Aehra CEO on why 2022 is right time for a new premium EV brand

Aehra logo with Hazim Nada

Aehra is set to show “95% ready” designs for a saloon and an SUV in the coming months

Hazim Nada says innovative, asset-light production and waning brand fidelity will help Italian start-up thrive

Aehra is a newly formed Italian EV company that plans to shake up the “high-premium” car segment with a bold, ergonomically-focused design rethink and a new approach to retail.

It will show “95% ready” designs for its first two cars – a saloon and an SUV – in the coming months, having formed a car design ‘super-group’ comprising ex-Lamborghini design bosses Filippo Perini, Alessandro Salvagnin and Alessandro Serra, as well as Italdesign exterior designer Marco Quamori. They join head of purchasing and procurement Stefano Mazzetti, previously of Ferrari, and chief marketing officer Andy Abramson, a well-known figure in the international wine community, in AEHRA’s all-star senior leadership team. 

In an exclusive interview with Autocar Business, founder and CEO Hazim Nada explains why now is the right time to launch and how his marque will compete with both established manufacturers and the raft of other start-ups launching to market in the coming years.

Tell us how the plans progressed in the early stages and where Aehra is now. 

“The Aehra project is now about three years old. The initial idea basically evolved with me and my colleagues going into Modena’s design engineering firms as consultants and then bit by bit building our own team internally. 

“The idea then matured into pre‑feasibility engineering with the design by Filippo [Perini] and Alessandro [Serra], which was developed further by the other guys that we’ve recruited, in time.

“The main element is basically the evolution of the large-scale design of the exterior and the resulting interior space. We have now these two vehicles that are being prepared for serialisation. One is classed as an SUV, one is classed as a sedan. You will see them in a month or so. They’re quite different from what’s typically addressed as a sedan or an SUV.”

Why launch now, and who are you taking on? 

“The core of the idea is that we didn’t see anybody doing this and we think it’s something that has to be done. This evolution of shapes is something that electric vehicles need to have. They’re still designed and thought out as internal combustion-engined vehicles in the end. You have these three-box structures, and you can pretty much overlap all the sedans in the market in terms of silhouettes today.

“So we think this has to happen. And the reason we are doing it is because we didn’t see anybody else doing it. We saw this opportunity to do it because it was a natural evolution of things.

“Why now? Well, now is when the project matured. We’ve been working on this for some time, but at the same time, we think it’s the right time for a newcomer, because the chip shortage is slowing down the roll-out of other businesses, and there’s this opportunity to come in with less impact than incumbents who’ve been out for a few years now.”

Is it fair to say design is the defining aspect of your company?

“We think, in terms of performance, the electric powertrains in circulation and development have reached levels that address any type of need. You’ve got cars with 1000bhp and 800km [497 miles] of range. Okay, so a bit more range, but where do you want to go that’s more than this? There’s all the other aspects of the customer that need to be addressed but aren’t being addressed by anybody at the moment. 

“Cars still look very much like what’s been out there for decades, so we’re focusing on where we think the customer needs to see an evolution. So yes, design is absolutely a core element. But it’s not just design in the sense of styling. It’s the actual design of how a vehicle should be structured from a macro scale. Which then translates into structural elements: chassis, layout of components and resulting cabin space. So it’s really more than just ‘how do I draw this car?’.”

How will the engineering of your cars stack up against those from other manufacturers?

“On the structural elements, we are the first to utilise composite materials at a level that hasn’t been seen before for these types of vehicles. So the materials that you typically see in a supercar or hypercar we’re bringing down into the high premium market. With the evolution of technology now and SMC [sheet moulding compound] methodologies, we were able to start to construct all the structural elements and the body in recyclable carbonfibre and other composite materials at the levels of tens of thousands of units per year, which was quite difficult to do a few just a few years ago. 

“We’re the first to conduct this, and this allows us to reshape things and modularise the vehicles between them. The two initial vehicles we’re launching are extremely modular in the sense of architecture, structure and sub‑components between them, which will significantly save the capex of development for the two and the tooling costs for industrialisation. 

