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Mindset's car will be available with three powertrain options.
Mindset's electric car will be available with three powertrain options: Pure, Traction and Range with a 300 ccm IC-engine generator.

Despite All Odds, Mindset Sings the Body Electric

EV World's European correspondent reports from Mindset press conference in St. Niklausen, Switzerland

By Martin Schwoerer

Why do most electric cars look so conventional? Why do EVs, in general, seem to want to appear as normal as possible? Actually, this is no wonder, considering that the technology is revolutionary. Why frighten potential customers with newfangled looks when they already have to wrap their mind around all that is typical for EVs, sich as: Plugging in; a shorter range; silent, linear acceleration; zero tailpipe emissions; and super-low per-mile costs?

This is understandable, but where is the truly revolutionary EV? Where is the breathtaking vehicle that is different from everything we’ve seen before? Where is today’s heir to the Citroën DS? What car is as game-changing as the Matra Espace or the Lamborghini Miura were?

This is not a trivial question. To be fully accepted, new technology needs an aura of newness. If the iPod looked like a Walkman, would it be ubiquitous?

Also: will early adopters really be content with the grey, depressing exchangeability that is the shape of today’s car?

There are some truly revolutionary electric cars out there, but they are either not ready or do not convince. The Tango is a wonderful vehicle, but it is too bizarre to be a major influence. The Aptera is also fantastic, also revolutionary, and also unimaginable as transport for the masses. And Gordon Murray’s T.25 is not here yet. What’s left?

The Mindset, for one. Most of what made this Swiss EV special and worthy and unusual when it was introduced in 2008 is still unique at the end of 2010.

For instance: a design that says, “I could not be gasoline-powered”, and is exceptionally slippery to the wind. A high ground clearance, yet a low (at 50cm) center of gravity. Narrow tires for excellent aerodynamics and safe wet-road handling (since copied by BMW for their “Vision Efficient Dynamics” concept). Super-large, 22-inch wheels which ensure that the tires still have a sizable contact patch (as large as on the original VW Golf GTI).

The list of innovative elements goes on. A lightweight space frame, enabling the car to weigh less than a metric ton. A high seating position and a light, spacious, minimalist, iPod-esque interior design that does away with the coal-mine look. A wide B-beam for good overhead crash protection. A round hood for good pedestrian protection.

(Unfortunately, Mindset employs a lot of leather to make the interior look luxurious -- which is not exactly the best way to stress your car’s green credentials).

Look at the Mindset and you see some influences that may have inspired its designer, Murat Günak, former head stylist at Mercedes and VW. There’s some Studebaker Avanti in front; a bit of Porsche 928 from three-quarters rear; some Citroën, some XK-E, but it all gels well.

As a passenger in a Mindset prototype, in mid-2009, I was very much impressed. At that time, I also noticed that the financial future of Mindset was uncertain.

After a long search for investors (lengthened by the global financial crisis), that part has cleared up. At Mindset’s press conference earlier this week, CEO Lorenzo Schmid announced that his company’s holding had received a guarantee of 75 million Swiss Francs from GEM group, a U.S.-based investor. A sum of another 108 million have been optioned. Mindset is now set to manufacture the first batch of 1,500 cars in November 2011. After 2012, the full production plan is for 10,000 units per year.

A total of less than 190 million US Dollars sounds tight for developing, homologating and manufacturing a new car, but Mindset already has contracts with partners who seem to believe in the car’s concept. Xenatec Group, the German contract manufacturing company that will be making the Maybach Coupe, will be in charge of production. The Mindset’s battery system will be supplied by Brusa, a prestigious maker of power electronics for electric cars. And certain Mindsets will be equipped with an innovative range-extender unit developed by Swissauto (EV World will report on this shortly).

They will be selling three versions of the car. Most basic is the “Pure”, with 100kW / 220 nM powering the front wheels, enabling a 0-100 km/h acceleration of 6.9 seconds and a range of 200 km.

Then, there is the “Traction”, with electric motors powering all four wheels, and a 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds.

The Mindset “Range” will include a range extender with 300 ccm and 26 kW, but otherwise be similar to the “Pure”.

Is Mindset’s goal of selling its car at an initial price of 100,000 Swiss Francs realistic? Leon Hustinx, who is Mindset’s COO, spent decades at Mercedes, and in the end was in charge of marketing the Maybach and the SLR McLaren, so he knows something about the premium segment. Likewise, CEO Schmid (who’s a celebrity in both the EV and the financial fields) believes if the market could scream, it would be screaming for an upper-segment electric commuter car.

But what about the Fisker Karma, or the Tesla Model S? Both are premium-segment EVs set to be introduced in 2012. Schmid and Hustinx seem to have a wait-and-see approach to these two competitors that have yet to display working prototypes to the public.

Automotive history indicates that successful innovations begin in the premium sector and trickle down, and not the other way around. Seen from this vantage point, Mindset is on the right path and the numerous minicar EVs are wrong. But is the market big enough? During the press conference, Prof. Paolo Tumminelli, Director of Communications at Mindset, quoted Walt Whitman’s “body electric”, taken from the Leaves of Grass poem. One would hope that the body politic is sensible enough, and enthusiastic enough, to accept cars that sing, and don’t just move.

Additional Photos By the Author

Click the 35mm slide icon to view additional photos by Martin Schwoerer of the Mindset electric car. You can view his entire set of images at Picasaweb

Times Article Viewed: 7049
Published: 10-Nov-2010

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