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Magna Steyr Mila EV electric car concept.
Magna International's Austrian division, Magna Steyr produced this concept car to attract attention to its electric drive technology, including lithium ion battery package.

Drivetrains Proliferate, But Who Will Build An Affordable Electric Car?

Magna Steyr joins the ranks of would-be electric car component suppliers.

By EV World

Magna Steyr, the Austrian division of Canadian-based Magna International, joined its North American cousin -- Magna Electronics -- by introducing an electric-drive power train.

Housed in its Mila EV concept car, which it debuted at the 79th Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland, the modestly sized drive system -- compared to the 370 hp dual twin series hybrid drive in the Frazer-Nash Namir -- develops 67 hp and is equipped with a 10 kilowatt lithium ion battery pack, which the company developed internally.

Performance is equally modest: it's Electric-First* driving range is said to be 32 miles. It's zero-to-100 km/hr acceleration is a bit lethargic at 17 seconds. It's series hybrid gasoline generator augments driving range out to 174 miles.

Like the Frazer-Nash series hybrid drive, Magna Steyr hopes to offer it to OEMs, saving them valuable research time and dollars. Mila EV body pictured above and in the following slideshow is essentially there as eye candy.

Magna Electronics already is working with Ford Motor Company on a Focus-based all-electric sedan that is slated to roll out in 2011. A prototype 'mule' was up and running at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

With all the companies offering to develop electric drive trains -- a list that includes Magna, AFS Trinity, Ricardo, Frazer-Nash, TM4 and Venturi -- the question of who will build the car seems appropriate given the current industry doldrums.

Here in North America, General Motors is in serious trouble with even its own auditors questioning its long term viabiilty. There is little word out of Chrysler of late, which doesn't necessarily mean "no news is good news." Only Ford seems to be successfully treading water at the moment. Elsewhere in the car business, sales have equally slumped, except at Dacia-Renault. Even India's Tata Motors is struggling, counting on its Nano "People's Car" to rescue its sagging fortunes.

A common complaint heard among electric advocates and those interested in possibly buying one is there are no affordable models to be had. Bill Moore, the publisher of the electric car web site, EV World.com often hears from frustrated readers who wonder where or when they'll be able to buy electric drive cars that are competitive with gasoline models.

"There is a lot of pent-up frustration out there. People see the value of electric cars from the perspective of national security, economics or the environment, but most can't afford the $60,000 deposit on a Tesla Roadster, much less the $109,000 price tag. At the moment, there just isn't a practical, highway-capable electric car to be had for under $30,000," he said. "There are a number of low-cost Chinese imports similar to the Smart car that can be had for under $20,000, but none of them are certified for highway use. They are low-speed vehicles limited to just 25 mph. And you can't drive them on streets with a speed limit over 35, so they are of limited practicality. Quality and durability are also unknowns."

All of the major global carmakers have electric car programs in development, but whether or not they can be successfully brought to market at a price consumers are willing to pay, remains unclear, Moore observed.

"You have to mass produce the batteries, the electronics, the motors to get the price of the drive system down, but you have to have large orders to do that. It's a serious Catch 22. Government incentives will be important to getting the industry past this choke point. Here in the US, Congress just passed a $7,500 tax credit on battery-dominate hybrids like the Volt, as well as all-electric cars when they become available, hopefully starting this year, at the earliest, but more likely starting in the 2010-2012 time frame."

Moore said he believes that the fact that Magna and the other auto industry supplier companies are now taking electric-drive seriously bodes well for a more sustainable transportation future.

Times Article Viewed: 5092
Published: 07-Mar-2009

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