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New TELO Electric Vehicle Taps Kei Cult For Inspiration

New Telo Electric Vehicle Taps Kei Cult For Inspiration

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Mini pickup trucks that conform to Japan’s strict kei-jidōsha standards have become a hot item among auto buyers here in the US. Until now they have only trickled in through used car channels. That is about to change. The California electric vehicle startup TELO Truck has stepped up to fill the gap with plans to launch a mini electric pickup into the US market with a sporty, stylish silhouette and a powerful 350-mile battery.

Electric Vehicle Maker Sees Green Gold In Tiny Pickup Trucks

TELO crossed the CleanTechnica radar three months ago, when Derek Markham noted that the company logged more than 2,500 pre-orders for its forthcoming electric vehicle.

“If the TELO electric truck can go from its current prototype status to a production-ready vehicle, the electric pickup segment could get a small but capable entry, and maybe even be able to live up to its claimed status as ‘the world’s most efficient EV pickup,” Markham reported.

Among the features noted by Markham is the truck’s length of just 152 inches, the same as the MINI Cooper SE. However, it is practical as well. The truck bed measures 60 inches, or about the same as a Toyota Tacoma.

Bed or no bed, TELO is going against the grain of the US electric vehicle market, where bigness has been a big selling point. Nevertheless, the firm has spotted an opening in the urban market, where a smaller electric vehicle is easier to maneuver and park than a honking big pickup truck.

In terms of range and charging time, cities are also a good fit for a working electric vehicle. TELO cites a range of 350 miles, which is plenty of miles accomplish a good weeks’ worth of tasks before hopping over to the nearest fast-charger and heading out for a weekend of fun.

The Tiny Electric Vehicle That Roared

The argument in favor of the urban electric vehicle market appears to be catching on with investors. As Markham noted, in March TELO announced that it secured a $5.4 million strategic funding round led by Neo (not to be confused with Neo Investment Partners).

“TELO builds electric pickup trucks with the same capacity of an F150, the range of a Tesla, in the footprint of a Mini Cooper,” Neo states in its pitch.

“Trucks are too big, not just because people want big trucks, but also because of a misinterpretation of government regulation by automakers,” Neo emphasizes.

“This resulted in trucks nearly doubling in size over the last 15 years, all-time highs in pedestrian fatalities, and trucks now contributing 10.5% of all US carbon emissions. The only way to shrink the mobility footprint is to rethink the form and function of the truck,” Neo concludes.

The TELO team — co-founders Jason Marks as CEO and Forrest North as CTO — describe their electric vision for the Neo audience as the mobility solution for the “Urban Adventurer.” A third co-founder is Yves Béhar, who founded the design studio fuseproject. He holds the title of Chief Creative Officer.

“We are a team of enthusiastic automotive, battery, design, and robotics experts, all with the hands-on skills building real world things,” Marks and North add to the Neo pitch.

Spero Ventures also participated in the funding round, along with unnamed angel investors.

The fresh infusion of cash comes after a pre-seed funding round of $1.78 million announced in June of 2023. That round was led by GoAhead Ventures. Also participating were Underdog Labs, WorkPlay Ventures, and Yves Béhar himself, among others.

In March TELO also let word drop that Marc Tarpenning, a Spero Ventures partner and one of the two actual founders of Tesla Motors (Martin Eberhard is the other one), has been appointed to its board.

Tiny Electric Vehicle Catches The Eye Of Sporty Automaker

In the latest development, TELO reached out to CleanTechnica earlier this week to let us know that the company has partnered with the California manufacturer Aria Group, which will hand-build the first two fully functional prototypes of the electric vehicle.

“Aria is a major player in the early stage development of concept vehicles and rapid prototyping, and has partnered with notable automotive, aerospace, maritime, and entertainment companies,” TELO told CleanTechnica by email.

“They will help make the TELO truck a reality combining the latest advances in rapid manufacturing technology with innovative design and creative engineering,” TELO added.

They sure will. Aria Group bills itself as “the premier leader of full-range design, engineering and manufacturing solutions for the Transportation, Aerospace, Entertainment and Production Industries.”

“Aria Group has the capabilities to design, engineer and manufacture any type of prototype, vehicle or advanced production solution,” the company says of itself, while taking note of its client roster including Honda, Toyota, Ford, GM, Paramount, Northrop Grumman, and of course, the iconic US electric vehicle maker Tesla.

The Kei-Jidōsha Connection

We’re wondering if Tarpenning’s interest in TELO helped the company catch the eye of Aria, which is better known for its futuristic sports cars, airborne mobility innovations, and advanced propulsion systems than workaday pickup trucks, let alone tiny ones.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at that Kei connection. Kei is short for kei-jidōsha, which loosely translates into vehicles that conform to specific parameters established by Japan beginning in 1949. A Kei car or truck is the smallest, lightest possible highway-legal configuration for a vehicle in Japan.

As described by Dustin Hawley of J.D. Power, the current length of a Kei truck is up to 11.2 feet or about 134 inches. That’s somewhat shorter than the TELO electric vehicle, though not by much.

We’re guessing that the TELO truck is also a bit wider. That’s just a guess, but TELO has also made some additional accommodations for the US market, such as seating for up to 8 passengers (a Kei truck is only allowed up to 4 seats)

The Cult Of The Kei Truck, Electric Vehicle Edition

Back in 2022, Dustin Hawley of J.D. Power took a close look at the Kei truck phenomenon. “They are extremely compact and economical, but they’re rare as a unicorn in the U.S.,” he observed, noting that the category can include sedans and vans as well as pickup trucks.

“In Japan, there is a ban on selling new vehicles outside the country,” Hawley explained. “Therefore, only used autos of local brands find their way to the foreign market, where manufacturers tend to copy and improve the main features and launch their own products.”

Used KEI-class vehicles have even become trendy to import to the USA,” MotorBiscuit reported year. CarScoops has also noted that rural buyers are attracted by the ability of Kei trucks to maneuver into sheds, barns, and other small spaces.

US Kei enthusiasts in search of an electric vehicle are out of luck, unless they are up for DIY-ing a gas-to-electric conversion. Plenty of chatter on that topic is available online, indicating that Motorbiscuit and CarScoops are on to something.

Electric vehicle makers have also begun dipping a toe in the Kei segment, so with any luck, used electric Kei cars will surface on the overseas market as well.

CleanTechnica got a look at a stylish interpretation of Kei standards last November, when we visited the electric vehicle maker HW Electro in New York to see its new Puzzle Kei-compliant electric van. The automaker is zeroing in on the commercial market by focusing on driver safety and emergency response features.

For every trend there is a counter-trend. Big rigs like the Ford F-150 pickup are dominating the US market for now, but keep an eye out for more Kei and Kei-adjacent electric vehicles to make their mark as well.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Photo (cropped): TELO Truck is introducing a new electric vehicle that combines the practicality of a zero emission pickup truck and the sportiness of modern styling (courtesy of TELO).


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