If there’s one common trait among entrepreneurs, it’s that they never stop pursuing a vision. Don Tinsley, Palo Alto, California, native and current Oakland County resident has pursued a lot of them. After a career at General Motors, Tinsley decided to go his own way through a series of small companies and is now running a private equity firm that specializes in helping banks restructure loans. Tinsley’s newest vision is to give back to the area by having Oakland County – specifically Pontiac – become a business incubator for electric vehicle (EV) and autonomous startups that can provide mobility services. His own company, Palo Alto EV, will be a part of that.
While major OEMs are looking at electrifying consumer vehicles, Tinsley is looking at it in a different way. “It’s not about consumer vehicles,” Tinsley says. “It’s about the movement of people and cargo in an urban setting.”
As battery technology and efficiency increases, the transition to EV public transportation becomes more feasible and some of those vehicles can pull double duty by delivering cargo as well.
To help develop the technologies and vehicles to accomplish that, Tinsley wants to develop a business incubator in Pontiac. “There are 25 technology companies located on the Saginaw St. strip in Pontiac,” Tinsley says. “I think we need to create more buzz in the sector and if we can get the mobility startups here and incubate them with our business knowledge to bring them forward, we can get a rebirth to the city.”
Tinsley’s company has designs in progress for four different vehicles that can serve the needs of municipalities such as parking enforcement, crowd control, and maintenance for parks departments. These tasks are often completed by quad-runner type all-terrain vehicles, but a specifically designed electric vehicle can do the same job at less cost and maintenance. Additionally, companies that operate on acres of property and need to transport equipment or personnel across the large footprint can do so more efficiently with a purpose-built electric vehicle.
“We have an engineering team working on vehicle platforms already,” Tinsley says. “We aren’t necessarily starting from scratch because we’re working with great ideas that didn’t have the support to get off the ground, we hold the intellectual property for several vehicles and will move those ideas forward.”
Tinsley will contribute to the Pontiac incubator efforts by moving his office to downtown Pontiac. He expects to have a manufacturing facility in either Flint or Pontiac and is targeted to begin production in September.