Chaz's New Jazz
By Dan Wolfson
My friend and fellow EV-entrepreneur, Dave Cutter and I recently attended Whistler Investment's open house for its stockholders and the media at their Van Nuys, CA headquarters on September 15, 2004. Besides discovering a surprising variety of lithium-ion and polymer-powered electric vehicles, we also finally met up with the enigmatic Chaz Haba, founder and President of Lithium House™, which produces Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer "Pow'r Pak" battery packs and related electric propulsion systems and controllers.
Haba and Lithium House's main interest is in developing products that create a market for their Pow'r Paks. To help accomplish this, they "primed the pump" by building working proof-of-concept vehicles that demonstrate the superior capabilities of Lithium-ion batteries for transportation and other applications. We got to test drive most of these fun transportation "applications" at the open house.
According to Haba, "Lithium-Ion batteries are ten to twenty times better than other batteries. Lithium House has 90 employees and we shipped over two-million Pow'r Paks last year. We tested over a million batteries to come up with the right design." Lithium-Ion batteries in general are having a big impact on EV's and several other vehicle manufacturers are now offering them.
For our technically inclined EV World readers, the basic specs for a single AA battery-sized Lithium-Ion cell are 4.2 volts, 2.2 amps, 9 watts, 40 grams, 2.56 inches by .72 inches. Stated performance is 2.2 amps for one hour. The entire Pow'r Pak product line can be seen (and ordered) at www.lithiumhouse.com.
Here's some of the cool stuff Haba and company were demonstrating at the Whistler-Lithium House event:
Jin-Bike (aka Stealth Motorcycle)
Picture in your mind a full-sized motorcycle that looks (and accelerates) like a Harley-Davidson™ but sounds like an electric razor… a really quiet electric razor. Behold the Jin Bike! Whistler's macho answer to wimpy electric two-wheelers. I can personally vouch for the eye-popping acceleration and lack of noise this racy ride produces. The performance is as startling as the lack of noise is, well, just weird. To rocket from zero to sixty in nothing flat while the loudest noise you heard is the wind in your ears is quite a sensation to experience.
Sitting on this monster with its big bulbous (and empty!) gas tank in your crotch and lots of kilowatts of clean non-polluting horsepower between your legs is like "Easy Rider" meets Greenpeace. If these E-hogs can be produced commercially and affordably, I think they will do very well, especially in E-conscious California where you can ride most of the year. I'm sure the Harley purists will be rolling their eyes or otherwise expressing their dismay, probably with single digit gestures. Maybe the Jin Bike will offer an option of a built-in MP3 player and some earth-shaking boom-bass speakers to make it sound like a real gas-burner.
Stated top speed is 50 MPH, range in excess of 40 miles, charge time is one to three hours. No retail price has been set but a ballpark guess is that it will be in the $10K range.
This is truly an impressive demonstration of electric vehicle technology. If the range is anywhere near what is claimed, this could be a breakthrough vehicle for the "big boys and their rich toys" set. I can see Governator Arnold riding one for his re-election campaign. Maybe that will make up for reneging on his promise to "hydrogenate" his fleet of gas-guzzling Hummers! But I digress…
E-Cobra Urban Motorcycle
Aptly named for its cobra-like styling (the snake, not the Shelby cars), this is a fast, nimble eye-catching two-wheeler. Although the rental version is limited to 25 MPH, the street version (which I rode) claims a top speed in excess of 60 MPH. To tell the truth, I was having so much fun riding it that I wasn't watching the speedo, but this baby goes fast!
The E-Cobra's large-wheel form factor is more like a small motorcycle than a scooter and it has foot pegs rather than floorboards. The bigger wheels give it more stability and faster cornering than the small-wheel scooter designs. Claimed range is over 100 miles and 3+ hours charge time. Total weight is 185 lbs. Power is 28 volts, 56 amps, and 2 HP.
According to Haba, they have a motor bike manufacturer in China that makes 1000 units per day (there are over 32,000 motorbikes in China, and 72% are bought by women). The E-Cobras are imported by Whistler as "gliders" which means no engines, exhaust or fuel systems, just the basic chassis frame, suspension, wheels, steering and electrical system. Whistler's assembly facility in Van Nuys, CA adds their Li-Ion Pow'r Paks, motors and controllers.
Initially the E-Cobra is aimed at the scooter rental market in the U.S. and abroad. A key reason for this is the high retail price of $5995.00 which may be too steep for American consumers. When speed-regulated for the rental market to under 30 MPH, the E-Cobra qualifies as a moped (they come with VIN numbers). Weight is 185 lbs and stated performance is 90 minutes of ride time at 25 MPH. Power is 28 volts at 56 amps. The bike will run 4 hours on a dynamometer on one battery charge.
