Button Text
Back to musings

Bringing Electric Drive to the Commercial Backbone of the Economy


Sep 14, 2022

In the 1990s, I was a member of an oppressed minority group: Macintosh PowerBook users. For going through graduate school what was then perceived to be a niche product for kids, I endured much ridicule. Today I still use a Mac, but needless to say, the mockery is a thing of the past.

Once upon a time in 2006– when most might have associated electric vehicles with golf carts — I became convinced that progressively better and cheaper batteries made the electrification of all vehicles inevitable. And for that, I also endured some ribbing. But we now live in a new era, in which vehicle manufacturers and governments are tripping over each other to announce electrification goals and mandates.

Therefore I have a special place in my heart for those of us who were in the EV trenches a decade or more ago. When we were introduced to John Henry Harris and Phillip Weicker of Harbinger Motors, I felt the sense of kinship and comfort one gets from people who are not fair-weather friends, but die-hard believers.

In spite of the newfound conventional wisdom and regular tropes around electric vehicles, some of the most important — and potentially lucrative — vehicle segments have thus far been neglected: Commercial, medium-duty trucks are all around us, but many hardly notice. These vehicles, weighing between 14,000 and 33,000 lbs, in classes four through seven, are sometimes referred to as “box trucks.” These trucks are truly the workhorses of modern economies, used for urban delivery, moving, construction and maintenance, garbage collection, and much more. Many operate on fixed routes, and few need more than 150 miles of daily range.

While commercial trucks may not seem as sexy as passenger cars, there are compelling reasons to build a ground-up platform to electrify them now. For one, they are operated by businesses, and so purchasing decisions are based on empirical data, without the emotional distortions that sometimes cloud consumer choices. And the cost savings of transitioning these vehicle classes to electric drivetrains is fairly easy math. Beyond economics, there are other advantages always associated with removing combustion engines, such as lowering the maintenance burden (a major component of total ownership cost), complying with emission restrictions, reducing carbon emissions, and cleaning the surface air — something especially important for vehicles that spend most of their lives traversing densely populated US cities.

CEO John Henry Harris Presents Harbinger Motors at the Auto Show in Detroit, September 14, 2022

What makes Harbinger’s platform special? John and Phil started with a blank canvas, with deep knowledge of the benefits that could be designed into a new platform born electric. Remember the first consumer vehicle built from scratch to be an EV? The Tesla Model S did ok. Harbinger’s proprietary eAxle integrates the motor, inverter, and gearbox into a single unit, permitting the battery system to be safely stored entirely inside the frame. The company’s novel battery pack design is safer, less expensive, and more durable, as a result of design and sourcing strategy. And performance and driver comfort incorporate recent advances from lighter-weight vehicles, such as drive-by-wire steering, improved driver visibility, and maneuverability. The vehicle boasts a zero acquisition premium over an equivalent diesel version, comes autonomous-ready — and can be fast-charged in as little as an hour. With the abuse that medium-duty trucks take over their 20-year lifespans, this is not a segment for half-baked designs. The Harbinger platform has been built to be put to work.

When John and Phil decided to take the plunge on Harbinger, and when we decided to back their seed round, none of us would have imagined that less than a month before unveiling the first Harbinger prototype, the wheels of policymaking in Washington, DC would come unstuck ever so briefly and provide a tailwind. The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden just last month, is the most important legislative boost to the electrification of transportation since the original EV tax credit 15 years ago. As a board member of SAFE throughout, I’ve had a front-row seat to US policy toward EVs, and am amazed how well suited the new law is to Harbinger’s vehicle and strategy.

There are many reasons that we at Maniv are excited about the Harbinger unveiling today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But when all is said and done, the fundamental reason we deployed the hard-earned capital of our investors into this venture was the same as for every investment we make: belief in the founding team. John and Phil both come from rich experience in EV. John previously designed battery systems for Faraday Future and Xos trucks. Phil has over 15 years of experience in battery engineering including stints with Coda Automotive, QuantumScape, Faraday Future, and Canoo. And to top it off, Phil is also co-holder of the record for having built the world’s fastest hot tub. But most importantly, John and Phil are consummate professionals, passionate about their mission and having fun along the way. Introducing them to so many of our strategic investors and other friends across the automotive industry as they have built out their supply chain has been a pleasure.

For those of us who have been predicting the imminent rise of EVs for 20+ years, vehicle electrification has been a rollercoaster. With the “pipe dream” phase in the distant rear-view mirror, and as we move past the mania of EV SPACs, we can look forward to a new wave of electric vehicles designed…to just work. These electric vehicles might boast novel features such as utility, low total cost of ownership, and multi-decade vehicle durability. John and Phil might not take out Super Bowl ads, bundle their vehicles with special-edition NFTs, or plan to colonize new planets. But, as the Harbinger team has shown, the right commercial EV OEM might just have the power to move the world.

Related content