Silence Isn't Golden, It's Electric
By Bill Moore
There are any number of ways to put zip in an electric vehicle. You can give it a powerful motor and controller. You can pile on batteries and ramp up the voltage. Or you can make it light, really light.
At just 900 pounds, the Silence by EBW and T-Rex, both of Canada, took the latter approach, as well as giving it a direct drive, eliminating the efficiency losses of transmissions and differentials. It is one of a growing class of three-wheeled electric vehicles that are seeking to create a niche between high-priced, four-wheeled competitors like the Tesla Roadster or UEV Electrum Spyder and the bevy of slower neighborhood electric cars.
Unlike its predecessor, the Corbin Sparrow now owned by Meyer Motors and called the NMG, which also adopted the tricycle planform, the low-slung Silence seats two in an semi-enclosed cockpit. It is strictly intended for year-round operation in warmer climes than Quebec.
According to the Silence's co-developer, Paul Laprade, it was his quest for efficiency, along with practical considerations like platform availability and the fact that the vehicle is considered a "motorcycle" south of the border in the United States, that led him to his discussions with the company that manufactures the 1164cc, 4-cylinder T-Rex. However, this classification is in a state of flux in Canada since the federal government there has now classified the T-Rex as a regular motorcar having passed the necessary safety and crash tests. At the provincial level in Quebec, it is still seen as a motorcycle. Laprade also notes that the advantage of applying the federal standard to the T-Rex means that both it and the Silence, from which it is derived, will be accessible to more potential buyers and those buyers will not have to wear helmets when driving the vehicle.
Laprade told EV World that he's been thinking about building EVs since 1977 and that the opportunity to fulfill that dream came after he completed his last contract job some three years ago. At the time, he started building experimental electric three-wheeled "cars" and mini bikes, surprising onlookers with their power and performance.
"T-Rex was the perfect choice because it was light weight and had the same configuration that I wanted," Laprade explained, adding his voice to others who are looking to offer a more affordable electric vehicle than the current 'king of the hill', the $100,000 Tesla Roadster. He noted that the T-Rex began production in 1996 and that because of the dramatic differences in propulsion systems and performance, both EBW (Electric Big Wheel) and T-Rex decided to form a third, separate company: Silence EV.
Unbeknownst to Laprade, the head of T-Rex had also been mulling over the idea of an electric version for about two years, but it would be Laprade's call that set in motion their three year-long collaboration. He told me that over the course of time, they tested some 80 different electric motors, finally settling on an as-yet-unnamed U.S.-made DC motor in combination with Thundersky lithium batteries, the aim being to offer range and performance comparable, again to the 250 miles of the Tesla, which is also powered by lithium-based batteries.
"We are trying to not use too many parts that come from China," he said, "because you know what happens there because they're not conscious about the environment and everything, so it is to encourage them? The same thing happens when you put gasoline in your car, you encourage terrorism."
As it stands right now, the Silence EV is an open cabin vehicle. Like owners of the gasoline T-Rex, Laprade figures that Silence buyers will eventually want to install a front windshield, but for now, in order to remain classified a motorcycle, Silence EV has to leave it off. He is hoping that in three to four years, if the product is successful, the company will be able to offer a completely enclosed version that will have the same creature comforts of a conventional motor car.
The target MSRP is $50,000CAD or at current exchange rates about $42,000USD. He also speculated that if the vehicle is bought in California, the owner may be entitled to a $4-5,000 rebate from the state. Laprade reported that he already has some pre-order deposits in hand for a June, 2007 delivery of the vehicle.
Prudently, the two firms are planning to build just 10 vehicles in 2007 for the local Canadian market so they can be adequately tested before manufacturing larger numbers. They plan to electronically monitor the each one, including, if the customer wishes, WiFi capability that will permit the companies to continuously monitor the vehicle's systems on a 24/7 basis, allowing them to do what Laprade calls "predictive maintenance."
"That would be a first one, huh?" he said with characteristically French Canadian inflection. Laprade has been driving the first prototype for more than a year now during which time no major problems arose, which gives both company's confidence that they can start taking orders for delivery this coming summer. These first vehicles essentially will be straight electric conversions of the T-Rex.
He took understandable pride in telling me that in a recent six lap race with some 15-16 gasoline T-Rexs, the Silence won, which surprised everyone.
Demonstrations and sales will be handled through current T-Rex dealers in the U.S. and Canada. Orders may take 6-8 months to fill initially. Within the five years, Laprade wants to see the Silence, which is admittedly a niche vehicle, sell for between $25,000-28,000. The warranty will be very limited due to the high-performance nature of the vehicle, he commented.
"It's only to limit abuse."
Interestingly, Laprade is considering offering a warranty that is adaptable to the owner's needs and wants by electronically customizing the performance of the car, in essence, electronically extending the warranty. Laprade illustrated this by noting how with some simple programming changes using a laptop computer in the vehicle with him, he was able to electronically improve the Silence's rate of acceleration and beat the personal owner of T-Rex in his own car.
"He was looking at me saying, No, you're not allowed to do that." The Silence blew the T-Rex away.
"Every vehicle we produce will have that capability," Laprade stated.
Be sure to listen to our complete 35-minute dialog using either of the two MP3 players at the beginning of the article, or download the 8.1MB file to your computer hard drive for transfer and playback on your favorite MP3 device. Purchasers of this article in PDF format can access the audio at the following URL: http://www.evworld.com/evworld_audio/paul_laprade.mp3.