Tel-Aviv based REE Automotive is an electric mobility provider that is tackling future transportation from an unique direction, highlights Iain Robertson, which will lead to new brands developing literally off its back, while also engaging with autonomous motoring.
From the dawn of motorised transport, a vehicle’s chassis has been its most vital component. While some carmakers, like Morgan in the UK, retained wood as a core construction material for many years, welded steel and later light alloy architecture enabled carmakers to develop sturdy underpinnings, to which would be attached suspension systems, engines of various configurations and locations, a mass of ancillary components and a wealth of body-styles to cover all needs, from utilitarian to sporting.
Although the era of separate chassis engineering was retained by some manufacturers of 4×4 vehicles, the advent of CAD-CAM computer technology allowed vehicle makers to devise pressed metal substructures that were torsionally rigid but significantly lighter than a separate ladder frame. The application of varying densities and even types of metal, as well as employing advanced adhesives and layered fabrics (such as glass-fibre and carbon-fibre reinforcements) aided manufacturing flexibility, raising it to exciting new levels for many carmakers.
Developed during the 1970s and known as ‘platform engineering’, one substructure, with only minor changes, might lead to a dozen offshoot products. A fine example was the VW Golf, from which platform the Skoda Octavia, Audi TT and A3, Seat Toledo, VW Touran, Beetle and Caddy Van among others were developed. Several carmakers pursued similar ideals, which would save them a fortune in product development costs. While shared platforms were overtaken by shared component layouts, the arrival of the Electric Vehicle has witnessed the return of a rolling platform, within which drive components and a battery pack are integrated.
Once again, VW was in the vanguard of BEV platform developments. However, including necessarily strong structures for conventional suspension, steering and braking components results in some very complex and ‘ugly’ substructures, even though they can still present a degree of design freedom to the respective companies’ styling departments. REE Automotive adopted a disruptive stance around four years ago, accelerated by a greater range of compact lithium-ion battery developments, in proposing that a flatter, lower centre-of-gravity platform, onto which integrated corner units that incorporated steering, brakes and suspension (spring and damper) media, with associated electronic management packs, ought to be considered to reduce manufacturing costs further still.
In fact, REEcorner even includes propulsion motors within the same hub structures, to result in a truly modular platform applicable to city transport, family cars and even larger goods and people-moving vehicles. A REEcenter electronic control unit manages all cornering stability issues, with semi-active suspension, and introduces both steer- and brake-by-wire technology. Using high-power ECU architecture, fault-finding and AI preventative maintenance systems are employed. Replacing an entire electro-hydraulic corner unit is no more costly than a conventional suspension pack and takes around an hour to change. REE suggests that it has only limited interest in producing vehicles, preferring to become THE supplier of its platforms to a growing number of EV manufacturers; a ready-to-roll and cost-efficient solution.
Without the REEcorner technology, the innovative REEboard is a flat, scalable and modular electric platform, to which larger battery packs can be added and that offers limitless bodywork configurations and flexible space to play with. However, it is notably power agnostic, being applicable to all forms of battery or fuel cell power units and, as it utilises CANopen and supports any ADAS driver safety requirements, it is ‘turnkey’ ready for simple autonomous technology integration. It is a modular system that provides an answer to all mobility questions.
The potential for street level driverless goods delivery modules, or for shuttling personnel around sites (like airports, hospitals etc), manned, or not, urban taxis, and larger cargo movements, is catered for by a range of modular structures. With signed indications-of-interest amounting to 250,000 platforms already in REE’s orderbook, it is no surprise that $500m of gross proceeds and a projected turnover of $19.1bn by 2025 have been of major interest to investors. The pro forma equity value of the merger with 10X Capital Venture Acquisition Corporation is approximately $3.6bn and a pro forma enterprise value of $3.1bn, at the $10.00 per share PIPE price and assuming minimal 10X SPAC shareholder redemptions. The transaction allows REE to commence mass production of its fascinating and heavily patented REEcorner technology and ground-breaking integrated modular platforms for early 2023 release.
While driverless vehicle technology is currently under investigation by various safety bodies, within ‘closed loop’ environments, where speed and routing are tightly controlled, such capabilities hold immense value. REE is already undergoing destruction testing of its modular platforms, to ensure that they meet a wide range of safety demands. Apart from tyres and brake friction materials, REE is able to offer an ultra-low pollution proposition to its customers, in what I believe is a fascinating diversion from conventional engineering.
Naturally, the flexibility of its substructures will be tested to various limits by those assemblers of new modes of EV. Ride control can be dialled into the semi-active suspension media, to make the end product capable of anything from light commercial use to Tesla-rivalling sports cars. I can perceive REE underpinning many different forms of transport in the not-too-distant future.
Conclusion: Most carmakers are so wrapped up in their brand images that they find it hard to think laterally, which makes the REE developments even more exciting in a rapidly changing market.