Indigo Wants to 'Reinvent the Wheel' With EVs for Ride Sharing

An affordable electric car designed with fast delivery and ride-sharing drivers in mind.

The Indigo Project Alpha car is a delivery workhorse.
The Indigo Project Alpha car is a delivery workhorse.


An affordable electric car designed with fast delivery and ride-sharing drivers in mind, that’s the goal of Woburn, Massachusetts-based Indigo Technologies. The company’s innovative cars, which will start at $19,500, feature hub motors and an active suspension that should give them, despite their small size, a limousine-quality ride. 

The company hopes to have its highway-capable three-wheel delivery car (Project Alpha) on the market by early 2023, and its larger $23,500 four-wheel car (Project Bravo, which will need many more federal approvals) by 2024. For the two vehicles, Indigo is targeting not just traditional ride sharers like Uber and Lyft (Bravo), but also fast-delivery services such as Grub Hub and Door Dash (Alpha). And Amazon businesses such as Whole Foods, which are putting an effort into fast processing app orders. The Alpha could work in a number of last-mile applications, and Bravo can carry four passengers in addition to the driver. 

Treehugger talked to Indigo CEO Will Graylin and company Chief Strategy Officer Greg Tarr, who had a similar role at Karma Automotive. Graylin is one of a group of Boston-based entrepreneurs who studied at MIT, and the company (which has raised $110 million) was founded by MIT Professor Ian Hunter, who also pioneered the technology. Another Boston company that grew out of MIT research, and also works with active suspension, is ClearMotion, which partnered with Bridgestone and Qualcomm and acquired the Bose Ride business. The higher-end of the car market is targeted. 

Indigo’s suspension testing mule.
Indigo’s suspension testing mule.


“By putting the suspension and the motor cost-effectively in the same package, we can significantly lower the mass of the vehicle and make it much more affordable,” Graylin says. “Our vehicles are ultra-comfortable, hyper-efficient, and very affordable, making them accessible to delivery drivers.” It’s unclear if the three-wheeler, which won’t have to meet federal crash tests but will have an airbag, qualifies for the $7,500 federal income tax credit, but the four-wheeler certainly should.

Here’s a look at the company on video:

Graylin says the three-wheeler will weigh only 1,600 pounds, and that allows it to have a 200-mile range with a 30-kilowatt-hour battery (20-kilowatt-hour batteries will also be available). “Vehicles have to get lighter, and become like home appliances with Energy Star ratings,” he says. Recycled carbon fiber is the possible body material.

Indigo videos show the company’s prototypes bouncing over speed bumps, while the main body of the car stays level. Indigo calls this “the magic carpet effect.” In general, it’s the larger cars that are the most cosseting to occupants, but Indigo claims that it can deliver limo-like rides in a small car. That’s important for ride-sharing drivers, who might cover 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year. The top speed is 80 mph.

The cars are tiny but have a big cargo-carrying capacity. Alpha will have 58.3 cubic feet of storage, and Bravo (presumably with the removable rear bench taken out) will have 106 cubic feet of storage. They have sliding side doors like minivans and a central driving position. There’s a programmable rear display, to let other motorists know you’re making a delivery and will be right back.

Hub motors have been attempted by a number of automakers and shown on concept cars, but despite having been seen on such early electric vehicles (EVs) as the Lohner-Porsche Electromobile in 1900, have never been offered on a production vehicle. The adaptive suspension has been commercialized, but not on entry-level cars. “The problem with hub motors is that they add unsprung weight,” Graylin says. “We solved that problem by having the motors and wheels handle propulsion individually.”

A lot of EV companies have failed, but Graylin’s track record is encouraging. He’s a serial entrepreneur whose companies include Loop Pay (2015-2018, sold to Samsung); ROAM Data (2007-2012, acquired by Ingenico); WAY Systems (2002-2007, acquired by Verifone); and EntitleNet (2001-2012, acquired by BEA Systems, then Oracle). Before that, he was a nuclear submarine officer.

Tarr says several large OEMs will be suppliers to Indigo, which is aiming to use as many off-the-shelf components as possible. The vehicles, styled by a former Volvo advanced concepts designer, aren’t exactly lookers. They may want to work on that aspect of the offering. The three-wheeler recalls the Elio, a gas-powered economy car that was going to achieve 84 mpg and sell for $6,500.

Graylin says his new cars will compete with the used cars that rideshare drivers could also buy. He’s crunched the numbers and says a late-model Toyota Camry might cost 8.4 cents per mile to operate and a Tesla Model S 3.9 cents, compared to two cents for an Indigo. The company will initially target the eight cities that do 55% of the ride-sharing business nationally.