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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Phoenix Motor Taps Ex-Karma Exec as CEO

Anaheim’s Phoenix Motor Inc., the latest Orange County electric vehicle maker eyeing an initial public offering, has tapped a prominent local automaking executive to be its new chief executive.

The company, a maker of electric-powered passenger vans, school buses and heavy-duty pickup trucks, recently hired as CEO Lance Zhou, the former chief executive of Irvine luxury electric vehicle maker Karma Automotive Inc.

Zhou “is a tremendous addition to our team, and his experience and resources will help Phoenix Motorcars expand to the next level as it grows operations globally,” said Xiaofeng Denton Peng, chairman and CEO of Santa Clara-based SPI Energy, the parent company of Phoenix Motor, in a recent statement.

SPI Energy is a nearly $70 million-valued solar energy and EV-focused firm with ties to China that bought Phoenix last year and subsequently invested $17 million into the business.

Modest IPO 

Phoenix in November filed plans to go public, shortly after Irvine-based Rivian Automotive Inc.’s (Nasdaq: RIVN) blockbuster IPO, which raised around $18 billion, was completed.

The proposed IPO plans for Phoenix, founded in 2003, are more modest.

It’s looking to raise around $20 million in its offering, which is being underwritten by Newport Beach’s Roth Capital, along with Maxim Group and EF Hutton.

A time frame for the IPO moving ahead hasn’t been disclosed. At the midpoint of its expected price range, the public listing would value the company roughly around $370 million.

Its stock would be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “PEV.” An affiliate of SPI Energy expects to retain a roughly 75% to 80% stake in the Anaheim business after the IPO, according to SPI’s latest annual report.

Karma Departure

The Business Journal in January was first to report on Zhou leaving Karma. He’s not alone; the Irvine automaker has seen its local headcount fall from about 800 OC employees in 2018 to 350 as of last year, according to Business Journal data. Pre-Rivian, it was OC’s largest automaker by local employee count.

Phoenix, by comparison, counted 37 full-time employees as of last September.

Karma’s operations are currently headed by Chief Revenue Officer Alan Yuan and Chief Technology Officer Kevin Zhang, according to the company’s website.

The company last issued a corporate release about its operations in September, its website indicates, and last week declined to comment on Zhou’s departure.

Karma last year reportedly considered a public listing of its own, possibly via a reverse merger with a SPAC, but has yet to move ahead on those plans.

‘Ongoing Evolution’

“I am excited to join Phoenix Motorcars at this important time in its ongoing evolution,” Zhou said in a statement. “The groundwork already laid provides a solid foundation moving forward, and I look forward to working together with the talented Phoenix team to drive long-term success in the rapidly growing EV market.”

Zhou, who is also joining the Anaheim company’s board, replaces Joseph Mitchell, the former head of electric powertrain maker UQM Technologies, as CEO.

The company moved from Ontario to Anaheim last year, to a facility it believes has the capability of producing up to 120 vehicles annually with one manufacturing shift and 240 vehicles a year with two shifts per day.

It hasn’t reached that volume yet.

Phoenix reported just $1.7 million in revenue for the nine months ended Sept. 30, down from $3.8 million for the same period of 2020.

Regulatory filings cited “significant delivery delays and supply shortages with bill of materials—battery packs in particular,” for the decline.

The company reported a backlog of $11.1 million, or 63 vehicles, at the end of 2021.

Next-Gen Plans

Along with electric-powered passenger vans, school buses and cargo trucks, the company also makes utility trucks, service trucks, flatbed trucks, and walk-in vans.

Its customer roster includes cities, transportation agencies, campuses, hotel chains, airport shuttle companies, last-mile delivery and other fleet users.

The city of Irvine was an early customer, using the company’s work trucks in 2015.

Its existing fleet of EVs have a maximum range of 160 miles and minimum recharging time of five to six hours, according to regulatory filings.

While the vehicles it currently makes look similar to existing gas-powered vans and trucks, the company says it is in the design phase for a fleet of more futuristic-looking consumer-focused vehicles.

The company’s consumer EV affiliate EdisonFuture Motor Inc. of Santa Clara revealed the EdisonFuture EF-1 pickup truck and EF-1 V van at last year’s LA Auto Show, with hopes for a release in 2025.

These vehicles promise solar-powered roofs that can charge the vehicles while in use or parked during the day. Phoenix said it filed a design application in August with the U.S. Patent Office for the design of a “Retractable Solar Roof for a Motor Vehicle.”  

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