As he cruised his company’s steel-gray DeLorean around the old Dawson County courthouse, Ampere EV Chief Engineer Lawson Sumner remarked that five years ago, he “never could’ve imagined” working in a job quite like this.
He and his colleagues have grown their company, Ampere EV, with a vision of providing components for people to modify their gas-powered vehicles into electric ones.
Aerospace engineer and businessman Matt White serves as the company’s CEO. Blakely Fabiani, who has a background in software engineering, is its chief technology officer.
While they each had relevant credentials before beginning the business venture, Sumner said that they were more so brought together by their shared interest in motorsports and cars.
“It just so happened that with the growth of the electric vehicle space recently, the company was built in that direction,” Sumner added.
White, who is based out of Florida, met the others through racing with friends at Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawson County. He is also a part owner of Primal Racing Group, according to Ampere EV’s website.
“Matt’s childhood dream was to race cars and his passion was to develop an electric vehicle ‘for the people’ which has led to his involvement with Ampere EV,” their website stated.
They started the company in October 2020 and began working out of a two-car garage at AMP. Ampere EV’s office was initially based in Atlanta, but at the beginning of this year, they moved their mechanical and administrative operations to their space on Ga. 9 South in Dawsonville.
From the start, the company has been privately funded.
White and Fabiani’s first attempt at an electric race car was on a Honda car that Fabiani was helping convert. They did the work the existing way at the time, which entailed countless hours hunting down the right parts, lots of Googling, research and calls to different mechanic shops.
“We thought, ‘You know, we can make this easier for [other] people…where they can buy all the components that work together out of a box and give them the electric car driving experience,’” Sumner said.
The original idea for the company was just to provide batteries which people could use to convert their vehicles.
“But then, a couple of months into it, we realized we can make a great battery, but what are they going to do with it?,” Fabiani said. “They need the rest of this stuff.”
After a meeting, the team decided–it was “everything or nothing.”
Earlier this month, Ampere EV opened up orders for one of its products called an electric junction box. They plan to open up ordering for their full plug-and-play or atom drive powertrain system in June.
Sumner shared that there’s a nationwide community of people who convert cars. This past November, Ampere EV attended the Specialty Equipment Market Association or SEMA’s prominent annual trade show in Las Vegas, where the co-owners talked to thousands of people in the span of a couple days.
A lot of people they talked to spoke about wanting to convert their or their customers’ cars to be electric but lacking the skills or knowledge to pick the right components for it.
“A lot of people who want to convert a vehicle after already buying an electric car,” Sumner said. “They really like how these cars drive after they spend a lot of time in them and drive daily. They start to want their project car or fun car to also be electric.”
Since nobody else was really taking the kind of approach Ampere EV wanted to take, that’s what motivated the company to press on in their initiative.
While Sumner said there are companies out there that help get parts or do conversions and that he’s generally interested in partnering with some of them, he did call Ampere EV’s approach and design “very unique.”
“There are a lot of entrants into EV, but for right now, we’re on the cutting edge,” he added.
“Georgia’s really pushing big for the automotive space, and the EV space is where automotive is going, so there’s a big focus on getting those companies into Georgia.”
Ampere EV’s plug-and-play electrical conversion kit will include batteries, motors and other necessary items. Kit components can be mounted in any standard vehicle, be it an old Mustang or Chevy pickup truck, Sumner said.
Because the battery is split into three modules, they can be put into a vehicle’s front, back or interior spaces, Sumner said.
Fabiani emphasized safety as a “big focus” of their company, pointing to the cooling system and user-friendly tablet interfaces that are a part of each kit. Each kit also takes into account touch-safe connections to avoid people touching potentially injurious voltage. Batteries not plugged in and turned on by a controller will not output any voltage, he said.
“We know that some of our customers may not be experts in electrical vehicles, and that’s okay. We don't want them to have to be,” he said.
Sumner reiterated the business’s fast progression, with Fabiani adding their evolution toward providing an entire electric powertrain system, with only he and the other co-founders for much of that expansion.
Ampere EV aspires for nationwide reach and, eventually, an international market. Of the 10 electric kits in their inventory, only one is not spoken for, and Sumner said they’re already trying to order enough to build 25 more.”
They’ll mix everything they can make, but the challenge is “making everything fast enough,” Fabiani said.
Ampere EV sources parts from multiple countries since some of the kit components aren’t made in the United States. However, they’ll sell their products as manufactured and assembled in the U.S. with global components, “kind of like a small auto manufacturer,” he added.
With how much the workload has grown, they’ve hired six more employees for a total of nine workers, including themselves, at the company. Most of those individuals have been hired in the past two months, such as the operations manager and Matt White’s brother, Mike White.
There’s also multiple co-op college students. Before taking on this role, Sumner himself had previously participated in a three-year, five-rotation engineering co-op through Georgia Tech.
He cited his high opinion of professional-level internships and ties with his alma mater when talking about Ampere EV’s interns.
“I know a lot of students looking for opportunities, and the electric space has a lot of interest from a lot of students,” Sumner said. “Companies are hiring for a lot of EV positions, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the space.”
He added that multiple schools like his alma mater are now incorporating skills from engineering and other areas into their curriculums, which makes a difference.
“Especially for interns, when you can give them projects they’re passionate about, they can produce some really good results,” Sumner added, pointing out that an intern designed the dashboard tablet.
Sumner said co-ops give these students cool opportunities while helping out Ampere EV as well. He elaborated that in terms of skills, there’s “a lot of car knowledge in the [Dawson] area, and it’s amazing.”
Dawson native Kenny Aaron works with Ampere EV. Previously, Aaron worked as a car mechanic for 12 years, and he likewise met the co-owners through racing activities at AMP.
He said he didn’t think he’d be working with the company at first and that it organically happened over the last year.
After meeting Matt White and Sumner, Aaron helped them convert another car, the DeLorean, at the AMP racetrack last August and September. They liked Aaron so much that they talked him into coming to work for Ampere EV.
Now, the DeLorean exists as a particularly neat example of electric conversion.
“We started with, ‘What’s an awesome car that would be made better electric?’”, Sumner said. “One of the first things that came to mind was a DeLorean.”
Even though “Back to the Future” paints an idealistic picture of the car, the model actually tends to be slow and unreliable, particularly when it comes to the engine.
However, they were committed to redeeming the old 1980s car and showcasing its very iconic futuristic appearance, Sumner said.
So now, the car sports “Ampere EV” on its scissor-style car doors, and the acceleration is quite a bit smoother-and quieter-than before.
He joked that now, people in Dawsonville “may see more DeLoreans than in the rest of the country.”