Uniti: An Interview with Lewis Horne, CEO

Holly Suttle

14 Dec 2017

Lewis Horne, Uniti CEO at vehicle unveiling event

What was it that initially pushed you to create Uniti?

I could see some clear problems in the world, and I could see a solution. So I felt that with this observation, I had a duty. Number 2, I wanted to contribute to the advancement of capitalisation through technology. And number three, depending on what came up, I wanted to be a part of a start-up investment.

Why is clean, sustainable energy important to you?

All the ice caps are melting, it’s a point that’s important to everybody. I think the idea of sustainability doesn’t just lie directly pointing to doomsday, the world is already progressively becoming worse, and it’s a nice idea that we’re trying to stop the world from becoming like this.

Clean sustainable energy and the word ‘clean’ to me doesn’t just mean that it’s coming from a renewable source, it’s also not something else emitting damaging gases. With many things such as vehicles and driving, we can change this, and the overall experience will basically be a lot nicer if we try to reduce stuff like these detrimental gases.

How do you believe EVs will affect the future of smart energy, especially within urban areas?

EVs are already affecting the future, by reducing the amount of pollution in urban areas as it is. Most pollution is going to be in nitrogen impact, air pollution is going to be a nitrogen impact. I think we just overall are on a much more efficient streak. The requirements are a lot less high due to advancements of autonomous technology. For me, I’ll just feel better. From my perspective, I feel better as a human, because we have an advancement in the technology that is such an obvious one to make [the choice to use].

I mean, where obviously the emissions are all connected it’s gonna give us a whole lot more service, and better decisions.

As a result, we can increase efficiency, increase the safety, decrease risk, decrease congestion, and certainly improve the experience of being human in the city as a result of lower emissions and less congestion and so forth.

Eventually that will lead to increased utility in the car, that’s when we really get into the next stage of connection to automatic smart meters.

What aspect of Uniti are you really pleased with?

If I’m pleased with something, it’s only for a very short amount of time because I extensively try to beat it out with hypothetical situations. But at the moment, I’m pleased with our 300 kilometre range that you can charge at any public PC charger and you can charge it within 40 minutes up to 80%. I feel like that is a game changer, and it’s an example of taking wisdom technology and just designing for that technology.

Because there’s no primary break to this, it depends on the cell, and it’s just a normal high powered cell.

It’s designing for that cell plus, the limitations of that cell, which is, you know, it’s fundamentally energy that you need to convert to execute, which is the use of it on a GPR, a.k.a, propulsion, and you need to do that in the most efficient way.

For example, to make the vehicle lighter, decrease all of those big bits which are inefficient - you’re designing for that, and you’re designing for the EV charging infrastructure, so it doesn’t require a big power pedal or whatever. That’s the part that I like! The part I like is really, really simple stuff.

Another one is certainly the approach to manufacturing, and I think being able to use this vehicle class and approaching other performances from a new way. I kind of predicted that, if this is possible, there must be a lot of frustrated companies out there that agree, and there is. And now we’re on the same team, so that worked out well. But also I have made far more work on the carbon reduction on the cells. We’re going from 55 pounds of carbon on hydrogen in cars, to about 37-35 in a Jaguar, right back to under 7 in our car.

It’s such a big reduction, and you have to say how is this possible. Because if you’re comparing apples to apples, to be fair, others would believe Uniti is a similar match to other EVs for the family, and you’re almost comparing within that frame to the Tesla. But if you’re comparing the actual usage patterns and the value to the customer, the customer doesn’t lose any value. Instead you’re decreasing the carbon level across the board, that’s a big deal.

How many people have gone for the steer-by-wire instead of the standard steering so far?

Right now we haven’t made a direct option where you can select “in or out” yet, but what we have done is a bit of research, so what we do have is market research data for the model of the car and non-committing data, we won’t have any committed data formally until June next year. But the numbers look something like this. One piece of our data asks, you have the option of steering only, or steering wheel versus the electronic system, or the third option of the electronic system only. The answers were about 30% electronic steering system only, and the rest of the 70% was I want the option of both in the car. Nobody chose steering wheel only. But it’s important to note, this is only a snapshot of the population, it’s people that sort of thought, “Oh, this looks cool,” So none of them were going to answer steering wheel only, so it’s not a certain indicator.

Your colleague Tim Unerman explained that Uniti is more like a stepping stone into concept cars, introducing people to electric vehicles. People will feel more comfortable with it as opposed to jumping in with really futuristic designs. Is that what you feel the company is doing with Uniti?

I guess it’s not a futuristic thing, a concept car is much more futuristic. There’s a lot of what people would see as being futuristic features in this car, even compared to the most crazy concept cars. But if you see this is a stepping stone to getting a family into these cars, then absolutely. If you’re not ready to commit to the whole form of turning EV, but one car can be used as a daily commute vehicle for 1600 kilometres, then we are that perfect stepping stone for a family’s second car.

Do you think some potential customers will have reservations about the autonomous aspect of the car?

It’s an option, obviously they have control over whether or not they use those features or not, but it’s also important to note that our car has an off grid switch, so if they do have reservations, this is probably, well it is, the only car you can sit in there and say, ‘I’m going to switch this off, so absolutely nobody can contact this car, and it can’t do anything crazy. It’s just a basic electric car’. It’s kind of like an extra fail-safe against someone hacking it or the car being crazy autonomous or just to address that perception problem. You can completely switch it off.

How do you think having no buttons will affect and improve the way people drive Uniti?

We do have some kind of buttons. You have a big tablet up on the screen. It’s not as much interface as if you had a big iPad. So that has buttons, but although there’s no physical plastic button, you can feel one there because of the haptic feedback system. The bottom screen vibrates in a magical way so you can feel the button. You don’t have to do much, you can just feel across the screen, then you can press it. How will it improve it? It definitely makes it more flexible, obviously. I think it’s wildly more logical in many ways. I mean all of these buttons that we use today with all these mechanical push things are completely unnecessary. You know an indicator, if you pull an indicator, it’s a lever. It’s been an electronic signal for years. It’s completely unnecessary to stick with a lever. The reason why it still is a lever, is because before that, there was a little flag that popped up, and just nobody thought to change that. This is the generation that feels more comfortable swiping right than pulling a lever. So that’s something we saw and wanted to change.

What was it that made you focus on the interactions between the driver and the technology and software within Uniti?

Because everybody makes and needs new technology and they do not focus on the behavioural aspect. We are primarily a behavioural change company. If you look at Apple or the iPad or the iPhone, none of these, they were never the first. There were always many ones before that, because the technology had been around for a while. It’s just they understood the behaviour change component better, and if you don’t understand that, you cannot achieve a behavioural change which is essential to the idea of if you’re developing technology on a big scale.