By Andy Blye. October 21, 2021.
Chandler-based Local Motors, a company that manufactures an autonomous shuttle called Olli, recently announced that Vikrant Aggarwal would be stepping in as the company’s new CEO.
In an interview with AZ Inno, Aggarwal said the company is set for new growth in the next 12 to 18 months following employee layoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aggarwal joined Local Motors in 2019 as the company’s chief operating officer and he replaces Jay Rogers, the founder of Local Motors, who will move into an advisory role as non-executive vice chairman of the board.
“I'm excited, I'm honored, I'm humbled, and equally nervous, you know, but not in a bad way.” he said. “[We are] at this very critical juncture of mobility in the world, but also at this very critical juncture for Local Motors.”
Vikrant Aggarwal is the president of Chandler-based Local Motors.
Provided by Local Motors.
Aggarwal’s promotion was announced on Sept. 21, but he said his move to CEO is something that company founder Rogers envisioned when he came aboard about two years ago. Before joining the Local Motors staff, Aggarwal worked at Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI), a Fortune 500 company that designs and builds engines and power generators.
The Covid-19 pandemic has killed millions across the world and many industries are still working to shake off its economic effects. Local Motors went through what Aggarwal called a “restructuring” last year both in Arizona and Tennessee, where it has a manufacturing operation, laying off nearly 50 employees in May 2020, according to public documents.
Aggarwal said the company was adversely affected during the pandemic but that it is now well positioned to keep growing. Automakers have been impacted by global supply issues, especially lacking semiconductors, but Aggarwal said Local Motors is in no better or worse shape than other automotive manufacturers.
The company now employs about 75 people, down from 145 in 2019, with about 20% or 30% of its staff in Arizona, a few remote workers and the majority in Tennessee. The company relocated and expanded its Chandler HQ in late 2020.
Olli 2.0 interior. Local Motors.
“We have grown revenue year over year, even during Covid,” he said. “When I started in 2019, we were just starting to have some revenue. Last year, we had minimal revenue, and this year we're going to grow the revenue by fivefold. And the expectation is that we grow the revenue three to four fold in the next year.” That growth will be aided by an investment from GameAbove Mobility — a division of Florida-based CapStone Holdings Inc. — which was announced in May. The size of the investment was not disclosed publicly.
The Olli transport is currently deployed in the U.S., Canada, the European Union and in some parts of Asia, and that global perspective has led Aggarwal to a conclusion: The U.S. is trailing Europe in terms of enabling mobility companies.
“Fundamentally, what I would like to see is a greater shift in both regulatory and legislative process to allow for innovative solutions to be put out and tested in the marketplace, especially in the slow speed shuttle market,” he said of the U.S. regulatory environment.
Olli vehicles conduct so-called first and last mile trips, short distance rides typically taken over streets and parking lots, not interstate highways. The current regulatory environment in the U.S. treats most autonomous vehicles the same way and doesn't make distinctions between slow speed shuttles like Olli and vehicles designed to traverse highways at faster speeds.
Aggarwal said Local Motors customers generally fit into three categories:
Industrial users shuttling people between buildings on a hospital campus or multi-structure complex.
Mobility service providers like Canada’s AutoGuardian, which will soon deploy Olli alongside its other smart mobility solutions.
Large transportation providers that integrate Olli among other, existing transport options.
Some prospective riders are still hesitant to hop on an autonomous Olli shuttle, Aggarwal said, but he added that all shuttles have a real live human attendant onboard and about 90% of riders report being satisfied with the experience once the ride concludes.