The remaining two-wheeler demonstrated was the R-Bike, an ergonomically engineered semi-recumbent Giant Revive DX bicycle that has been "electrified" by Whistler with their Pow'r Paks, brushless motor and controller. A thumb-tab throttle control is added to the right handgrip. The motor is in the front hub and the Pow'r Pak has been invisibly installed within the square frame of the R-Bike. The bike was created by a man who injured his back in an accident and could no longer ride a standard bicycle. He designed a highly adjustable ergonomic bike that supported his back and enabled him to adjust it to a comfortable position. Whistler chose this model for its pedal-assist E-bike product. Power is 36 Volts. Speed is 15 to 20 MPH for two hours. Stated range is over 40 miles. Charge time is 1-3 hours. Weight is 65 lbs. No retail price was available at press time but it will be posted on www.whistlerinvestments.com.
Both a full-size and a mini-ATV were shown at the event. The full-size model is based on the Yamaha Rhino 5-seat chassis. The Mini R-ATV is built on an all wheel drive, 4-wheel independent suspension chassis with an electric propulsion system replacing the gas-powered mechanicals. It can easily climb stairs. Stated top speed is 25 MPH with a range of 2 hours on flat terrain. Charge time is 2 hours. Power is 56 volts at 28 amps. Weight is 1300 lbs. No prices were available. R-Car The R-Car is an high-profile conversion of the new Chrysler Crossfire. Haba wanted an eye-catching car design and the stock power train gear ratios matched perfectly with the electric motor Whistler uses so it was a perfect match. The standard Chrysler gas engine was replaced by one of Whistler's high-performance electric motors, the controller was added, and Pow'r Paks were distributed front and rear to balance the car. Haba took us for a drive while he explained the origins of the car. Performance was zippy and quiet. Stated top speed is 90-110 MPH. The R-Car is capable of traveling 2-4 hours at 55-60 MPH with 120 to 240 lbs of batteries onboard.
Another conversion we saw demonstrated was a Chrysler PT Cruiser. This one has 350 lbs. of batteries and a 35KW DC motor. All of the vehicle conversions appeared to be very professionally done with good attention to detail. Performance was as advertised. Time limits did not allow us to see what the actual range was on the vehicles. Manufacturers tend to quote ranges under perfect conditions so it will be interesting to see some real world figures. The PT Cruiser was built for Austin Energy and the City of Austin, TX. According to Melissa Carroll, Marketing Coordinator at Whistler, "Many municipalities typically buy white four-door vehicles so this conversion is aimed at that market." The passenger car conversions are not intended to go into mass production but the company is open to converting any vehicle that might be submitted for consideration.
One of the more unusual Whistler conversions is a BMW Mini Cooper for the Mexican market. The E-Mini power system is 147 volts and 28-30KW. It carries 500 lbs. of motor and batteries. Stated speed is 50-60 MPH for 2.5 hours. The plan is to buy Mini "gliders" from BMW in England and manufacture the electric versions in Mexico. There are approximately 40 BMW dealers in Mexico, 18 of them in Mexico City and the Mini is highly popular for its small size and agility. Haba sees a big potential market for this mighty Mini. Other projects underway or under development by the Lithium House-Whistler alliance are Pow'r Paks for underwater vehicles, a Jet-Ski , a jet-engine starter pack (producing 2500 amps for four minutes in a package much smaller than existing starters) and a replacement battery system for the U.S. Navy's hush-hush offshore early-warning system platforms.
And last but not least, the Whistler-Lithium alliance put out a press release saying they are building a Lithium-powered memorial chopper to honor fallen officers of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The bike will be created by the tumultuous Teutuls of Orange County Choppers, best known for their highly popular Discovery Channel series. The CHP memorial chopper will be presented by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This high-tech high-profile project will literally be the ultimate "publicity vehicle!"
Dave and I had a ball driving these very real electric-powered vehicles and kicking their tires. They were not only fun, but quiet and clean; and they clearly presage the future of personal mobility. For this Chaz Haba and company are to be congratulated.
However, EV World readers should be aware that surrounding this radical range of rides swirls a cloud of controversy involving Whistler Investments, Chaz Haba, Lithium House and related companies. Our mission is to report on new and interesting electric vehicles so that's what we are presenting here. We are not endorsing or vouching for (or disparaging) the parties and companies involved. Before investing any of your hard-earned money in these vehicles or businesses, do your due diligence. Information is available through Google and other resources.
As the late, great President Reagan once said, "Trust, but verify!"
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