REE's platform is clever in the way it is packaged and the way in which drive is put through the wheels. At a glance it's not that remarkable, following the 'skateboard'-style of platform that most EV builders are now utilising. This essentially means as much of the electronics, battery and drive control systems are jammed into a flat platform – like a skateboard. However, most EVs still have tall, bulky drive units which necessitate an engine bay of sorts. REE's doesn't.
Instead what REE has done is utilise in-wheel motors and completely independent suspension, braking and control units at each corner – which REE calls the REEcorner. Effectively, each wheel is its own drive system, albeit linked – by wire – to the other corners via a central ECU. The result is a platform that is completely flat where it matters – within the wheelbase where things like people and goods need to be carried. It has another catchy name for this aspect of its platform; the REEboard.
Herein lays the reason that REE is so confident in its disruptive technology, despite its small size and relative youth as a company; its platform allows way more flexibility than most others currently in production from mainstream manufacturers.
Writing in Electric and Hybrid vehicle technology international, REE CEO Daniel Barel said: “Having a completely flat platform takes away most body design limitations, it brings total design freedom; from passenger EVs to sports cars, robo taxis, last mile delivery vehicles, autonomous vehicles (REE is autonomous-ready) and even larger trucks, REE can carry any type of design. Finally, there is no need to compromise on functionality or capability for the sake of efficiency. Finally it is possible to create mission-specific electric vehicles that are purpose-built in a way that would be impossible using current thinking and all that without breaking the bank.”
On that last point, cost is another benefit. Modular, skateboard platforms significantly reduce the number of parts that are required to create a complete vehicle. Furthermore, very little will be specific to each iteration of the platform other than the body that is built onto it, so the overall price drops significantly. For example, on REE's platform, each REEcorner can be replaced in less than 20 minutes, according to Barel in an interview with Autocar – and this includes the motor, suspension and ECU. That's F1-esq speed.
Now you're probably reading this and thinking that you've seen this kind of thing before, and you'd be right.
Jaguar is working on a similar platform-based project, called 'Project Vector', alongside the National Automotive Innovation Centre which you can read about here. Then there's Hyundai and Kia, which are working with LA-based start-up Canoo on a scarily similar project. Again, you can read all about it here. Then there's the quirky entry from the UK thanks to Morris Commercial – a cutesy throwback with a modular, scalable EV platform.
REE's platform is great in theory but without investment and the buy-in of a larger entity its technology isn't going to go very far, very quickly. Luckily REE has already started establishing big-name partnerships to develop and, in the future, use its platform in reality. Hino, Toyota's commercial division, is working with REE on a six-wheel concept called the Flatformer. Four smaller wheels provide drive and help spread the load at the rear, with two larger front wheels doing the steering as well as providing drive.
Speaking to Autocar, CEO Daniel Barel, said: “The motor, the braking, the suspension, the drivetrain, [we've developed] everything. You can imagine the depth of due diligence we had to go through before they trusted us. I can’t think of any other manufacturer that is so 100 per cent involved in the major future of any OEM.”
He continued: “We have unique partnerships with the world’s biggest T1s [tier-one suppliers],” said Barel. “They’re our investors and shareholders. We do all the research and development and then, like any other OEM, we send it to production.”
According to Barel in his remarks to Autocar, REE has the capability to produce components in any one of 300 factories (obviously not owned by REE) around the world.
As well as Hino, REE is working with Mitsubishi, Mausashi (powertrain manufacturer), American Axle, NSK (power steering manufacturer) as well as a host of unnamed suspension, powertrain and electrification manufacturers.
In July 2020, REE Automotive received a prestigious BloombergNEF (BNEF) Pioneer Award. It was one of ten companies, from across business areas, listed by Bloomberg as having game-changing potential for its EV platform.
Now in its eleventh year, the BNEF Pioneer awards scrutinise candidates against three criteria: the potential to scale; the level of innovation of the technology or business model; and momentum demonstrated by strong commercial development.
Michael Wilshire, Selection Committee Chair and Head of Strategy at BloombergNEF, said: “REE is literally reinventing the wheel with its revolutionary approach, putting intelligence and drive inside [the arch of] each of the four wheels of a chassis to create a new, flexible and modular electric platform, which gives customers complete design freedom to build their vehicles.”
We're always excited to learn about new companies coming up with innovative, zero-emissions solutions to the problems of future transport. REE's platform isn't unique, but it is a disruptive solution which has clear and obvious merit in pretty much every aspect of packaging, production, cost and scalability. However, there's a vast difference between coming up with, and developing an idea, and getting it into production. With the right investment and partnerships, which REE seems to have in-hand, not to mention the BNEF Pioneer Award, their solution is every bit as plausible as those being created by the big name vehicle makers.