New EV makers are ten a penny. We think this one's different.
Those with a cynical mindset will believe that all you need to become an electric vehicle company is a few concept renders, a savvy PR company, and some investors that are susceptible to FOMO. If you sift through all the self-generated hype and unrealistic claims, though, there are a few new EV companies that are the real deal. One of those is Mullen, and we believe the California-based company will be joining Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid as real American competition to legacy automakers as the EV market grows. We're convinced enough that we schlepped across LA to visit Mullen's headquarters, spend some time with its key people, and check out its new car, called the Five.
To get a new vehicle of any kind off the ground and into the market, some key ingredients are needed. At the top level, it takes someone with vision and determination to head the project, a lead engineer with a boatload of experience, and designers that can embrace a concept and build upon it. It also takes time, a ton of money, and careful decision-making at all levels. In short, as CEO David Michary puts it, "Most people can come up with a good concept, to actually execute on it... That's the real deal."
The Mullen Five is a luxury crossover in the fullest sense of the word luxury, designed and engineered in the US and set to be built here in the US as well. The Five's visual design comes from Andreas Thurner, most well-known for bringing the exterior of the 2009 Rolls-Royce Ghost to life, and his small dedicated team. Responsibility for engineering falls to Marian Petrelecan, a vastly experienced engineer that has most notably brought products from concept to production with BMW and Chrysler. The vision for the Mullen Five comes from David Michery, a business executive and passionate car enthusiast that bought Mullen in 2014.
Technically, Mullen isn't a startup, although it's definitely in startup mode. The company has been around since 2002 and its first product was the Mullen GT supercar in 2007 - the year before Tesla launched the Roadster. Michery acquired Mullen Motor Cars and another important American EV company, CODA Automotive in 2014, then CODA Energy Facilities in 2017 before putting it all together in 2018 as Mullen Automotive. In short, Michery has assembled all the parts he needs to develop both the vehicle and new technology to drive it. Mullen isn't just putting parts together and is heavily invested in developing battery technology.
Speaking with Michery, it quickly becomes apparent that he has an ingredient that sets him apart from the idealists when it comes to electric cars. Yes, he understands the importance of sustainable, clean-energy transport solutions and, as a business, wants to keep everything in America and create new jobs. The extra ingredient over most EV company CEOs is that he already loves cars. In particular, he loves performance cars, and this is something we can already see in the Mullen Five and its trim levels.
The Mullen Five is due to launch with a 95-kWh battery pack giving 325 miles of range, a 0-60 mph time of 3.2 seconds, a top speed of 155 mph, and a base price of $55,000. Given the level of other technology also going into the Mullen Five, that's one hell of promise at that price. Michery is confident, though, and while other companies are shooting cars into space or building lavish new facilities, he's taking a more focused and pragmatic route to running Mullen with the aim of becoming profitable in 2026.
"We are very conservative in our finance model," Petrelecan tells us, and Michery elaborates, "I'll give you an example. If our cost to get to a finished vehicle is five billion dollars, you have to spread that over X-amount of vehicles, and it's going to be hard to climb out of the hole. If the cost to get to a finished vehicle is two billion, our path to profitability is a lot shorter than most of the guys in the space. These guys forget that you've got to be fiscally responsible, and we're doing that."
Part of the pragmatic approach of building Mullen was to avoid building a brand new facility and to make sure the one they obtained was scaleable from the start. Mullen bought a production facility in Tunica, Mississippi, previously inhabited by the ill-fated Green Tech Automotive, for "a very reasonable price."
With all their ducks lined up and everything going smoothly in these uncertain times, the first Mullen Five should roll off the line early in 2024, and sales start towards the end of that year. The facility also has room to grow, and the plan is to extend the assembly facility and add a body and paint shop on-site. The structure for the facility is designed with the possibility of what Petrelecan calls a "success disaster" in mind, meaning that if demand is higher than conservative estimates, Mullen can scale up quickly and relatively easily.
We got some refreshingly blunt answers when we asked who Mullen sees as its competition. Mullen is out to make the best product it can and, ultimately, make a profit - not grab headlines by talking a big game.
"I would look really stupid to you if I came out and said that I think we can compete with Tesla," observes Michery, but then has something to say about people that claim they can. "Tesla has been here for a very long time. Elon Musk has opened the door for all of us to have an opportunity to succeed. If it wasn't for Elon and Tesla, there wouldn't be any of us. Anyone in their right mind would stay away from saying they can compete with Tesla until they've sold 2,000 cars a year. This a nine-inning baseball game, and we'll see who's standing at the end of the ninth inning." He goes on to say, "There's a lot of talk, talk, talk. It's time to do the walk. Until I sell a car, I'm going to keep my mouth shut."
We mentioned that Michery is an enthusiast, and it shows - not just in the Porsche 911 Turbo S he arrived in or his car collection. He wants the four-motor RS model to be a mind-melter for himself and for enthusiasts, and has set a target of 0-60 mph seconds in 1.9 seconds, hit 200 mph in a straight line, and be a corner-carving track monster. For that, Mullen is working with the German powertrain company Hofer, and Petrelecan has his work cut out in getting the 1,200 hp needed to hook up to the road.
"What AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, Hofer is going to be for us," Michelry explains excitedly, "That high-performance vehicle will be with us this year."
By "with us this year," Michelry means a full working prototype that's due in the summer to hit the road and track in California for evaluation. It will not be cheap, though.
"I want to be clear, it's not going to be a $75,000 vehicle," Michelry says, "It's going to be a quarter of a million-dollar vehicle. But, a quarter of a million-dollar vehicle that will compete with million-dollar vehicles. That's the point here. Right now, as configured, we have 23-inch magnesium wheels, 15-inch carbon-ceramic rotors, eight-piston Brembo calipers, so we have the ability to stop that 1,200 horsepower."
The performance drivetrain technology being developed will also feature in the long-awaited Dragonfly supercar and the high-performance models will always be made in partnership with Holfer. "I like fast," Michelry points out with a grin.
Mullen's rebirth looks to us like the real deal situation compared to some other EV specialists promising to come to market. At the head of the company is a determined enthusiast with a wealth of business experience. Running engineering is a vastly experienced technician of the trade. Heading a full design team is someone with a more than an impressive resume in the luxury world. From there, the list of leaders and specialists goes on. Mullen looks to be an exciting addition to the mix of electric vehicles due to hit the road in the next few years.