California EV Makers Speak Out
By EV World
California's EPA convened a special, three-day conference last week in Sacramento to explore the current state of zero emission vehicle (ZEV) technology. During the afternoon session of the second day, 26 September 2006, a number of electric car manufacturers and advocates were invited to make presentations. Among them were Tom Gage with AC Propulsion, Martin Eberhard of Tesla Motors and Ian Wright of Wrightspeed.
Each was permitted to speak for 15-30 minutes; their presentations were streamed over the Internet allowing EV World to capture and archive them for our readers and listeners.
Tom Gage spoke on the advantages of electric vehicles as a means of reducing pollution, CO2 emissions and our dependence on oil. He noted that if everyone woke up the next morning and drove a Prius, Americans still would consume twice as much oil as the rest of the world on a per capital basis. What is need, he argues, is not just improved efficiency and conservation, but fuel substitution and one of the best is electricity.
He explained that there are already 8 million "plug-in" vehicles in America known as recreational vehicles (RVs) where as many as 30 million people have had safe, positive experiences plugging in their vehicles at home or at RV parks. In his mind, this demonstrates the practicality of our simple, cheap, effective infrastructure known as the power grid.
He noted that the cost of operation of their new eBox -- including battery replacement -- is between 20-40 cents/mile. This compares favorably with a GM Hummer at 30 cents per mile just for gasoline.
Martin Eberhard, the head of Tesla Motors acknowledged that there is a ring of truth to the assertion that EVs have had limited appeal, so his company has developed a high-performance electric sports car that he believes has appeal beyond the narrow spectrum of EV enthusiasts. It's a car, he asserts, for people who (1) like cars and are excited about them, and (2) care about oil dependency, global warming, and pollution. He reviewed the performance specifications of the Tesla Roadster, explaining that it gets better than the equivalent of 135 mpg.
Eberhard then introduced the company's new concept car, called the "White Star", though he didn't show any photos of what the car will look like other than an artist's illustration of a vehicle covered with a tarp. He did say it will comfortably seat 4-5 adults, have better than 6 seconds 0-60 acceleration, get 250 miles on a charge and cost less that $50,000 in the base model.
During the presentation, he proposed a new, open architecture charging standard based on a beefed up version of the old SAE 7272 standard coupled with a robust, conductive military-type connector.
Perhaps most revealing of all, he compared the distance a car might travel using the same amount of electricity to charge an EV and a make hydrogen for a fuel cell car. He also comparing cellulosic ethanol to electricity in an EV. His slides demonstrated how much more efficient an electric car is compared to fuel cells cars getting 3-4 times the range. When comparing land used to grow biomass versus photovoltaic panels, the distinction is even more dramatic. He contends that one acre of choice Midwestern farmland planted in either switch grass or miscanthus will yield enough cellulosic ethanol to power a flexible fuel car 58,000 miles. By contrast, an acre of barren desert covered with photovoltaic panels will drive an electric car 1.8 million miles or 32 times further while avoiding the issue of food versus fuel.
He closed by saying the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Ian Wright is a transplanted New Zealander who left the IT world in Silicon Valley to join Tesla Motors before setting out to start his own EV company, Wrightspeed. His prototype car, pictured above, is nearly ten times more efficient than the closest, high-performance gasoline-fueled sports car, the V-12 Ferrari: 43% well-to-wheel versus 4.5% for the Italian competitor.
In the Wrightspeed X-1, Wright takes advantage of the curious property of electric cars that you can have extraordinary performance and ultra efficiency as the same time. He noted that even if he reduced the power of his car by two-thirds, it would be no more efficient than it is right now and possibly less so. He contends that you don't have to trade-off efficiency and emissions with an EV.
He pointed out that while the X-1 is a concept car, it has beat the best Porsche has to offer, yet it's street legal, The prototype has some 4,200 miles on it since its debut less than a year ago. The car can reach 60 mph in 117 feet and 3.069 seconds. Zero-to-60-zero is 250 feet, including driver reaction time.
"This is extreme performance," he emphasized. Despite being faster than all but the most expensive, $1.8 million dollar super car, it still gets 170 mpg equivalent. It's "fueled" by a 25kWh, 400 volt lithium ion battery pack powering an AC Propulsion drive system that can generate up to 750 hp for brief bursts, but is derated to 300 hp.
In a barb at hydrogen, he noted that the entire car, which is based on what he called an "obscure British sports car chassis" -- weighs 1,536 pounds.
"That's not the weight of the hydrogen tank. That's the weight of the car."
He explained that the car is likely to change significantly as it moves from concept to production over the next few years, including improving the range from the current 100 miles to closer to 200 miles city driving range.
Amazingly, he also thinks the car's already scorching performance can be improved even more.
What's next? Warp drive?
You may listen to all three presenters using either of the two MP3 players to the right or by downloading the files to your computer hard drive for transfer to your favorite MP3 device. The files will also be available through the Apple iTunes podcast service.
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