2009: Year of the Electric Car
By Bill Moore
Originally published in Fall 2008 issue of Mother Earth News
Just when you thought there was no help on the horizon to ease your "pain at the pump", a century-old technology is about to re-emerge as a petroleum-free solution that will be amazingly cheap to operate, literally in the pennies-per-day.
Meet the new electric cars of the 21st Century. Although they will initially appear in limited numbers and likely in restricted regions of the US while manufacturers, dealers and customers get comfortable with the technology, here is some of what you can expect to begin rolling down America roads starting in 2009.
One of the first full-functioning electric cars that is slated to appear in 2009 here in America is the Miles XS500, a five-passenger, four-door sedan currently undergoing crash certification to meet U.S. safety standards. The Chinese-manufactured, battery-powered car will offer all the amenities and performance Americans have come to expect from a gasoline car in the same class. Its only limitation, as with all electric cars, is its range, aimed at around 120-plus miles using lithium-ion iron phosphate cells -- a lower temperature and presumably safer battery chemistry than higher energy cobalt-based cells. The company plans beta tests of the vehicle in early summer 2009, with production sales to begin sometime in the 4th quarter. Initial pricing is targeted at $35,000 to $40,000.
Following closely on Miles bumper is the long-labored Th!nk A306, originally re-engineered by Ford Motor Company from an earlier Norwegian-designed electric car. Where the XS500 is like your standard family sedan, the A306 is a sprightly two-seater in the same vein as the Mercedes Smart car. A U.S.-destined version is slated to arrive in late 2009. The current version is powered by a sodium-based battery that delivers a top speed of 100 km/hr (63 mpg) and a range of 110 miles. The U.S. version is slated to be equipped with more powerful lithium ion batteries that will likely boost its top speed and improve its range. The price target is in the mid-$20,000 range.
BYD is a Chinese cellphone battery maker-turned-auto manufacturer. They have developed two electric-drive vehicles, a plug-in hybrid akin to the Chevy Volt now in development at GM, and the E6 electric car. The company claims that its battery technology will be good for the equivalent of a couple hundred thousand miles of operation. It hopes to have both cars on the market by 2009, but has not said when it will sell them in North America.
A small southern California start-up excited the electric car world when it introduced an all-electric conversion of a Korean-built SUV and pickup using cutting edge Altairnano lithium ion batteries that can be fast charged in minutes. It hopes to begin limited deliver of vehicles to California customers in 2009, with wider sales after that. The current price tag is around $45,000. The vehicle has top speed of 90 mph and an advertised range of 130 miles on a charge.
If money is no object, but speed and excitement are, then the Tesla Roadster is what you're looking for. This two-seat, all-electric sports car can lay claim to nearly single-handely reviving the fortunes of electric cars with its blistering 0-to-60 acceleration of under 4 seconds, a top speed of 130 mph and a range of 220 miles. Priced at $100,000, it's a limited production car, the first 600 of which have already been spoken for.
Pininfarina B0 (zero)
Pininfarina is best known for designing some of the world's sexiest and expensive sports cars, but it recently teamed up with French battery maker Bolloré to jointly develop an electric car that the company reports it wants to sell in America, and elsewhere, starting in 2010.
Many mainline manufacturers are also working on electric cars including Mitsubishi, which has been perfecting an electric version of its 'i' car. The electric version of four-door subcompact sedan has better performance than its gasoline engine counterpart. Mitsuibishi will beginning selling small numbers of the i MiEV in Japan with US sales likely in subsequent years. A few prototypes are slated to take part in U.S. demonstration trials starting this year.
Every Japanese car maker with the exception of Honda (to date) have announced electric car programs, including Subaru, which like Mitsubishi has been testing small numbers of R1e electric cars with Japanese utilities and announced it would launch a few similar initiatives in the U.S. soon. It debuted a larger G4e concept car at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show, and rolled out a plug-in version of its Stella model for the G-8 Summit in Hokkaido. The R1e's batteries can be recharged to 80% capacity in just 15 minutes.
If you're still uncomfortable with the limitations of a battery-only car, General Motors is working hard for a late 2010 roll-out of its Volt flexible-fuel, range-extended electric car, which will drive 40 miles on battery power, and upwards of 300-plus miles using a 4-cylinder on-board gasoline/ethanol generator. Early prototypes will hit the streets in 2009, with sales to likely begin in 2011.
Toyota is also working on a plug-in version of the Prius, which will be tested in fleets operations starting sometime in 2009. Expect them to arrive in dealer showrooms in the 2011-2012 time frame at the earliest. No pricing has been announced but expect the plug-in version, which will have from 10-20 miles of electric driving range, to run at least several thousand more than the conventional Prius. The company also let it be known in late August that it is planning an all-electric car to roll-out in the 2010s, an obviously 'squishy' time projection, likely dependent on the pace of its "beyond lithium" battery research efforts.
What the Telsa Roadster is to two-seat luxury electric cars, the Fisker Karma -- due out sometime in 2009-2010 time frame -- is to the luxury plug-in sedan. The four-door, four-passenger car will have a top speed of 125 mph and 0-60 acceleration in under 6 seconds. A working prototype hit the bricks in Spring 2008 and the company has announced it will build the car in the same plant in Finland where the Porsche Boxster is built. The initial price tag was set at $80,000, but expect it to go higher.
Project Better Place
The Renault Nissan alliance is developing an electric car to be deployed in Israel, Denmark and Portugal as part of Project Better Place. A potentially paradigm-busting innovation, the U.S. based start-up will offer cars and electric power for them on a long-term contract similar to cellular telephone service. You pay for the miles you drive and at the end of the contract you own the car. Deutsche Bank found the concept so compelling that it reported it could be the breakthrough EVs have been needing.
blog comments powered by Disqus