The EVs of BlueSky Design
By Bill Moore
Electrathon racing isn't as much about speed as it is efficiency. Of course, being fast helps, but being ultra-efficient in how you use the limited energy in your car's pair of deep-cycle, lead-acid batteries is far more important. It's all about endurance and that, in a way, also encapsulates Mark Murphy's decade and half involvement with electric vehicles.
Located in Creswell, Oregon -- population 3,579 -- Murphy's BlueSky Design has been one of those stalwart, out-of-the-limelight actors in the "off-broadway" dramatic comedy that has been the electric vehicle movement. His little business produces the Aerocoupe electric car kit that hundreds of high school teams across America use in local and regional Electrathon competitions.
These small, sleek electric vehicles have just enough room for a small, nimble driver and can hit speeds as high as 50 mph, though around 30 mph is more typical. The objective of the race isn't necessarily to finish first, but to finish with the most laps in a one-hour period of time; so both speed and efficiency are what count most.
In our 35 minute-long interview, I also talk with Murphy about the Gizmo Neighborhood Electric Vehicle and his latest venture, the BugE, which combines many of the virtues of both the Aerocoupe and Gizmo. Like the Aerocoupe it comes as a kit, though batteries are not included; and like the Gizmo, it is a single-seat, street-legal, 48-volt electric vehicle capable of a top speed of 50 mph. Range is about 30 miles and recharging can take up to 12 hours, according to the owner's manual. In the image below, the seat and canopy are raised to allow easy access to the motor and batteries.
If the success of a good Electrathon racer is pushing efficiency to the max, the BugE follows that heritage. Consuming a mere 50 watt hours of energy per mile, it has to be one of the most efficient ways to move a human body from Point A to Point B, short of a bicycle. According to the BlueSky Design web site, the amount of energy it takes to brew a pot of coffee will propel this vehicle three miles. Running one load of dishes in a dishwasher would equal 25 miles. The energy to drive a normal electric car 100 miles will yield 534 miles in the Bug E. And the power it takes to move a gasoline car 100 miles will put Mr. Murphy's machine 862 miles down the road. The web site does offer this caveat: in typical stop-and-go urban driving, the BugE will consume some 170 watt-hours per mile, which translates into about one cent a mile based on the average cost of electricity in America.
In the accompanying interview, to which you can listen using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page or download to your computer for transfer to your favorite MP3 device, Murphy and I talk about how he got into electric vehicles while working as an automotive industrial designer at BMW's West Coast design studio in the early 1990s.
Eventually settling in Oregon, his "bread and butter" business is selling Aerocoupe kits to high school Electrathon teams; the total number of kits now in the "hundreds" he estimates. We touch on the now-shelved Gizmo, a forerunner of the BugE, that sold in numbers too low to justify continued production, in large part because of its complexity.
At half the part count and using the assembly-it-yourself business model perfected on the Aerocoupe kit, the BugE looks like it will be much more successful. There is even a new business model evolving where BlueSky sells kits to assemblers around the country who then, in turn, sell them to retail customers. One firm is already in business doing this and others are following.
While a machine like the BugE may be looked upon as nothing more than a curiosity today, it is likely to be the vanguard of a entirely new class of affordable, super-efficient personal mobility vehicles that will someday become the norm rather than the exception in the EV World Beyond Petroleum.