The latest chapter in the evolving story of electric vehicles (EV) begins with a tale of two very different models.
One is downright sexy, with alluring aerodynamic lines and head-turning, sporty styling. The other is, well, downright cute a spunky little thing that looks a bit like a colorful helmet on wheels.
At first glance, the Tesla Roadster (above, left) and the Myers Motors No More Gas (MM NmG) (above, right) an evolution of the former Corbin Sparrow appear to be at such opposite ends of the EV spectrum that it seems almost pointless to compare them.
The Roadster, for example, rockets from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds with a top speed of 130 mph and travels 250 miles on a single battery charge. The NmG accelerates 0 to 60 mph in 12.5 seconds with a top speed of 70 mph and travels 25 to 30 miles on one charge. While the differences in the two vehicles are striking, they do have one common factor: they’re both playing important roles in the continuing attempts to put more drivers behind the wheels of mass-produced, pure electric cars.
The Electric Vehicle: A Little EV Background
Electric vehicles first made their appearance in the United States in 1835, when Thomas Davenport built the first practical one, a small locomotive. In 1859, French physicist Gaston Planté invented the rechargeable lead-acid storage battery, later improved in 1881 by fellow Frenchman Camille Faure, who then advanced the concept to become the basic lead-acid battery used in automobiles.
The NmG: Bringing EVs Back
In 2005, Tallmadge, OH-based Myers Motors stepped up with the next attempts to make EVs a more tangible reality for the American car consumer.
“There is a growing demand for electric vehicles because they are the most effective ways to solve the problems of energy security and human contribution to global warning,” said Dana Myers, CEO of Myers Motors. “Electricity already has a national infrastructure of generation, transmission and distribution. It costs less per mile, in fuel, of any other alternative about one-fifth less than $2 per gallon of gasoline in the average car.”
The company’s NmG (No More Gas) is an all-electric, single-passenger, three-wheeled vehicle that registers, insures and parks as a motorcycle and looks a little bit like it drove straight out of a “Jetsons” cartoon. And in fact, the car did make a cameo appearance in the movie Austin Powers in Goldmember.
“I like our vehicle because it doesn’t look like your average car on the road,” Myers said. “That makes it an attention magnet! The more people see NmGs being driven, the more people will want to drive electric vehicles because they will see how fun and cool they are, as well as realize the benefits they gain when they stop using gas.”
The NmG should look familiar to people who are keeping an eye on the EV scene: The whimsical vehicle is a descendant of the original Corbin Motors Sparrow. In 2004, Myers Motors purchased assets of the then-bankrupt Corbin Motors, at which point engineers spent 18 months redeveloping and upgrading the entire transport system, electronics and charging systems.
Now, the NmG has an intelligent, programmable, water-cooled controller; 13 deep cycle Optima AGM batteries operating at 156 nominal pack voltage; and an 8” DC brushed electrical motor. The belt-driven vehicle has forward and reverse gears and no transmission. With standard control settings, the horsepower usually spikes to 36, then levels and maintains 31 to 33 hp.
“The NmG will out-accelerate most vehicles up to about 25 mph because it has instant torque,” Myers said. “We are actually running the vehicle on less than half the power available, because otherwise it would turn into a race car on the city streets.”
The NmG’s standard lead-acid battery pack gives it a 30-mile range per charge, “though it’s more like 20 miles if you want the batteries to last the optimum amount of time,” Myers said. The pack charges from empty to 95% full in about 45 minutes with a 220-volt charger. A 110-volt charger will charge the vehicle in about six to eight hours. Electricity costs about 2 cents per mile.
Myers Motors also offers a vehicle with a 100-mile-range battery pack; however, “since 80% of all travel is less than 60 miles per day, 100 miles is probably a bit of overkill,” Myers said.
Consumers who buy the NmG might also find relief in the fact that it might not be in the shop as often as their other cars. “On the whole, electric vehicles have fewer parts that can go bad than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle,” Myers said, adding that her company works closely with repair shops that service the NmG. “We send them documents and talk them through any problems they encounter.”
Brakes, wipers, headlights, suspension and steering systems on the vehicle all need regular maintenance, and the lead-acid battery needs to be changed out at the end of its life. The NmG has a warranty for 12 months or 12,000 miles.
While Myers said that, in terms of inspirational spark, a comparison could be made between her company and automotive dreamers such as Preston Tucker and John DeLorean, the EV concept as a whole is much more solid.
