A battery-powered utility vehicle, conceived and built in upstate New York.
We can buy battery-powered versions of mainstream vehicles (Ford Focus, VW Golf), hyper-efficent EVs (Chevy Bolt, BMW i3), even a gull-wing mini-van (Tesla Model X). The one thing you can’t buy, though, is a truck. Sure, weight and aerodynamics make range an issue, but the high-torque, low-maintenance characteristics of electric motors are a natural for everything trucks do. If somebody built an electrified version of a Land Rover Defender, I’d be all over that. Which is why I’m in Hobart, New York, to grab a ride in the very first Bollinger B1.
Its creator, Robert Bollinger, must’ve been reading my diary, because his company’s debut vehicle is like a mashup of a Defender and a Tesla Model S. It looks like it was sketched with a pencil and a rafter square, which is to say it would appear in a police lineup with old Ford Broncos and new Jeep Wranglers. The guts, though, are unlike any truck yet conceived. Twin electric motors deliver 360 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque, enabling an un-Wrangler-like zero-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds. But it’s downstream from the motors where things get really interesting, with locking differentials sending power to geared hubs that allow 20 inches of ground clearance with the suspension at max extension. That suspension, incidentally, is hydropneumatic, an approach once favored by Citroën and basically no one else. “The reason we went with hydro-pneumatic is that you can have a lot of payload capacity, and the truck will still be safe,” Bollinger says. “Because it’ll ride the same whether it’s loaded or unloaded.”
Here at the company’s design center—a sizable garage stuffed with milling machines, attached to offices where designers render parts in SolidWorks—the first prototype is parked before us. That payload capacity, 6,100 pounds, is crucial to the B1’s production, since it vaults the relatively small SUV into the Class 3 light-duty truck category. That’s important because Class 3 trucks like the burly F-350 deal with a much thinner book of Department of Transportation regulations. For one, the B1’s airbags are noticeably absent. But if this truck replaces some vintage Land Cruiser or hoary pickup, the B1 would represent a net safety improvement, airbags or not.
The only example of Bollinger’s creation is barely past its first Frankenstein “It’s alive!” moment, but I’ve been hounding him for a ride. Bollinger drives ahead in his gasoline pickup, and I climb into the B1 next to lead engineer Karl Hacken, who drives us out to a nearby field. The truck is quiet but for gear whine, with great outward visibility. The interior is spare, the flat dash adorned with a simple row of knobs. The seats are excellent, more luxury sport sedan than SUV. Hacken labors at the wheel. The truck’s hydraulic system isn’t yet powered up, and the B1 uses hydraulic power steering. “We couldn’t find an electric rack we liked that would cope with the loads we’re putting on it,” he says. “And we already have a hydraulic system for the suspension, so the hydraulic rack makes sense.” Even the winch up front is hydraulic.
We pull over, and Bollinger demonstrates his truck’s most novel cargo-carrying trick: its interior pass-through and front trunk. With the batteries and motors tucked low in the center, the front is dedicated to storage—there’s even a tailgate, so you could do your pregame cookout from either end of the B1. In between the driver and front passenger, there’s a flip-up door that opens the front trunk to the interior, allowing you to carry 12-foot boards inside. “But,” Bollinger says, “if you opened up the front and rear tailgates, I guess there’s no definite limit on how long the lumber could be.” If you regularly transport sail masts, this is the rig for you. Bollinger says that two employees so far have demonstrated the generous dimensions of the pass-through by crawling through it, an assertion that I take as a challenge. I am now on the record as the third person to worm my way through the B1. And I’d be a big stack of 2 x 4s.
The rear section of the top is removable, so you can then drive Jeep-style, rear seats alfresco, or remove the back seats and slide the rear-most pillars forward to create a half-cab pickup. There are also 110-volt power outlets throughout the cabin, so you can use that giant battery to run power tools wherever you’re parked.
Initially, the B1 will ship with either a 60-kilowatt-hour or 100-kwh battery, with a range of 120 or 200 miles. Price hasn’t been announced, but “it’ll be more than a base Wrangler,” Bollinger says. After four years of work, he says production is still at least two years away. I observe that building a car is always more complicated than anyone thinks. “Definitely,” Bollinger says. “If I knew then what I know now,” he laughs.
“Not taking deposits yet. Just looking to see who says, ‘This is the kind of truck I’d like to buy.’ ”
He’s had this idea in his head for a long time: a vehicle with the cargo capacity of a heavy-duty pickup truck and the off-road ability of the best Jeep or Land Rover, all the parts made in America to the greatest extent possible. Those are not easily reconcilable goals. But here’s the first B1, parked in front of us, rivets gleaming in the sun.
“The next stage is, we’re just looking for hand-raisers,” Bollinger says. “Not taking deposits yet, just looking to see who says, ‘This is the kind of truck I’d like to buy.’ ” Bollinger’s still got a long way to go, but consider my hand raised.
How it works: hydropneumatic suspension
When the truck hits a bump, the wheel compresses a piston that sends pressure into a reservoir filled with fluid (red) and gas (green). Seeking to equalize themselves, the fluid and gas gently resist, cushioning the ride. It’s more complex and harder to repair than regular spring suspension, but comes with truck-specific advantages. By adjusting the fluids, the B1 can self-level on uneven terrain. Or tilt up a corner wheel for a jack-free tire change, like Snoop Dogg hitting the three-wheel motion.