Ever wish you could glimpse the future of transportation? Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS 23), a three-day trade show and the largest gathering for business, technology, policy and academic leaders involved in electric drive technologies. The show floor featured Toyota, GM and Tesla, alongside electric vehicle (EV) proponents and every imaginable kind of battery maker. But the real story was out back at the ride-and-drive. While there were many cars to test-drive, here are a few that stood out.
- Electro Energy's 100-mpg Prius Plug-In Electric Hybrid — Here's an example of what Toyota could be doing. Based in Danbury, Connecticut, Electro Energy has made an entirely new nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery system that replaces the standard battery pack in the Toyota Prius. This modified plug-in Prius drives just like the regular model except, if you keep it under 34 mph and don't jam on the gas, you'll be in all-electric mode for up to 25 miles. Basically, this means you can do most of your around-town driving and never engage the gas engine at all. At night, plug it into a standard electric outlet and it'll charge up fully in less than eight hours. While there are no current plans for Electro Energy to upgrade vehicles for the general public (which the company claims would cost about $7,000 apiece), industry reaction at the show was so favorable that the company is now considering whether to begin working with fleets.
- Phoenix Motorcars SUT — This sport-utility truck (SUT) seats five and has a payload area in the back, is all-electric with a top speed of 95 mph and drives like an electric car should — fast and quiet. Phoenix claims its SUT has a range of approximately 120 miles and a recharge time of 5-8 hours. While the vehicles are not available publicly, Phoenix is an EV company to watch. It is planning to offer a full SUV version and two other platforms (one most likely a sedan) in or around 2009, and will have an option to double the range by adding more batteries. Phoenix also says it has developed a charger that will charge the SUT's batteries in 10 minutes. The charger costs $100,000, so you and I aren't getting one any time soon, but service stations might, making fast charges on the road achievable.
- OEMtek's BREEZ (Battery Range Extender EZ) — The BREEZ is an add-on battery pack that a certified Prius mechanic can install in a few hours. OEMtek says this battery pack gives a Prius the capability to run on full electric for about 45 miles, more than the average commute, and it'll stay all-electric until the battery gets too low or until you top 60 mph. It plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet, can charge overnight and costs $12,500 installed. Toyota says that, so long as the modification was done well in the first place, an aftermarket range extender such as the BREEZ would not likely void a Prius' warranty.
- Envision Solar's Lifeport — This was one of the cooler exhibits at the show, even though it's not a vehicle. The Lifeport is a prefab, module-oriented, solar carport that is built to universal code and can be put pretty much anywhere. Its scalable solar system can power not only your electric car, but your entire house. Solar is still expensive (a fully installed midrange system is approximately $52,000), but significant rebates are available. With one-stop shopping, you can add equity to your home and take yourself off the grid as well!
- Toyota Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) Prius — Compared to many of the products shown by start-up companies at EVS 23, Toyota's Plug-In (PHEV) Prius prototype is rather lackluster. Toyota developed the PHEV Prius to test the feasibility of offering a full-production plug-in hybrid. The PHEV has additional power and a larger battery pack. Placed in a special "EV" mode, the PHEV can go seven miles on pure electric before the gas kicks back in.
- Daimler AG's Fuel Cell Prototype — Hydrogen vehicles are, in essence, EVs that are powered by hydrogen. Daimler AG's prototype, based on a Mercedes-Benz A-Class, is compact along the lines of a Geo Metro, and unfortunately does not drive much better. The car has a range of around 100 miles and a top speed of 85 mph, although the way it handles, I couldn't quite see wanting to go that fast in one. The two selling points for these cars seem to be their quick refill time and their supposed "zero-emission engines," though the latter doesn't take into account how the hydrogen was compressed in the first place.
Other Vehicles at EVS 23
Other vehicles in attendance were the Vectrix all-electric motorcycle, the Chevy Volt, which was on display only, and Miles Automotive, which claims to be coming out with a $30,000 all-electric sedan called the XS500 in 2009. Tesla was there of course, as were Plug In America and AC Propulsion with their Scion eBox EV conversion. Also of note were the Challenge X Chevy Equinoxes that were reengineered by college students from across the country to be more fuel efficient while still maintaining their appeal.
Alongside the highway-safe EVs and hybrids at EVS 23 were quite a few Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) such as the GEM, the ZENN and the Miles Automotive ZX40S. The always-looming question with NEVs is, of course, consumer acceptance of these diminutive vehicles and their relative safety out on the road.
In the past 10 years, automakers like Toyota and Honda have come a long way in developing and promoting more fuel-efficient vehicles. But as EVS 23 showed, there's still a long way to go. And with the work and products of start-ups showcased here, it would seem change is indeed on the way.
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