AMP Motor Works' Secret Sauce
By Bill Moore
The market for sporty electric cars is starting to get crowded, but a small Blue Ash, Ohio start-up is determined to join the race by adding an interesting new wrinkle.
As most engineers and entrepreneurs learn quickly, the hard part of building an electric vehicle, be it battery or hybrid, is its computer control system, or what Advanced Mechanical Products Chairman and CEO Jack Kuntz likes to refer to as the "secret sauce", which is what he sees as differentiating his AMP Motor Work's all-electric car from the small, but growing number of competitors.
But Mr. Kuntz and company are just now embarking on their journey to create an all-electric version of the Saturn Sky, officially forming the company late last month, issuing a cryptic press release what generated an equally abbreviated, four paragraph news story in a local paper. As he explained during just as brief a telephone interview with EV World, the company is now starting to buy equipment for their newly leased industrial space in Blue Ash, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati.
Once they've gotten up and running, the plan is to remove all the internal combustion engine components from their newly-acquired Saturn Sky sports coupe, following a familiar path taken by companies like Phoenix Motorcars, ZENN and even Tesla, to a degree.
Why the Sky?
"It's a sexy little car," he replied, adding that they thought it would add to the public relations appeal of the car. [How many 'sexy' electric sports cars can the world endure, one starts to wonder?]
"Besides that, it's an American-made car... and in picking a model for our prototype, weight had a lot to do with it. The Saturn Sky is 2,900 pounds (1315 kg). So, we wanted to have a relatively light car."
Kuntz explained that the company plans to also offer similar conversions of the Saturn Aura sedan and crossover SUV, emphasizing that "this is not just a one trick pony."
"Our project plan is to complete our prototype by the end of this calendar year."
The company plans to use existing components and is currently in the process of identifying candidate parts and suppliers, but in using his favorite term, the significance of the project isn't the motor, capacitors or batteries, but the 'secret sauce' of computer controls that manage -- and here's the wrinkle -- the flow of energy between the ultracapacitors and batteries (both still be be identified).
"Our goal... the end game here is to have an automobile that is totally electric, that's not a hybrid, except that maybe you could call it a hybrid with the capacitors and the batteries being 'blended'. We want it to get 150 miles per charge and still have some pep to it; zero-to-sixty in six seconds is our goal... top speed in the 70s or 80s (mph). So, it's not a golf cart, it looks like a real car.
"We didn't want to invent a car. Gosh, GM did a great job and has a lot more experience in that than us."
Interestingly, AMP's business model isn't to develop and then license the "secret sauce" to OEMs, but to turn out Saturn electric cars. Now, the company has no formal relationship or agreements with Saturn or its parent GM. The company's lawyers have queried General Motors about the use of the Saturn name only, but at some point, Kuntz agrees, it would make economic sense to establish a relationship with Saturn to have them provide engine-less "gliders" to reduce the time and manpower it takes to pull the IC system.
"A parallel business model would be Carroll Shelby taking the Mustang from Ford, putting in his 'secret sauce'... jazzing it up and then selling it as a used car in the market place. We're going to take the Saturn's and AMP-them-up and sell them as used cars in the marketplace."
Kuntz said that the company isn't taking any orders yet, but that interested customers could sign up at the AMPmotorworks.com web site to be kept informed of the company's progress.
"We're not taking any money or orders on it, but there'll be a list and they'll be contacted [via] a newsletter that would go out occasionally to these people."
The business plan calls for production of 300 vehicles annually some 24 months after commencing production, which he estimates should begin around the second quarter of 2008. The target retail price will be under $50,000, but Kuntz admitted the first car is going to run $1 million in development costs.
In the grander scheme of things, Kuntz said that he and his team and their investors decided to "take a crack" at this project in hopes of making the world a little bit better place.
You can listen to the entire 13-minute interview using either of the two MP3 players above or by downloading the file to our computer hard drive for transfer and playback on your favorite MP3 device. The download URL is: http://www.evworld.com/evworld_audio/jack_kuntz.mp3.