providing communities, space and services to help you Frye, learn more at [inaudible] dot co back slash podcast Detroit.

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