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Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

The Harbinger of Things to Come

A little known startup whose top executives have experience with Tesla Inc. and Anduril Industries is about to deliver a jolt to the electric vehicle market.

Harbinger Motors Inc. recently landed 4,000 binding pre-orders totaling more than $400 million for its electric vehicle platforms that will be for delivery vans.

“Medium-duty is the part of the market where electrification makes the most sense, but it’s also the part of the market where we’ve seen the least deliveries and execution,” Chief Executive John Harris told the Business Journal.

A majority of the pre-orders come from Bimbo Bakeries USA Inc., the largest bakery company in the U.S. and producer of brands such as Sara Lee Breads and Thomas’ Breads.

Harbinger also received orders from recreational vehicle manufacturer and past investor Thor Industries, several commercial vehicle dealers and a 40-unit order from postal service operator Mail Management Services.

Harbinger makes stripped chassis—the supporting frame and motor of the vehicle—that are then custom-outfitted into delivery vans and other similar-size medium-duty electric trucks.

The pre-orders, announced on May 21 at Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, show there’s a need for electrification in the medium-duty market, Harris said.

Harbinger a year ago relocated its headquarters to a 165,000-square-foot building in Garden Grove, a major step up from its previous building in Gardena that measured about 35,000 square feet.

$400M Pre-Order

Harbinger is building stripped electric chassis for Bimbo Bakeries’ walk-in delivery vans. The other orders will be upfit into other vehicle types, including class A motorhomes, emergency vehicles and cutaway cabs.

Bimbo Bakeries said that partnering with Harbinger aligns with its goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Expanding “our robust fleet of alternatively fueled vehicles is an important step in reducing our carbon emissions and dependencies on fossil fuels,” Christopher Wolfe, senior director of sustainability at Bimbo Bakeries, said in a statement.

At the ACT Expo, Harbinger also announced that it raised an additional $13 million for a $60 million Series A round that closed in fourth quarter of 2023, bringing its new total to $73 million.

Venture and strategic investors participated in the round, including the Coca-Cola System Sustainability Fund, managed by venture capital firm Greycroft Partners.

Harbinger said that it’s using the funds from the round to prepare for the commercial start of production in the fourth quarter of this year. Additional funds will also be put toward increasing manufacturing capacity and product engineering testing.

Harris expects most of the pre-orders to be fulfilled by late 2025 to early 2026 after about two years of production.

Easier Drivability

Harbinger’s chassis are made to last up to 20 years or 450,000 miles.

The company is building the first medium-duty chassis designed from the ground up, according to Harris.

“Most people in this segment are reusing major portions of other vehicles that came before to make it easier,” Harris said.

Many passenger vehicles in the medium-duty segment utilize solid axle suspension with leaf spring, which Harris said prioritizes durability and ease of manufacturing.

Harbinger’s chassis, on the other hand, uses what’s called double wishbone suspension for easier drivability.

Once in production, its chassis will range in cost somewhere between $70,000 to $100,000, according to Harris.

Harbinger Tesla Parallels

Harbinger’s management has ties to some of Orange County’s hottest new companies as well as the world’s most valuable EV maker.

Harris was the principal mechanical engineer as head of Sentry Tower Hardware at Costa Mesa-based Anduril, a defense contractor that uses AI to build weapons and which might be valued as much as $12.5 billion.

He also has experience as an aerospace structures design lead at Boeing and as a battery engineer at EV startup Faraday Future Inc. and electric commercial truck manufacturer Xos Trucks in Los Angeles.

Harbinger in March announced that it tapped Steve Gawronski to be vice president of supply chain and logistics.

Gawronski’s resume includes five years at Rivian Automotive Inc., where he was promoted to vice president of supply chain for the Irvine-based EV maker, which has a $14 billion market cap (Nasdaq: RIVN). At Rivian, Gawronski led supplier readiness for the launch of the R1T and R1S.

He also spent seven years at Tesla Inc., which has a $753 billion market cap, where he rose to senior group manager of supply chain for lighting and seating.

Gawronski said there are “obvious parallels” between Harbinger and Tesla.

“The commercial transportation industry represents a dynamic and emerging opportunity for a similar form of disruption,” Gawronski said in a statement.

“I’m extremely excited at the opportunity to join a company that is focused not only on offering a cleaner powertrain solution but also on delivering meaningful performance improvements, all at a cost that makes the adoption of electric vehicles a very realistic choice for commercial vehicle applications.”

Garden Grove HQ

Harbinger’s previous HQ in Los Angeles was more of a “research and development prototype shop,” according to Harris.

The increased space has allowed Harbinger to build manufacturing lines for chassis, battery packs and drive units running parallel to each other, which Harris said helps with efficiency.

“Now we have a lot more manufacturing space,” Harris said.

Harbinger’s team has also since doubled in size from 65 employees to now 140.

Harris said that Harbinger began delivering pre-production units earlier this year and is building one chassis per day at its Garden Grove site for safety and durability testing.
Harbinger delivered its first platforms in March to Thor, which the manufacturer is using to build electric RVs.

“We wanted to produce a smaller batch of vehicles first and wait until we got that feedback before we started building a higher volume of products this fall,” Harris said.

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