First Peek Inside the eBox
I have seen a lot of prototypes. I have spent the last two decades designing and building electric cars and bicycles. I know what it is like to scramble for a deadline and to end up with something held together with duct tape and the occasional wad of bubble gum.
So, when Earl Cox, a member of the EV advocate group "Plug In America" invited me to a demonstration of AC Propulsion’s newest project, the Scion xB-based "eBox," I was prepared for the worst. AC Propulsion has done great things with electric vehicles. Their tzero introduced the world to the concept of an electric supercar, but it had "garage shop" looks that only a true EV enthusiast could love. I prepared myself for duct tape.
When I saw the eBox, I was pleasantly surprised. No, wait – strike that. I was impressed. No, that’s not the word I want. I was AMAZED by the professional-looking vehicle which stood before me. Most of the gauges were standard Scion issue, and the one screen that was not stock was clear and easy to read. The floors were neatly carpeted. If it were not for one or two wires I noticed hidden around the edges of the cabin (these were required for ongoing testing) I would have thought that I was in a vehicle which had just rolled off the line at the Toyota factory.
Tom Gage, president of AC Propulsion, gave the assembled group a tour of the vehicle. When he popped the hood, it was immediately obvious that we were not looking at a Toyota. A large controller in a metal box dominated the view of the engine compartment (motor compartment?). Still, the assembly looked neat and professional. It was clear that we were looking at a production-ready vehicle, not a "one-off" designed as a proof-of-concept.
I was eager to take a test drive. Alexandra Paul, another Plug In America member and co-star of the recent movie Who Killed the Electric Car (among others), had arranged the demonstration, so she got to drive the eBox first. Gage gave her a thirty-second instruction session, and they were off. The car was quiet and smooth as it glided away. They returned a few minutes later. Paul was grinning ear-to-ear.
When it was my turn, I climbed into the driver’s seat. My 6’6" frame fit easily into the Scion’s ample cabin space. Three passengers climbed in as well, leaving room for one more person in the back seat. Gage gave me the basic orientation, which consisted of him explaining, "Turn the key to ‘On.’ Switch this lever forward for ‘Forward’ and backward for ‘Reverse,’ and here is another lever to control the amount of regenerative braking you want during coasting."
With that, we were off. Once I got onto the street, I floored it. The 120kW drive motor responded enthusiastically, pressing all occupants back into their seats. I had the "regen" lever set to maximum, so when I took my foot off the accelerator, the eBox slowed rapidly. Gage commented, "If you plan ahead while you are driving, you never have to use the mechanical braking. You can do it all with regen."
We cruised the streets of Santa Monica. When I was not lead-footing the eBox like a racecar driver, it ran smoothly and demonstrated the road manners one would expect from a Toyota. The suspension was comfortable but not spongy. Accelerator response was linear and very predictable. When I applied the brake pedal, the regenerative braking was smooth. When I pushed the pedal further, the transition from regenerative to mechanical braking was seamless.
I realized that this was the type of vehicle which could change the way America views electric cars. When driven in a practical manner, it provided all the comfort and security a typical soccer mom could want for her family of five. When pushed, the eBox will leave many modern sports cars in its dust. With a range of up to 180 miles on a charge, and a charging time of two hours in "fast charge" mode, this vehicle could do almost everything a gasoline-powered car could do, and it could do a lot of things better.
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