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Electric Vehicle Roundup
Jeremy Faludi, 29 Sep 07
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It's been a while since we've looked at the state of the electric vehicle market. Everyone has heard of Tesla, but what else is coming down the road? And what's out there already?

Last year in Worldchanging, Joel Makower wrote a roundup mentioning the Wrightspeed and Tesla vehicles -- but there are also practical utility vehicles, neighborhood vehicles, and more from the likes of Phoenix Motors, Javlon Electric, and Zap. Plus, the first commercially available solar-powered cars by Venturi, and other fun toys.

The Venturi Fetish

Sports Cars

VenturiFetish.jpgVenturi Motors, in Monaco, would like to make it very clear that it did the electric roadster before Tesla did -- Venturi's Fetish vehicle spent two years on a round-the-world tour before going into production, and has been on sale for a couple years now. It also costs four times what the Tesla does.

The Wrightspeed X1 roadster (almost dragster) is still just a prototype at this point, but founder Ian Wright is trying to raise money to make a production car that would have more impressive performance than any other commercial EV roadster: 0-60 mph in 3 seconds at 170 mpg equivalent. Tesla has delayed its first run of shipping vehicles, but the company is promising vehicles will hit the road by Q1 of 2008.

Zap, perhaps the longest-lived electric vehicle company, which has eked out an existence since 1994, claims to have a sports car in the works as well. Zap's Zap-X is being developed with help from Lotus Engineering (note that Lotus was the company that designed the Tesla's body, though the Zap-X's styling doesn't have the same sex appeal). The list of features is long enough and impressive enough to be implausible, so I wouldn't hold your breath on this one, but I'll be delighted if it does come out with everything advertised: photovoltaic glass, a 10-minute recharge time, 155mph top speed, an onboard computer with HD video, iPod, bluetooth, Firewire, and USB ports. All for just $25K.

Phoenix Motors's truck and the Corbin Sparrow, now Myers Motors NmG

Practical Cars

Phoenix_n_Sparrow.jpgPhoenix Motorcars sells electric trucks and SUVs, mostly to companies that run fleets of vehicles. Phoenix's vehicles go full freeway speeds, have good battery ranges, and can carry cargo. AutoBlogGreen says the company's cars have unique batteries with an amazing lifetime:

Recently, the company conducted an in-house test on their NanoSafe batteries and found that after 15,000 (not a typo) deep charge and discharge cycles, the product retained over 85 percent of its charge capacity. In theory that would push the life of these batteries beyond 40 years if you recharged everyday, though, the company admits that under real-world wear and tear a battery life of 20 years is more realistic.

That's easily four times the life of most current EV batteries.

Miles Automotive Group has a number of cars which, despite golf cart speeds, have real car size and style. Here's a pretty interesting video interview with the company, about the Javlon model.

ZENN is the name of both the car and the company for a Toronto-based neighborhood EV maker. Another slow speed but full size car, this won the Michelin Bibendum Challenge's Top Urban Vehicle award in 2006.

Venturi's Eclectic is a neighborhood vehicle which has such a futurismo design that you can't call it a golf cart. Its' claim to fame is the ability to generate its' own power, from the solar panels on the roof as well as a wind turbine that comes attached. (And no, you can't power it on the wind generated by driving the car; it's not a perpetual motion machine.)

Sexier than that, though, is the Venturi Astrolab, a two-seater solar car featured at this past month's Wired NextFest in Los Angeles.

For urbanites, a truly practical car is a mini-car. Zap does have a number of real neighborhood mini-cars on the road with top speeds around 40 mph, and they're pretty cute: check out the Xebra sedan, for instance.

Indian-made Reva is supposedly the best selling EV in the world. Another micro-car, it has a top speed of around 50mph, can fit four snugly, and has boxy-but cute styling that reminds me of plastic toy dinosaurs. (It's imported into the United Kingdom under the name G-Wiz.)

My favorite micro-car is the Myers Motors NmG--formerly the Corbin Sparrow. Just a one-seater, as small as a fat motorcycle with room for a couple bags of groceries in the back, it is the ultimate commuter vehicle: not limited to neighborhood streets, it can go 75mph on the freeway. And it's the cutest car ever.

The Tango is an impressively engineered micro-car. Like the NmG, it's about half the width of a normal car, but it can carry a passenger and go a startling 130mph, accelerating off the line almost as fast as the roadsters mentioned above. It's not pretty--actually it's miserably boxy-looking--but it's both fast and safe. Not in production yet, the Tango has been around for a few years, gathering advance-order deposits to demonstrate to investors that the market demand is there.

Zap's Zapino scooter

Other Vehicles & DIY

zapino-electric-scooter-th.jpgIf you want an electric moped, there's the new Enertia, similar to the Lectra of the 1990's. (The Lectra was acquired by Zap and presumably contributed to what is now the Zapino electric scooter.)

Two vehicles that aren't EVs but that will get many people excited. The Loremo diesel hypercar gets 157 mpg and goes over 100mph, without being electric or hybrid--it's just very, very light. The design is clever and adventurous; however, you can't get one yet--production doesn't start until 2009. The Aptera 200mpg diesel hybrid car is no longer vaporware--it was shown at TED this year. The Aptera has a phenomenal aesthetic that I hope people aren't too cowardly to adopt. The best thing about the form is that it is functional--this vehicle has the best aerodynamic drag coefficient of any of the vehicles listed here (about 0.1). Reducing drag is key, because it lets you reduce your power needs, which reduces your motor and battery sizes, which in a virtuous cycle further reduces power needs. Being a diesel hybrid is great too, allowing drivers who can't decide between hybrid and biodiesel to have the best of both worlds.

Most EVs on the road today are homebrews: individual projects by tinkerers who have taken an existing car body (ranging from a Geo Metro to a Porsche), ripped out the gas engine, and replaced it with an electric motor, controller and batteries. There are many web sites where you can find these one-offs for sale, or info on how to make your own. The best resource in the US is probably the Electric Auto Association; others include EV World, DIY electric car, and EV Convert just to name a few.

Images courtesy Reva, Myers Motors, Venturi, Tesla Motors, Zap, and Wikipedia

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In all the recent articles on electric cars I see no mention of the Aptera. While widely touted as a 300MPH Hybrid it is also offered in an all electric mode. They are touting a 120 mile range but unlike the MnG it is a two seater.

Posted by: Thom on 2 Oct 07

Nice to see a recently updated list - but where are the big guys? Where's the Subaru R1e thats been promised for years? Where's that great Mitsubishi that's been mentioned again and again? Come on guys - give us a safe and practical medium range car that seats four and give it to us now. AAAARGH

Posted by: Danny on 3 Oct 07



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