There are designers and manufacturers of automobiles, and then there are the French. With designs ranging from the iconic Citroën 2CV and DS, to the Renault Espace F1, to, well, just about anything Peugeot turns out, when it comes to cars, the French have always provided the world with a decidedly different take on four-wheeled transportation.
While Peugeot, Citroën, and Renault are sure to remain the big three dans la République, just over a decade ago, 4.5 hours south-west of Paris another French quirk was to borrow a page from British motoring, and reinvent an automobile that started off life as a military project, was rejected and went on to achieve a status around the world that borders upon cult: the Mini Moke.
The Moke began life as a project introduced by British Motor Corporation (BMC), and was initially offered up as a transport that could be dropped by parachute to soldiers, and when needed, even carried by said occupants.
Due to the Moke’s low-slung sideboards, i.e clearance, and thus the need for portability, in combination with remarkably low horsepower, the project proved to be inadequate for military use and was nearly scrapped.
However, due to the planned sharing of parts from this “other” vehicle BMC was producing, The Mini, the company went ahead with production, offering the Moke as a low-cost, easily maintained, lightweight recreational and utility vehicle.
Not quite achieving the resounding success of that of VW’s Beetle or Samba, the quirky design of the Moke struck a chord, and beachcombers and holidaymakers around the world started snapping them up. So much so that even after BMC ceased production of the Moke in its Birmingham plant in 1968, the Moke lived well beyond its years, with production continuing in Australia until 1981, and Portugal from 1980 to 1993.
The Return of The Mule
After a 20-year absence on consumer lists, it would appear that the Moke design hadn’t seen the last of its days, with Luc Jaguelin, and as of 2020, partner Vincent Lecadre, repurposing the vehicle as an EV in 2012 and aptly naming the company NoSmoke. Manufactured in the company’s Deux-Sèvres factory, NoSmoke has produced over 1,500 vehicles over the past 10 years, cranking out 180 models in 2022 alone, resulting in a turnover of €4 million.
As for the future of Kate, Fotolia founder and serial entrepreneur Thibaud Elzière told me that he'd been aware of NoSmoke for quite some time, first seeing the vehicle on the shores of France's popular Cap Ferret holiday area. It was here that the idea occurred that the cult classic could be the beginning of a much more ambitious project. After pouring over the idea, 18 months ago Elzière made the phone call.
Between Kate’s founders Matthias Goldenberg, Pierre Escrieut and Thibaud Elzière, a plan was brewing to not only acquire NoSmoke, but to rethink the process and utilisation of the vehicle from the tyres up.
Planned for a spring 2023 sales launch, Kate’s reimagining of the iconic Moke retains the original’s design, is aptly dubbed "The Original" and will continue to be manufactured in Cerizay. However, since taking the reigns, Kate's version offers consumers major technical developments with the components, the manufacturing process, the batteries, and the motors, all being, according to the company, completely reinvented.
The Original will be available at a starting price of €24,950 and will be delivered in 3 different versions, Lite, Medium and Extended, with 2 types of motors offering a range from 110 to 240 km and a maximum speed of 70 to 90 km/h. As for making it your own, The Original will be available in any one of 23 colours, and is slated to offer more customisation features than you can shake a gearshift at.
According to Elzière, both Jaguelin and Lecadre will stay on as shareholders, but no longer hold any operational roles. That's not an official announcement of retirement, but if that be the case, more power to the duo, as they took an old idea, made it new, and are now about to see it made new again.
And if you’re wondering why 'Kate' as a company moniker, there are certainly any number of other proper nouns Kate’s founders could choose from, it should give you a good indication as to where they’re headed with the company when remembering the class of cars instituted by the Japanese government in 1949: the Kei car (軽自動車), those that were aimed at maximum practicality in minimum space and still account for 40% of the cars registered in Japan today.
Furthermore, Elzière informed me in an email interview that, "We will keep on producing and improving the NoSmoke, renamed "The Original” but will focus our efforts on the new project, the K1."
About that not-everyday-is-a-new-French-automaker-launched? Well, as for the K1, Kate representatives aren't revealing many details at the moment, only noting that The Original is more of a K1 disguised as a NoSmoke. If the teaser image provided by Kate above is any indication, France isn't quite done delivering its patented automotive quirkiness just quite yet.
As for the acquisition of NoSmoke, while Kate representatives did provide a number of details behind the reimagining of the Moke, they declined to comment on any figures.