Robert Bollinger: Meet the Man Behind Mullen’s Push Into Commercial EVs
From drawing Lamborghinis and Ferraris as a kid to founding a $200 million-plus electric vehicle (EV) company, Bollinger Motors founder and CEO Robert Bollinger has put his life’s work into developing electric trucks.
After receiving a degree in industrial and product design from Carnegie Mellon, Mr. Bollinger dedicated most of his professional career to John Masters Organics, an organic beauty company. He first met the founder, John Masters, in 1995, which eventually led to his promotion to COO in 2005. Following Masters’ departure from the company, Mr. Bollinger was essentially handed the reins. After growing sales by 25x, he decided to sell the company in 2013.
Mr. Bollinger then used the proceeds from this sale to help fund Bollinger Motors.
“Let’s just get a couple of engineers and just see what we can come with,” Mr. Bollinger recalled proposing at the time. “So it really started as a small ‘Why not?’ project.”
Bollinger’s first vehicle was the B1 SUV, which Mr. Bollinger characterized as “the love of [his] life.” The company released the first interior sketch of the B1 in May 2017. By October of that year, customers had placed over 10,000 reservations for the truck. About a year later, the B2 pickup truck debuted, carrying the same design as the B1 with the addition of a pickup truck bed and an extended wheelbase. Both vehicles carried an initial price tag of $125,000.
Word of Bollinger’s progress eventually reached Mullen (NASDAQ:MULN) CEO David Michery. His interest piqued even higher after seeing the B1 and B2 at the LA Auto Show, which led him to establish a connection with Bollinger and its CEO.
Bollinger Teams Up with Mullen and David Michery
Last September, Mullen announced that it had acquired a 60% controlling interest in Bollinger for $148.2 million in cash and stock. Mullen’s interest is “highly focused on the commercial aspect of the company,” said Mr. Bollinger. “[Michery] saw how wonderful the commercial direction was that we were going, and the far-reaching applications for it.”
With the purchase of Bollinger and the $105 million acquisition of Electric Last Mile Solution’s (OTCMKTS:ELMSQ) assets, Mullen is now able to capitalize on several areas of synergy.
For starters, it was able to bolster its engineering, sales, and finance teams, bringing on decades of experience. Bollinger was able to capitalize as well by adding Mullen representatives onto its board of directors. Additionally, Bollinger will be able to use Mullen’s solid-state battery (SSB) in its vehicles.
Mullen will be able tap into Mr. Bollinger’s expertise, as he remains the CEO of Bollinger. “They trust our abilities. They trust us as a team,” he told InvestorPlace. Plus, the acquisition seems to be working in Bollinger’s favor, as Mr. Bollinger said his company will likely double the size of its team this year.
Shifting from Consumer to Commercial
As Michery and Mullen recognized, Bollinger has something going on when it comes to commercial vehicles. That stems from an August 2021 announcement that the firm was working toward the development of Class 4 and 5 electric platforms. The company designed these platforms to provide commercial customers with a product that can efficiently support vehicles like last-mile delivery vans, freight trucks and chassis cabs.
Unfortunately, just a few months later, Bollinger disclosed that it was postponing development of the B1 and B2. Mr. Bollinger attributed this decision to commercial interest outpacing consumer interest, as well as a lack of investor interest in consumer trucks.
“We had two parallel paths internally,” Bollinger said. “We had the team working on the commercial and the team continuing to work on the consumer. We just kept putting more and more people on the commercial side because that’s where a lot of the interest was. That’s where investor interest was. We all want the B1 and B2 to come back, so we are forming a team right now to go back and resurrect the B1, if you will.”
However, plans to resume these vehicles are in their early stages, with no deadlines or price points set in place. In addition, Mullen’s interests currently remain in leveraging Bollinger’s commercial designs and prototypes. The company’s first acquisition objective is to bring the B4 and B5 commercial trucks into production. Mullen also owns the Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Center (AMEC) in Tunica, Mississippi, which is able to manufacture Class 1 through Class 6 commercial vehicles.
Today, Bollinger still exclusively owns the rights to the intellectual property and design of the B1 and B2. On March 7, a third-generation version of the B1 will be on display at Work Truck Week 2023 in Minneapolis, Indiana, along with the B4 Chassis Cab.
The B4 Chassis Cab Prototype: Bollinger’s Current Star
While Mr. Bollinger’s heart rests at least partially with the B1 and B2, the B4 is steadily making progress. In fact, as a beneficiary of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bollinger can see savings of up to 30% per vehicle.
The positive implications of the IRA have also resulted in heightened attention for the B4 Chassis Cab. Around “three or four” nationwide fleets have requested pilot programs for the design verification prototypes of the Chassis Cab.
Bollinger is currently in the preliminary testing stage of its Alpha prototype of the truck. Following successful testing, it will move onward to the DV prototype, which is similar to the actual production vehicle. Last year, Bollinger announced that it selected Roush Industries as its contract manufacturer. According to prototype guidelines, Roush must assemble the DV prototype in the same place using the same process as the actual production vehicle. Conveniently, Roush is located about 20 miles away from Bollinger’s headquarters in Oak Park, Michigan. Bollinger’s battery supplier, One Next Energy, is also about 20 miles away. The proximity of these two suppliers will allow Bollinger to simplify logistics and reduce transportation costs.
“We’re now in our fourth generation of prototypes, three on the consumer side and our first one on the commercial,” Bollinger said. “For those four generations of electric, we’ve really honed our thermal engineering capabilities, our hydraulic capabilities, our high voltage and low voltage, and software and controls capabilities. …So I think we’re ahead of the game, and I think we have very precision-efficient vehicles that fleets will really love.”
The Road Ahead
Mr. Bollinger’s main goal is to have the B4 Chassis Cab in production by 2024. He’s also looking forward to announcing new partnerships and potentially new fleet customers. Meanwhile, Mullen has plans for its own commercial portfolio, with a delivery date for its Class 3 commercial vehicle set to August of this year.
In the next five to 10 years, Mr. Bollinger envisions Bollinger as a leader in the Class 4-6 commercial trucking industry. To achieve this, Bollinger has differentiated itself by diversifying and outsourcing its vehicle production supply chain instead of trying to build the entire vehicle in-house.
“We’ve purposely de-risked our company by working closely with [partners like Roush and ONE]. So I think we’re doing it in a very smart, low-risk, low-capital way.” That adds up nicely for Mullen, since the two companies will able to share and learn from each other’s production processes.
Bollinger will have to grow its team in order to acquire market share, something that Mr. Bollinger is looking forward to. Like Michery, Mr. Bollinger also had minimal automotive experience before founding his company. He says he made up for this shortcoming by hiring a talented and seasoned automotive team.
“I want everyone to be smarter than me, and that’s what I’ve hired. I’ve been very lucky at being able to get the right team together.”
With a snazzy and modern take on its EVs, Bollinger has an open shot of resonating with commercial and retail customers. It just needs to initiate production and prove it can create reliable vehicles.
On the date of publication, Eddie Pan did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.