Fastco is one of the largest auto wheel makers in Canada, a contributor to Project Arrow and is making a big name for itself as a supplier of purpose-built wheels for EVs
In 2016, life-long auto industry worker and car enthusiast Ian Pavelko sat on the front lawn of the Tesla store in Montreal.
Pavelko, an employee of Montreal-based wheel manufacturer Fastco since 2007, had been there for two days, camping in a bright red tent, festooned with Tesla branding, in order to be the first person in the city — perhaps the country — to put his name down for a Model 3 reservation.
That moment, to the self-described “gearhead, gasoline-running-through-the-veins type,” was when the world’s shift to EVs seemed an inevitable future. What up until that point had been a fringe movement, seemed to become mainstream overnight.
“Everybody in Fastco was watching this happen and going, ‘Holy cow, there’s definitely movement behind this now. We’re seeing what’s happening,'” recalls Pavelko in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
“Our OEM partners were taking notice and going ‘Okay, we really need to move quicker into the space.’ We started having meetings about it and we thought: What are the differences for the wheel and tire industry in the EV market?”
It turns out that simple question had a complicated answer that fundamentally changed the scope of Pavelko’s job.
A purpose-built EV wheel
The Reader’s Digest version of Fastco’s subsequent ascent to a leading role in the business of designing and selling purpose-built wheels for EVs comprises of two statistics.
In 2019, after manufacturing wheels for just combustion vehicles since 1989, Fastco put a new product on the market: the EV01. In three years, that wheel has become the third-best-selling product in the company’s line up.
And, today, Fastco has five EV-series wheels, supply deals with a number of OEMs in North America and the sales volume for the entire EV line is doubling every year.
But behind the top-selling products is a longer story of the discovery of a fundamentally different wheel design to meet the specific needs of an electric vehicle.
“We discovered quickly that you need a wheel that’s very lightweight and very, very aerodynamic. Anything you change on an EV has a dramatic effect on its range,” says Pavelko. “Having an open, standard design wheel generates a lot of turbulence versus a wheel that is very smooth — like the factory Model 3 wheel or any number of these smooth aero designs that you see on the cars. That can represent about a five per cent difference in the vehicle’s range.”
So, the ideal wheels for EVs — ones that minimize resistance and maximize range — is what Fastco set out to build. It took years of tinkering, testing and following “gut instinct,” but eventually Fastco crafted a designed-in-Canada EV wheel that, in 2021 earned the company a spot on “Canada’s Car,” or, Project Arrow.
Project Arrow and the Fastco wheel
“There is an undeniable amount of technical talent in this country,” says Pavelko.
“I think Flavio Volpe [from the APMA] put best when he said something to the effect of, ‘We wanted to create the ultimate business card to really focus a spotlight on the talent, the engineering skills and all the possibilities that is the Canadian automotive supply chain.'”
Pavelko remembers the day Project Arrow popped up on his radar with similar vivid detail as his Model 3 purchase.
“Almost two years ago the phone rings and it’s one of the students from the University of Waterloo, explaining that they’re working on this thing called Project Arrow,” recalls Pavelko.
“I thought, ‘Well, that sounds kind of interesting.’ At this point I’m thinking it’s just some small-scale university project. Well, my Teams meeting lights up the next week and here’s Fraser Dunn, ex of Aston Martin, who’s the design chief on the project. I’ve got the second in command of APMA who’s behind it. I’ve got design teams from the different universities involved. To steal a line out of the movie Jaws: ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat here.'”
In the handful of years since Pavelko experienced his Tesla pivotal moment, a second now appeared to be upon him and Fastco, to elevate wheels for EVs onto centre stage of the transportation revolution.
Working out the ideal design
Traditionally, wheels that go on a combustion vehicle have a Swiss cheese appearance with deep indentations and lots of through-and-through visibility. Fastco’s EV wheels, by contrast, are nearly solid.
“I make no bones about it,” says Pavelko. “We designed that wheel completely by eye and the skin of our teeth. It was a fully instinctive I mean. We just didn’t have the budget — nobody knew if this was even going to fly.”
The focal point of the design process was aerodynamics and weight. Pavelko and his team brainstormed to come up with iterations of wheels that would add the least amount of drag and weight to the vehicle.
“If you take [the wheel] all apart, you’ll see it’s just this little thin bicycle skeleton underneath to give it the lightest weight possible. And then to achieve the aerodynamics what we do is we use plastic inserts,” explains Pavelko. “You can add this almost full face structure to [the wheel] with virtually no increase in weight or just ounces of additional weight.”
Tests of the EV01 at Transport Canada’s testing track in Blainville, Que., showed the EV01’s performance was on par with Tesla’s factory Model 3 wheel.
Once Fastco joined up with Project Arrow though, the challenge to elevate the design became even greater.
“Working with the Project Arrow people we had access to computer simulations of the aerodynamics — something we didn’t have on our own. When they ran the wheel through the simulation, one of the things they discovered (which was totally counterintuitive) is if you drop this little dish into the centre of the wheel, the trailing edge of the depression creates something like a mini gurney flap effect and promotes a more laminar exit flow,” describes Pavelko.
“That’s one of the cool findings that came out of it being able to work with them and do these aero simulations. It’ll inform our design decisions on the next few wheels that we do.”
Spreading the word
With Project Arrow nearly completed and most OEMs keen to make aggressive moves to build out their EV product lines for top performance, the auto industry is in the right headspace for a reeducation on the importance of an EV’s wheels in that process.
In response to growing interest in purpose-designed EV parts, Fastco launched an education platform about wheels for EVs to get OEMs, dealerships and auto service providers up to speed.
“I think it’s important, because at the end of the day, if a customer puts the wrong wheels on their car and they lose 20, 30, 40 kilometres of range, they’re not going to be happy,” says Pavelko.
“It’s a lot of work. But we’ve got to make them understand that this is an important part of the equation.”