Alexandra Paul with Tom Gage discussing AC Propulsion's eCube
AC Propulsion president Tom Gage, wearing an 'I am not dead yet' t-shirt, discusses the eBox electric car conversion of a Scion xB with actress and activist Alexandra Paul. Ms Paul has owned an EV1 and currently drives a Toyota RAV4 EV.

First Peek Inside the eBox

AC Propulsion gives EV World correspondent first glimpse of battery electric Scion xB conversion

By Forbes Bagatelle-Black

I have seen a lot of prototypes. I have spent the last two decades designing and building electric cars and bicycles. I know what it is like to scramble for a deadline and to end up with something held together with duct tape and the occasional wad of bubble gum.

So, when Earl Cox, a member of the EV advocate group "Plug In America" invited me to a demonstration of AC Propulsion’s newest project, the Scion xB-based "eBox," I was prepared for the worst. AC Propulsion has done great things with electric vehicles. Their tzero introduced the world to the concept of an electric supercar, but it had "garage shop" looks that only a true EV enthusiast could love. I prepared myself for duct tape.

When I saw the eBox, I was pleasantly surprised. No, wait – strike that. I was impressed. No, that’s not the word I want. I was AMAZED by the professional-looking vehicle which stood before me. Most of the gauges were standard Scion issue, and the one screen that was not stock was clear and easy to read. The floors were neatly carpeted. If it were not for one or two wires I noticed hidden around the edges of the cabin (these were required for ongoing testing) I would have thought that I was in a vehicle which had just rolled off the line at the Toyota factory.

Tom Gage, president of AC Propulsion, gave the assembled group a tour of the vehicle. When he popped the hood, it was immediately obvious that we were not looking at a Toyota. A large controller in a metal box dominated the view of the engine compartment (motor compartment?). Still, the assembly looked neat and professional. It was clear that we were looking at a production-ready vehicle, not a "one-off" designed as a proof-of-concept.

I was eager to take a test drive. Alexandra Paul, another Plug In America member and co-star of the recent movie Who Killed the Electric Car (among others), had arranged the demonstration, so she got to drive the eBox first. Gage gave her a thirty-second instruction session, and they were off. The car was quiet and smooth as it glided away. They returned a few minutes later. Paul was grinning ear-to-ear.

When it was my turn, I climbed into the driver’s seat. My 6’6" frame fit easily into the Scion’s ample cabin space. Three passengers climbed in as well, leaving room for one more person in the back seat. Gage gave me the basic orientation, which consisted of him explaining, "Turn the key to ‘On.’ Switch this lever forward for ‘Forward’ and backward for ‘Reverse,’ and here is another lever to control the amount of regenerative braking you want during coasting."

With that, we were off. Once I got onto the street, I floored it. The 120kW drive motor responded enthusiastically, pressing all occupants back into their seats. I had the "regen" lever set to maximum, so when I took my foot off the accelerator, the eBox slowed rapidly. Gage commented, "If you plan ahead while you are driving, you never have to use the mechanical braking. You can do it all with regen."

We cruised the streets of Santa Monica. When I was not lead-footing the eBox like a racecar driver, it ran smoothly and demonstrated the road manners one would expect from a Toyota. The suspension was comfortable but not spongy. Accelerator response was linear and very predictable. When I applied the brake pedal, the regenerative braking was smooth. When I pushed the pedal further, the transition from regenerative to mechanical braking was seamless.

I realized that this was the type of vehicle which could change the way America views electric cars. When driven in a practical manner, it provided all the comfort and security a typical soccer mom could want for her family of five. When pushed, the eBox will leave many modern sports cars in its dust. With a range of up to 180 miles on a charge, and a charging time of two hours in "fast charge" mode, this vehicle could do almost everything a gasoline-powered car could do, and it could do a lot of things better.

When we were not test driving the eBox, I had a chance to talk to Tom Gage. He explained that the eBox borrows most of its drivetrain technology from the tzero. The motor, controller and regenerative brakes are all evolutions of the equipment developed for the tzero over the last several years. It also uses the same traction control system.

The maximum speed is electronically limited to 90 mph. The eBox will go from zero to sixty mph in under seven seconds. The battery charger is located on-board, so all that is required to charge is a connection to utility power terminated in a mating connector. The eBox can be charged on various different utility voltages, 110V, 208V, 240V, etc. It can charge on either 50 or 60Hz, so the car is ready for overseas markets. As an added bonus, the controller is set up to interface the battery pack with utility power as a "vehicle to grid," (V2G) system.

When I asked Gage about future production plans, he said, "We will be building one eBox per month until early next year. At that point we will either start building a lot of them, or we will move onto a new vehicle. It all depends on how they sell."

A couple of people asked if AC Propulsion is taking orders. Gage explained that for $55,000, AC Propulsion will convert a customer's xB to an eBox. Drivetrain parts and installation labor are included in this price. Nobody grabbed for a checkbook immediately, but Earl Cox asked Gage what it took to get on the list. "$10,000 and an xB gets you in the queue," Gage replied.

Later, Gage told me that he was confident that AC Propulsion could bring materials costs down dramatically if a major auto manufacturer committed to installing the eBox drivetrain in on or more of its vehicles. "At 50,000 to 100,000 units manufactured per year, we could bring materials costs down to a retail price equivalent of $10,000 per drivetrain."

Personally, I do not think I will be able to wait for one the big companies to license this technology from AC Propulsion. I want my eBox right now.

AC Propulsion eBox electric car

AC Propulsion eBox Specifications:

Range: 140-180 miles

Acceleration: 0 to 60mph in less than 7 seconds

Top Speed: 90 mph

Charge Rate: 30 minutes for 20-50 miles

Full Charge: 2 hours (fast), 5 hours (normal)

Battery Pack: Li Ion, 39kWh, 580 lb

Curb Weight: 3050 lb

ADDENDUM: For more photos, text and video of the eBox test ride visit the Stefano Paris web site.

Times Article Viewed: 67491
Published: 21-Aug-2006


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