Santa Cruz Entrepreneur's Re-invented Automobile at SC Works New Tech October 2, 2019
The CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings rolled his eyes when serial entrepreneur Shiv Sikand said for his next business, he will re-invent the automobile. "Tesla replaced a gas burning engine with an electric" explained Shiv. "I am going to get rid of the conventional engine, transmission, and much more.” The following is a conversation with Shiv Sikand by Eric Johnson
The Supercar of the Future
Santa Cruz entrepreneur Shiv Sikand has helped build what appears to be the most powerful Grand Touring car ever made; it is also quite possible that he and his San Jose-based company have reinvented the automobile.
The Drako GTE, which bears the brand of Sikand’s co-founder, Dean Drako (who also cofounded the Campbell-based Barracuda Networks), is a hyper-luxury electric supercar. Designed by Lowie Vermeersch, who led Pininfarina’s design team for a decade, creating iconic Ferraris, Maseratis, etc., the GTE’s most obvious automotive breakthrough is that it is powered by four electric motors that generate an astonishing 1200 horsepower. Even more astonishing: the GTE produces almost 6500 pound-feet of torque—which is key to acceleration and handling. (For comparison, the top-of-the-line Corvette Z06 is rated at 650hp and 650 lb-ft of torque.)
Unveiled Monday at posh Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, during Monterey Car Week, the GTE virtually overshadowed the 1938 Bentley that won Best-in-Show at the Concourse de Elegance, the ultra-prestigious car show that takes place every year in Pebble Beach. The Drako was celebrated in the automotive press over the past several days with articles in Road and Track, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Top Gear and motor1.com, and on tech-focused sites such as Engadget and The Verge.
What has not been widely reported yet is that the Drako GTE appears to be a brand new kind of automobile. Over the course of a decade, Sikand—a physicist, electrical engineer and computer scientist—along with his team, brought fresh eyes to their effort to create an electric supercar.
As you will see in the interview below, placing a motor at each wheel, and linking them with algorithms, allows for the elimination of the automotive component known as the differential—a gearbox that allows wheels to turn at different speeds as a car goes through turns. And that (pardon the pun) might be a revolutionary invention.
Shiv Sikand was born in India and educated in the UK, and has lived in Santa Cruz for 18 years. We spoke Tuesday morning:
Like everyone else, I only found out about your car a few days ago. So I need to clarify something: Is the Drako GTE the world’s most powerful electric GT car, or the world’s most powerful GT car, period?
I believe it is the world’s most powerful GT car. The other electric supercars are all two-seaters. This is a luxury car that can seat four.
Going back to the beginning: What inspired you to build this thing?
Basically, a desire to change the driving paradigm. You know, ever since Mr.Benz and Mr. Ford, for the last hundred-plus years, we've been building cars with the same kind of configuration, where you have one engine, and you try and distribute power to the wheels, or at least to two wheels. And then try and steer the car with a fairly primitive device that we call the steering wheel—which changes the arc of the front wheels.
In order to make a car that has extremely good handling performance, you need all-wheel drive, so that you can control the wheels individually. With only one engine, that comes with a lot of penalties. Typically, you need three differentials to be able to send the power front and back. It's not an efficient system.
We changed that paradigm, because when you have four electric motors, you can control each wheel individually and deliver a level of precision and control that is unheard of with the conventional technologies.
What is the fundamental technological innovation you’ve applied here?
The fundamental innovation that we bring is our driving algorithms. We changed how the wheels rotate on a surface, and how a car maintains its grip, and how it goes 'round corners, and that fundamentally affects how it performs. That is a basic and crucial improvement, especially on road surfaces that are less than ideal, such as bumpy, snowy, rainy roads.
The majority of accidents in the United States occur in inclement weather conditions—something like 68 percent. Most of them are due to the fact that we're trying to maintain friction between our tires and the road surface. So to have a power train that is able to provide much better control offers both massively improved performance and handling, and safety for the next generation of motoring, as it were.
One of our challenges was that in order for us to develop our algorithms, we needed have a car with four motors. In order to build such a car, we had to build a very advanced battery. So that's another key innovation is that we have built an extremely high-performance battery that is optimized for performance driving.
I read that you are going to deliver 25 of these vehicles for $1.25 million apiece ...
Yes … our plan is to limit production of this model to 25 units. The first deliveries will begin in 2020. I don't know if we'll complete all 25, but we certainly will deliver a significant number of vehicles next year.
Where are they being built?
We're going to be doing the majority of our metalwork and fabrication in the Central Valley, in Fresno. And then final assembly, battery, electronics, will all occur in San Jose.
So, what is your long-term business plan? Is this car partly a showcase for your technology that you then hope to turn into a consumer-friendly application? I'm wondering if you think Ford or Mercedes-Benz might want to take your technology and apply it to cars that they can mass-produce.
Our business model is to build driver-focused supercars that are absolutely beautiful, and we intend to continue making cars. Our plan is to make bespoke cars for discerning ladies and gentlemen.
We have multiple patents across a fairly wide portfolio. [But] I don't have a lot of interest in being a supplier. You know, it's not an enjoyable task being a supplier to the automotive industry. I would certainly be interested in partnering, to perhaps have a vehicle powered by our technology. For example, Mr. Pagani makes, beautiful cars, but they have AMG engines in them.
Any thoughts about how the local tech-business community has evolved over your 18 years in Santa Cruz?
The way I've seen it is that we've gone from large, monolithic companies like Borland and Seagate to more agile companies, which provide mainly software capabilities, either on their own or to other large companies. And that has changed the dynamic, where people don't need to drive over the hill, to the Valley, but are able to drive to downtown Santa Cruz or Watsonville. That has enabled companies to attract local talent.
The people who live in Santa Cruz in my mind, they're a little bit freer and a little bit more open. They like living closer to nature. And they're all very creative people. And being able to harness them in the local job market is great.
The Drako car will be on display at the Santa Cruz Works New Tech MeetUp on October 2, 2019. More info at https://hardware2020.eventbrite.com
Don’t Miss the next Santa Cruz Works New Tech Meetup on Sept 4 - Get Biotech