“So the choice of materials is related to both the project and also the business approach. It solves many of the structural elements, it solves the efficiency problems by lowering the weight of the vehicles – that’s a direct consequence on the energy consumption of the vehicles – and at the same, the fact that we’re using recyclable materials significantly lowers the carbon footprint and enhances the cost of development and the cost of production.”

Is sustainability a key tenet of your business strategy?

“Absolutely. We would be hypocritical to sit there and produce electric vehicles that utilise materials that are dirtier than what has been used in the past. That’s a key element of our development. The shapes that we’re pushing are shapes that optimise aerodynamic efficiency. The core guiding principle was how to make things have less energy consumption to function in such a way that we’re more environmentally friendly.” 

How far up the supply chain can you ensure sustainability? 

“It’s a complete chain, because as recycled carbonfibre becomes available in the numbers that we need it, we can directly utilise it. And while this isn’t available, the material that we use is guaranteed to be recycled and recyclable for at least five cycles in terms of structure. And then after those five cycles, it can be used for lesser applications.”

What sort of price point are you looking at? 

“We’re targeting vehicles that we’ll be selling for €160,000 to €180,000, more or less. That puts us in the price brackets of a few other participants: for the sedan, the Porsche Taycan, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Tesla Model S Plaid, Lucid Air etc. 

“But we’re very different from these in reality. We think our products are designed differently but at the same time can be utilised by a much larger spectrum of potential users, because the cabin space that we obtained within a radically different exterior allows us to basically have a much more transversal market of attraction.”

And volumes?

“We’re targeting 20,000 to 25,000 units per year per model with these two models, so 40,000 to 50,000 units per year.”

Do you have your own production facility or will you outsource?

“Our approach is very much asset-light. We don’t want to invest in vertically integrating everything. The technology we’re using on the composite materials also simplifies a lot of the investment that we need for production. Generally, we end up not having the two main cost elements of a traditional auto assembly line, where the two main elements of costs are the paint shop and the presses. 

“By removing these two, we’re eliminating a significant amount of the production costs. At the same time, we’re going through a process of cherry-picking technology and components, so we were saving costs on many of these developments as well. The final assembly will be very much leaner than a traditional auto maker.”

How will you compete with the raft of new car brands establishing themselves?

“What we’re proposing to the market, nobody else is proposing. So that’s already an element that identifies us very strongly. As for the go‑to-market strategy, we’re utilising a system that doesn’t depend as much on resales and resellers. And we’re internalising most of the process through a mix of online sales with our own showrooms around the world. These showrooms will will be very different from a traditional showroom. We will be building a community around Aehra that will be centred around these showrooms.”

Do you think the market is a hospitable environment for a new company?

“Yes. We see traditional brand fidelity as waning. We see a lot of new brands attracting a lot of traction. People are looking for novelty, and the new EV start-ups especially are really gaining lot of traction. So we think it’s the right time for a new brand to come out – from the point of proposing something new to the world but also from the point of market readiness for change of names and shifting of realities.”

So you must have taken some inspiration from brands like Genesis and DS?

“We’re very much encouraged by what they’re doing. As I said, what we’re proposing is something very specific and unique. We don’t see anybody else in there, and that’s the main reason why we’re doing it, but absolutely the fact that they’re having a success and establishing their brands is proof that the market is ready for newcomers’ names and proposals.”

Could you generate aftersale revenue through functions on demand?

“Yes. Our vehicles will be mobiles on wheels. Computers on wheels. And the whole HMI system, plus the autonomous driving system, will be completely updatable and customisable as things evolve.”

How far into the future does your business plan stretch? 

“At the moment we have a third vehicle, a more compact vehicle, that’s being developed for 2027. It will be slightly less expensive than the two initial vehicles, but this will still not be fully in the trickle-down approach where we have a much bigger production capacity. Bit by bit, we will expand production and lower the cost of the vehicles.”

Source: Autocar

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