The Netherlands’ only car plant with +4 000 employees, VDL Nedcar, announced it would build the modular electric XBUS and the Evetta microcar for German start-up ElectricBrands. Earlier negotiations with American Canoo and Rivian turned out to be a damp squib.
VDL Nedcar, in Born, near the Belgian border, is a contract manufacturer for BMW today, building the MINI until 2024, when production will end. But before that, it will also build 999 vehicles for the limited version of the electric MINI convertible.
Evetta first to be built
The first of the ElectricBrands cars to be built in Born is said to be the Evetta, as first deliveries were planned beginning of 2024, with the XBUS following a year later. The Evetta is a third attempt to relaunch the iconic BMW Isetta as an electric microcar.
The Swiss company Micro Mobility Systems was the first to clone the iconic Isetta bubble car under the brand name Microlino. Unfortunately, with some hostility, it was taken over by the German (sports car) manufacturer Artega, and they showed their version of the Microlino, running as Karo.
But it was ElectricBrands, an electric vehicle manufacturer from Itzehoe, Germany, who rescued Artega from insolvency and brought the Karo back to life. ElectricBrands wanted to build the Evetta next to its XBUS, a modular EV first presented as ‘eBussy’ to be launched in 2021.
But the corona pandemic threw a wrench in the works. In September last year, ElectricBrands surprised the world by stating it wouldn’t build the XBUS at its HQ in Itzehoe, northern Germany, but would look for a contract manufacturer with a more central location. That turns out today to be VDL Nedcar in Born.
XBUS in nine different flavors
The XBUS has a modular structure and is available in nine different configurations on two chassis versions (standard and ‘off the road’), painted in frivolous colors. In July last year, the company presented a ‘Camper’ version, which features a small pop-up roof to increase the headroom in the interior.
To meet the requirements of the L7e class, the continuous power of the four-wheel hub motors is 15 kW; 56 kW is possible as peak power for a short time. The battery is modularly constructed in swappable packages of 1,25 kWh each, so between 10 and 30 kWh can be installed in the chassis, depending on the application.
Looking for new contracts
The Dutch family-owned VDL Group has been looking for new contracts for its car assembly plant in Born for some years now, since the news got out that BMW would finish production of the MINI in the Nederlands end of 2023. In August last year, it got a message from BMW that Born could extend the build of MINIs for four months longer, until March 1st, 2024.
Since 2014 it has been building MINIs for BMW, starting with the three-door Hatch. In 2015, the MINI convertible was added, followed by the MINI Countryman (including the PHEV), and since 2017 also, the BMW X1. On June 15th, 2022, the millionth vehicle produced for BMW Group rolled off the assembly line in Born.
MINI Electric Convertible
The MINI Electric is assembled at Plant Oxford in the UK, alongside combustion engine-powered MINI hatchbacks. But now VDL Nedcar is to build the electric version of the Cooper SE Convertible. From April 2023, the car will be available to open-air lovers in Europe in a limited number of 999 vehicles.
But even this won’t suffice to keep the +4 000 employees in Born at work, so new contracts are of utmost importance to the factory. Nedcar has been talking for some months already to American electric pickup maker Rivian, among others, to offer production capacity in Europe.
But since Rivian had to cut its workforce by 6% recently, there is no word about expansion plans in Europe anymore. This sounds familiar to the failed deal with Canoo, another American electric carmaker start-up that wanted to have VDL build its Lifestyle Car.
But in December 2021, news broke that Canoo definitely dropped its deal with its Dutch subcontractor. CEO Tony Aquila preferred to keep production in America, saying risks are less over there. The fact that Arkansas and Oklahoma were offering support for the new factories helped without a doubt to convince him.
Even if the deal with ElectricBrands actually materializes, this won’t be enough for the Born factory to keep everybody on board. That’s why VDL is diversifying its contracts and will also focus on preparing cars for delivery for other manufacturers in its Mobility Innovation Center (MIC).
Another opportunity is assembling heavy battery packs for several Dutch partners who are converting ICE vehicles (trucks) to electric. In Born, VDL started expanding its 330 000 m2 production facilities and installed a demo battery assembly line.
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