Currently reading: UK start-up launches commercial EVs for developing nations
McDonald’s-inspired global production strategy uses new ‘digital twin’ technology to ensure quality

British start-up Helixx has announced plans to produce a line-up of four quadricycles aimed at developing nations in Asia, produced using an innovative process inspired by McDonald’s.

The electric quartet are all based on the same underpinnings, engineered to L7e regulations – so legally limited to 20bhp and a maximum kerb weight of 450kg (rising to 600kg for cargo vehicles).

There are two commercial variants: a van with 2100 litres of cargo space and a pick-up with a 1.64m2 bed. The two passenger models, a minivan and an open-sided tuk-tuk, offer a top speed of 50mph.

All feature swappable 2kWh lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery packs. Multiple can be installed to give a total capacity of 4kWh, 8kWh or 12kWh, with the highest giving up to a 200km (124-mile) range. And Helixx CEO Steve Pegg has confirmed to Autocar that the company is evaluating whether the vehicles can support an eighth pack, which would boost the range further.

None of the vehicles will be sold directly to consumers, said Pegg, but rather leased to fleets and business operators on a subscription basis. The company aims for this subscription to be charged at just $0.25 (£0.20) per hour of use.

To ensure profitability, the Oxford-based company will oversee small regional factories operated under licensed partnerships, in the same way that a business might opt to become a fast-food franchise.

“You can go anywhere in the world and build 95% of all the components in the local region,” explained Pegg. “If there’s a press shop, a foundry, you can make anything.”

Helixx tuktuk 2023 render

Some components – namely the batteries – have to be sourced by Helixx, given the difficulty of their production. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on making use of local resources to reduce the vehicles’ costs (both financial and environmental).

Pegg added: “We got our inspiration from McDonald's franchises. You don't have to know how to cook to own McDonald's franchise. You don't even have to cook. All you do is follow a set of processes. You don't need to know where your supply chain comes from.”

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To ensure consistency in the quality of the vehicles potentially built all over the world, Helixx plans to use a software framework that it's developing with technology giant Siemens. This utilises a ‘digital twin’ – a virtual model of the vehicle – with cameras, sensors and special processes on the factory floor to ensure that each step has been completed correctly.

“We can do all of that here through the UK mission control," explained Pegg. "If we've got a network of factories and one has an error, we can then look at those and what's happening as if it’s in the room next door." 

This means factory staff don’t need to be trained extensively in how to produce the Helixx vans, they “just follow a set of processes, they click a red thumbs-down button or a green thumbs-up button, and the process continues from that”.

By leasing its vehicles to fleets through a subscription model, Helixx can also take full control of what happens to a vehicle at the end of its life.

Pegg said: “There's a lot of talk about circularity and ‘end of life’ and ‘second life’ in a lot of products, not just automotive. But the fundamental problem with that is as soon as you sell it to somebody, the problem isn't yours any longer and you're kind of hoping that the consumer is going to be responsible enough to [recycle]. 

Helixx van 2023 render

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“That isn't the case; there's a big difference between recyclable and recycled. In order to make sure that Helixx does have full circularity, [the vehicles] can only be obtained by a subscription or keeping the ownership within the Helixx platform. And the vehicle has been designed and materials have been designed in such a way that it has full circularity and recyclability without the need of excessive processing chemicals.”

At the end of a vehicle’s life, Helixx plans to either upcycle it into a different model – converting a pick-up used on a building site into a van used around town, for example – or exploit the “100%” recyclability of its materials.

Helixx is currently developing its first driveable vehicles and aims to deliver these by May.

Pegg said: “It's really important for us as a start-up business to have something physical that somebody can get into and touch and feel, and not just the renders that make the business look like vaporware. Really I've spent enough time in start-ups in my career to know how to manage the public perception of these ‘bold’ ventures.”

Helixx is also working towards building a pilot factory in the UK, which will eventually serve as its ‘mission control’ hub for the global factories. This will be replicated in Singapore – whose economic development board is in talks with Helixx – to test the viability of establishing a localised supply chain. The company is also discussing terms with “major industrial players” in Indonesia and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), according to Pegg.

Charlie Martin

Charlie Martin Autocar
Title: Editorial Assistant, Autocar

As a reporter, Charlie plays a key role in setting the news agenda for the automotive industry. He joined Autocar in July 2022 after a nine-month stint as an apprentice with sister publication, What Car?. He's previously contributed to The Intercooler, and placed second in Hagerty’s 2019 Young Writer competition with a feature on the MG Metro 6R4

He is the proud owner of a Fiat Panda 100HP, and hopes to one day add a lightweight sports car like an Alpine A110 or a Lotus Elise S1 to his collection.

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Onlineo 28 March 2023
Love it in principle... Not sure there is any use case for a 2kwh battery version. That thing is unlikely to go more than 15 miles with passengers on board, and if there are many hills then 10 miles is questionable! If they aim for a usable range for a whole day from the outset they will more likely succeed.
Anyhow good luck to them.
xxxx 28 March 2023

Cool, like it. Although 10kwh per mile emmm, still wish it success in the cities.

LP in Brighton 28 March 2023

I think you mean 10 miles per kWh, which I suppose might just be possible given the low weight and low speeds!

Surely it would make sense to build a pilot run and test in a UK City first?

xxxx 28 March 2023

whoops typO. Certainly be an interesting option for the post office in cities.

bol 28 March 2023

Brilliant. Although I'm sure someone will be along in a minute to remind us how EVs will never work in the developing world. 'Cause they won't have thought of that.