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Tim Eckert in ER2 electric race car
ER2 designer and driver Tim Eckert at ETIC 2002. He thinks he can better his record run up Pikes Peak in 2002 with changes to the car including different tires.

ER2 - Part 2

Conclusion of interview with Compact Powers' Dr. Dan Rivers and Tim Eckert.

By Bill Moore

The ER2 cut just one and a half seconds off the record for an electric car in the 12.5 mile race up to the top of Pikes Peak, which was enough to claim the title but not good enough to set lithium ion polymer apart from the competition. The problem wasn't the energy in the batteries, but the configuration of the ER2 itself.

Eckert, who designed and drove the car told EV World that he is convinced he can do even better starting with equipping the car with different tires instead of the traditional racing slicks.

Of course, it didn't help that he had virtually no opportunity to test drive the car prior to the race up the dirt and gravel mountain road. This is because the lithium ion cells didn't arrive until just a week and half before the race. He said they worked day and night to assemble

the cells into battery packs. "We went up there with very little practice, which is something you generally don't want to do on Pikes Peak. It's not very forgiving. You have thousand foot drop-offs and you have to know the 156 curves and corners very well, because if you mistake a straightaway for a hairpin then you're in trouble.

"Fortunately the battery, the electric motor and controller performed flawlessly," Eckert explained. "We had handling problems, which for this type of thing was great. The tires ended up being too wide and the wrong combination for the gravel and the suspension. . . Our guess didn't work out very well in that regard. But on the electric end, everything was great."

The car was equipped with typical road racing suspension and 13 inch tires, Eckert noted.

"Our tire selection was limited to road racing rain tires or midget dirt track tires and neither one worked very well on this course."

Eckert told EV World that every time he'd come out of a turn and he applied power, the wheels would spin. He just couldn't get any good traction. Despite this, the ER2 on the day of the race was still faster than 40 gasoline powered cars through the Glen Cove section of the course. Eighteen gasoline-fueled cars were faster that day.

The official time for his run was 15 minutes and 18 seconds. The official unlimited class record time is owned by a special 1000 hp, 4WD Toyota at just slightly over 10 minutes.

Eckert figures the ER2 can be at least two minutes faster with tire and suspension changes alone. He's also "kicking" around the idea of going to four wheel drive using twin electric motors.

He and Rivers are looking beyond Pikes Peak. They are investigating building an electric drag racer to compete in the electric class of the

National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).

The ER2 is a LeMans style two-seat car with the AC Propulsion electric drive motor just behind the driver. The motor ties into a Hewland gearbox. The batteries are located outboard on either side of the driver compartment.

The lithium ion batteries consist of 384 individual cells that are packed four in parallel and 96 in series, Rivers explained. "The voltage tops out a 403 volts," he said.

He went on to state that the value of a race like this for his company is to demonstrate that you can get high power out of lithium ion polymer batteries. He explained that the race up Pikes Peak is a seven percent grade and requires a high power battery instead of a high energy battery.

"For us to pack these cells and show that we can make it to the top and break the record at that, shows that these lithium ion polymer batteries can deliver the jolt that's required for hybrid batteries."

Rivers added that because of the race, his company as demonstrated to the skeptics that lithium ion polymer can deliver more power than nickel metal hydride.

"We succeeded by the skin of our teeth, " he jokingly admitted. "Tim took his life in his hands on this one. It was really for the company and it was worth it."

Focused for Now on Hybrids
Rivers said that his company is currently focused on building batteries that will fit into hybrids because, for the moment, that is where the market is. He believes the combination of power in a small, lightweight package is what the market is looking for. He pointed out earlier that the 260-pound battery pack in the ER2 has as much power as the 1200-pound pack in the ER1.

As a result, he sees the growing market for hybrid-electric cars and trucks as the pathway for bringing down the cost of battery electric vehicle (BEV) packs.

"I love those thins (BEVs)," he said. "We can get excellent range with our battery cells." He confided that he and his partner L.G. Chem in Korea are developing some very promising new cells. We asked him to speculate on what kind of range might be possible in a small, family sedan like the Honda EV Plus or the ATT R and D Parade. He responded that he had little doubt that the new batteries currently being tested could give a Civic or Corolla-class vehicle a range of between 250-300 miles.

Rivers estimates that because LG Chem is using lower cost materials than is used in cellphone batteries, he believes that in mass production Compact Power batteries could cost between $150 to $200 per kilowatt hour. A single kilowatt is roughly equivalent to about 3 miles range in a modern EV. The more kilowatt hours available on the vehicle, the further it can travel.

Who Owns the Hybrid High Ground?
Given the raft of announcements about future hybrid-electric vehicles that the major US carmakers said they are planning to introduce in the next five years, we asked Dan Rivers what the thought of American automakers' efforts compared to the Japanese.

While he praised GM for its pioneering efforts with the EV1 a decade ago and the encouraging set of announcements from the 2003 Detroit Auto Show, he agreed that for the time being Toyota and Honda are clearly the technology leaders.

However, he sees this flurry of activity as being good for everyone, not just for the development and deployment of fuel-efficient, low-emission hybrids but also for the eventual success of battery electric vehicles, as well.

"As production rates ramp up, both the lithium ion polymer batteries and the nickel metal hydride, the prospects for cheaper battery packs for pure electrics will also be there."

He added that his hat's off to both Toyota and Honda for their courage in building and selling their HEVs, but he also felt confident that despite the Japanese carmakers nearly decade lead in the technology that US carmakers can catch up.

He concluded by saying that his is confident hybrid-electric technology will proliferate because eventually oil will become a scarce commodity a decade or two out into the future and hybrids can help extend life of that resource. His only concern is that they also will be profitable for the carmakers.

Times Article Viewed: 6781
Published: 18-Jan-2003

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