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EXCLUSIVE-Electric car startup Canoo names new CEO, outlines push to make its own vehicles

DETROIT, April 22 (Reuters) - Canoo Inc on Thursday said Executive Chairman Tony Aquila will take over as chief executive, and the electric vehicle startup outlined a push to roll out its own vehicles.

Aquila, a former software CEO who joined Canoo in October, immediately replaces Ulrich Kranz, who co-founded the company and exits at the end of the month.

“Any company that’s young and at this age is fine-tuning its strategy,” Aquila told Reuters in an interview, citing Canoo’s multi-purpose vehicle platform and engineering team as strengths. “This is an evolution story.”

Kranz’s departure follows the exit last month of Paul Balciunas as chief financial officer, raising concerns among some analysts that Canoo was backing away from the strategy it sold to investors when it was going public in December through a reverse merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

Canoo shares are down more than 50% since they began trading in December. The Los Angeles-based company is one of several EV startups that went public through SPACs whose shares have posted steep declines since their debuts.

Following the release of Canoo’s first-quarter results in late March, Roth Capital downgraded the stock to “neutral” from “buy,” saying the company’s pivot in direction - including the decision to de-emphasize both its engineering services business and its plan to use more heavily a subscription model for drivers - raised confusion among investors.

In February 2020, Canoo announced a deal to develop EVs with Hyundai Motor Co, but Aquila told Reuters the deal no longer exists.

Aquila, Canoo’s third largest shareholder, outlined the change in strategy during the March call, saying the de-emphasis of the contract engineering services business would accelerate the launch of Canoo’s own vehicles and potentially improve the return on capital. He re-emphasized that stance to Reuters.

“I am very focused primarily on our own intellectual property, our own brand,” he said.

Canoo, which has opened executive offices in Dallas, plans to introduce a pod-like seven-seat lifestyle vehicle and a delivery vehicle next year, followed by a pickup truck in 2023.

Canoo developed a “skateboard” - a low-rise platform that bundles batteries and electric motors with such chassis components as steering, brakes and wheels - on which a variety of vehicle body types can be built.

Canoo said it is negotiating with states about a potential manufacturing site that would employ 2,000 people and intends to sign a deal with a contract manufacturer to build its low-volume vehicles. (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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