Vectrix Readies For Launch
By Bill Moore
"You look at cities like Rome and London.... they're heavily polluted and congestion is a major issue for them," Peter Hughes pointed out to me. "We set out to solve the problem for them".
That solution is an electric motor scooter designed by Vectrix to compete head-to-head with the standard gasoline-powered model in terms of acceleration and top speed -- with acceptable range -- while selling it for essentially the same price as the ICE version.
Hughes took time during to Fuel Cell Seminar last month in San Antonio, Texas to talk to me about the progress his company has made since EV World got its first look at a mock-up of the machine at EVS 14 in Orlando, Florida in December, 1997.
Hughes was Vectrix's first employee, hired as the vice president for engineering in 1997, a year following the formation of the Rhode Island-based manufacturer. The aim of the start-up was to create a battery-powered scooter in the 250-500 cc class, one that handled, performed and responded just like the gasoline-fueled versions it was aiming to make obsolete.
It's been a long wait, but it now appears that Vectrix is nearing the finish line. In early in 2005, the first ten proof-of-production demonstrators will be assembled to test the manufacturing process, as well as the vehicles. 2006 is scheduled as the official launch of the scooter in Europe, where the market for these low horsepower, personal commuters is strongest.
So, has Vectrix accomplished its goal? From the demo ride I took, absolutely, but there is still some ground yet to be covered before the final test in the marketplace.
So how do create a scooter that competes wit the best gasoline models, despite adding 180 pounds of advanced batteries? In a word, aluminum.
The entire frame of the scooter weighs a mere 25 pounds compared to the 85 pounds found in a conventional, tubular steel motor scooter frame. And the patented innovations continue on from there including the digital computer controls that lets Vectrix or the operator "tune" the performance of the scooter up to a top speed of 100 km/hr or 62 mph.
There also is a bi-directional throttle that lets you control both acceleration and regenerative braking at the twist of the wrist: forward accelerates and reverse electronically slows the machine, recapturing some of the scooter's kinetic energy, while recharging the batteries.
|Perhaps the most exciting innovation is just around the corner. In partnership with Parker Hannifin Corporation, which now owns a 50 percent stake in the company, Vectrix showed a dramatically refined version of its Direct Methanol Fuel Cell "trickle" charger.|| |
Parker Hannifin Corp. 500 watt Direct Methanol Fuel Cell sits neatly under rear passenger seat
The big, bulky unit they showed at EVS 20 in 2003, has been replaced by a compact, 500 watt stack that fits neatly under the rear passenger seat.
While the unit isn't intended to propel the motor scooter, it will provide enough energy to recharge the bike while it sits at work, school or outside the owner's home. In addition, the fuel cell can be removed from the bike an used as a portable power pack.
Driving the scooter requires a motorcycle license, which I don't currently have -- I had one for Pennsylvania many years ago -- so, I had to sit behind Dana DaCosta as he took me around the convention center, and even with a couple 200 plus-pounders on board, the Vectrix really performs well. It will be an ideal machine for motoring around congested urban streets.
Want to learn more about Vectrix's manufacturing and marketing plans? I invite you to listen to the entire 13-minute, "from-the-exhibition-floor" interview with Peter Hughes and Jonathan Banks by clicking the play button on the Flash-based MP3 Player at the right, or feel free to download the file to your computer's hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.