Though he insists he’s not trying to be “the next Tesla,” it’s hard not to picture Mark Hanchett as the East Valley’s Elon Musk.
True, when it comes to thinking big, it’s hard to match the guy who launched the world’s biggest electric vehicle company and a space program, to boot.
But Hanchett has massive, visionary, “industry disruptive” plans, though is keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. More specifically, his work boots are racing back and forth across a production plant on Higley Road just south of Falcon Field.
The location is fitting: Hanchett’s double-barreled vision of developing and producing fast-charge batteries and bulked-up electric trucks are taxiing for takeoff later this year.
Hanchett, who looks as burly and tough as a wrestling coach, scowled when asked if investors ask him to focus on one or the other.
“Everyone asks that question. ‘Why don’t you just be a battery vendor?’ Or, ‘Why don’t you just build trucks?’ ….Quite frankly, it’s a mistake,” Hanchett said.
Hanchett’s start-up Atlis Motor Vehicles is not to be confused with ElectraMeccanica, an established Canadian company that announced plans to build a Mesa facility near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport that will employ 500 people and build up to 20,000 Solo mini-electric cars.
A Solo would just about fit in the trunk of one of Hanchett’s XT pickup trucks.
While newspapers and TV stations fawned over ElectraMeccanica’s March groundbreaking, Hanchett was quietly commuting from his home near Eastmark to a modern but utilitarian warehouse on Higley Road.
Part engineer, part salesman, he has hustled up enough early funding to grow Atlis to 32 full-time employees.
But entering this month, Hanchett dream of “disrupting” in a positive way the electric vehicle industry seemed to be fading, with the company fast burning through money while the launch of the truck was pushed into next year.
As of Thursday, Hanchett has 14 million reasons for optimism.
This was a make-or-break week for Hanchett and Atlis, with the early result being “make.” At 5 p.m. July 13, the window closed on Hanchett’s attempt to raise desperately needed millions from investors.
Though landing short of a lofty goal of $25 million, Atlis scored more than $14 million from investors hungry for the-next-big-thing.
“We’re a little more than halfway, but we still feel pretty good about it,” Hanchett said, as the deadline for a lifeline approached.
He insisted he was keeping an even keel during what may turn out to be a historic week for his company.
“I don’t typically get nervous or rollercoaster about any of this stuff. It’s something we need to do and get it done,” Hanchett said.
“We’ve always met our goals,” he added.
Hanchett gave a rueful chuckle, when asked if he would prefer to stay in the background, inventing things and perfecting production.
As a start-up launcher, he has been forced to the foreground, becoming the face of the company and asking investors to write checks every few months.
“I’m an engineer by education,” he said, “and 10 years prior to this I was building, developing and launching (products) in the tech space.
“I definitely had to learn (marketing) -- and also build a team of some really great people who do a much better job of that than me.”
He started thinking seriously about powerful, fast-charge batteries and massive electric trucks in 2013, then launched his company in 2016.
On his Linked In profile, Hanchett describes his philosophy:
“I believe that to change the world we need to build it ourselves. We cannot wait for the government to force it, and we cannot wait for big corporations to innovate. To make this world better, we need to develop the products, technologies, and solutions that make the current standard obsolete. I believe dedication to this is what makes great products and great people.”
Prior to “going solo” with Atlis in 2016, he spent 10 years at Scottldale’s Axon, rising from engineer to director. After launching the Taser shock-gun, Axon branched into other technology and weapons for law enforcement and civilians.
At Axon, according to Hanchett’s online resume, he “developed industry leading ergonomic accessories for body worn systems” and “successfully championed the launch of four major and two minor products that helped grow business by 400 percent. This includes four body-worn camera products, over 30 accessories, mobile and enterprise software products.”
“I spent 12 years developing products that changed the world at Axon,” he said.
While at Axon, he and his wife decided to put down roots in southeast Mesa. “My kids drove that decision. Good schools, good opportunities,” he said.
The Hanchett children are 11 and 9. By the time they are old enough to drive, electric vehicles may be filling the streets of Mesa and beyond.
According to Automotive World, growing numbers of options “could push EV sales to between six million and 11 million by 2025, rising to between 11 million and 19 million units a year by 2030.”
Give me a slice of that pie, Hanchett says.
‘We’re not Ford’
A press release describes the dual-carb approach:
“The Atlis innovators are building an electric vehicle technology platform for heavy and light duty work trucks used in the agriculture, service, utility, and construction industries. To meet the towing and payload capabilities of legacy diesel-powered vehicles, Atlis is developing proprietary battery technology and a modular system architecture capable of scaling to meet the specific needs of the heavy-duty all-electric vehicle.”
The electric vehicle markets present – both present and future – are dominated by two powerhouses.
Nearly three-quarters of electric vehicles sold over the past three years were Teslas (430,000 of 568,000 total sales), according to Forbes magazine.
Ford caused many to slam on the
brakes with its announcement of flipping its popular F-150 pickup truck to electric starting next year.
But if you want to get a derisive look from Hanchett, ask him if he wants to be the next Ford or Tesla.
“The most important thing is to look at the business model Atlis is targeting,” Hanchett said. “Ford and Tesla are going after the F-150 buyers. Atlis is going after the more high-end, the F-250 and F-350 (buyers).”
The big trucks with muscle, in other words.
“Our business model is not interested
in being another Ford or Tesla... We’re looking at a much larger ecosystem,” Hanchett said.
Hanchett and his Atlis staff want you to imagine a powerful truck that fully charges in the time it takes you to drink a cup of coffee.
“The Atlis XT pickup truck will be Atlis Motor Vehicles’ flagship product, capable of 500 miles of range, 35,000 lbs. fifth wheel towing capability, and 15-minute charge time from 0-100%,” the company’s website boasts.
Next week: The Mesa moon shot.