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Founder of troubled electric van maker Arrival steps aside as CEO | Automotive industry

The founder of electric vehicle startup Access stepped down as CEO shortly after a chaotic shift in strategy in which it shifted focus from the UK to the US.

Denis Sverdlov, a Russian telecom billionaire, will be replaced by Peter Cuneo, the former head of Marvel Entertainment until its sale to Disney. Cuneo led the stock exchange listing early last year, pumping $660m (£548m) into the company at the height of the global investment frenzy in electric vehicles.

Sverdlov, who remains a major shareholder, will remain with the company, switching roles with Cuneo, who was serving as chairman.

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Access has had a rough year after a string of missed targets and the decision to abandon plans to produce UK vans and buses, despite spending heavily on heavy robot plants in Banbury and Bicester.

Oxfordshire plants have been producing prototypes for several months, but Access cut 800 jobs in July and said last month it would stop work in the UK to focus on a separate plant in South Carolina. It said this month it did not have enough cash to continue as a going concern.

Repeated setbacks have sent the value of its shares down more than 95%. At its height, the company was valued at more than $15 billion on the Nasdaq in New York, but on Thursday it was only worth $215 million.

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Sverdlov’s massive valuation briefly made him one of the wealthiest people in the UK, with a net worth of £6 billion shortly after listing. However, the value of the 65% stake held by his investment fund was less than £150m on Thursday.

He initially made his money in the Russian telecom company Scartel, and served for just over a year in the cabinet of then Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. This year Sverdlov said he no longer had any connections with the Russian government.

Sverdlov has secured the backing of some of the world’s largest corporations, including investment manager BlackRock, automaker Hyundai and global delivery company UPS, which is set to be one of its first clients. However, some insiders have complained that the company is too ambitious, at the same time trying to build a pickup truck, bus and car.

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Access also announced the resignation of Chief Strategy Officer Avinash Rogopur, who was an early senior employee in the auto industry and keynote speaker for the company. Rogobor said he had resigned for “personal reasons” but would remain a member of the board.

In a statement, Cuneo said he wanted to ensure that “the company executes on the next set of its strategic goals” and said he looks forward to “working closely with Dennis” and the Access staff.

“I am more committed than ever to ensuring the success of Access, and I will continue to act in the best interests of the Company, shareholders, customers, partners and employees,” Sverdlov said.

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