“Like Tucker and DeLorean, we are definitely trying to do something that the major car companies are not yet doing. However, at some point in time I think it is inevitable that virtually all transportation will be electric-powered. Our vehicle, formerly the Sparrow and now the NmG, has already sold 300 vehicles, which is six times more than what Tucker sold.”
The NmG retails for about $24,000.
The Tesla Roadster Roars on to the Scene
On July 19, 2006, a crowd of car buffs witnessed the world debut of the Tesla Roadster, described by the San Carlos-based company as “performance, style and efficiency with a conscience.”
“Our goal is to give customers a great car that they enjoy driving,” said Darryl Siry, vice president of marketing for Tesla Motors. “We want to change the previous paradigm that EVs are necessarily slow, ugly and full of compromises.”
With a two-person capacity and aerodynamic contours, the lightweight convertible sports car can travel the equivalent of 135 mpg (costing about 1 cent per mile) and up to 250 miles (EPA highway) on a single charge, which takes about three-and-a-half hours. Its extended range is due to its state-of-the-art lithium-ion Energy Storage System (ESS), which provides power to the entire vehicle, including the motor.
Its battery pack has been under development for more than three years and, utilizing 6,831 lithium-ion cells, is one of the largest and most technically advanced lithium-ion battery packs in the world, according to the company’s white papers.
“Battery technology has greatly improved, both on the chemistry side and on the manufacturing side,” Siry said. “There have been many more improvements in electronics and car design and manufacturing, but improvements in batteries are most important.”
In addition to the lithium-ion cells, the Roadster’s ESS durable, tamper-resistant enclosure includes a network of microprocessors for maintaining charge balance and battery temperature, a cooling system, and an independent safety system designed to disconnect power outside the enclosure under a variety of detectable safety situations. The Tesla Roadster also utilizes a three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor and a distinctive two-speed electrically actuated manual transmission. The motor is controlled by the Power Electronics Module (PEM), which also controls the inverting direct current to three-phase alternating current, charging and braking systems.
All components work together to provide 250 hp.
“The electric motor, transmission, power electronics and battery pack should not require any routine maintenance,” Siry said, adding that because of the regenerative braking, the brakes also should not require as much routine maintenance. Wipers and tires, he said, will need regular checks and replacements.
The warranty for the Roadster is still in development, Siry said, and Tesla Motors will handle all repairs.
“Tesla Motors will offer a premium ownership experience,” he said. “Consistent with this philosophy, Tesla Motors will handle all maintenance and repairs directly. We have the unique expertise to service both our electric drivetrain and the other ‘normal’ parts that exist on internal combustion engine cars, such as brakes, tires and washer fluid.” Like Myers, Siry also doesn’t think his company falls under the same big dreams/little results category as the Tucker and DeLorean ventures.
“Tucker and DeLorean had to try to build cars in an era where the major car manufacturers were vertically integrated. They had to build everything themselves,” he said. “Since then, the supply chain has de-integrated in Detroit. We have access to many of the same suppliers as the Big Three.
“Secondly, Tucker and DeLorean were building essentially the same thing that the competition had to offer. Tesla is establishing an entirely new category. We are charting out what is mostly uninhabited territory right now.”
During the four months following the unveiling of the Roadster in late-July, Tesla Motors filled all reservations more than 220
for the 2007 model. The company is now accepting reservations for the 2008 model. The Tesla Roadster retails at a base price of $92,000.
Hope for the Future
Both executives have clear reasons why they want to be at the forefront of this evolving automotive revolution.
“I hope that my infant daughter grows up in a world where we have significantly less terror inspired by Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” Siry said. “What I find, though, is that everyone at Tesla has his or her own personal inspiration or passion.
For some, it is developing breakthrough technology. For others, it’s to help the environment. Some are just gearheads who love fast and unique cars. Everyone shares the desire to build a great and historic company.”
Myers source of motivation also comes from an altruistic and hopeful place.
“I’m in this business because I saw it as a way to make a positive contribution and do something that seemed really significant to me.”
That important milestone kicked off more than a century of the EV’s struggling evolution on the timeline of American automotive history:
— 1891: William Morrison of Des Moines, IA, builds the first electric car in the United States.
— 1897: The Pope Manufacturing Company of Connecticut becomes the first large-scale manufacturer of electric automobiles in America, and the first electric taxis begin operating in New York City.
— 1899: Thomas Edison embarks on a quest to create a long-lasting battery for commercial automobiles. (A decade later, he abandons his efforts.)
— 1900: EVs are an important part of the American automotive landscape. Of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States, 28% are powered by electricity.
— 1908: Henry Ford introduces the gasoline-powered Model T, making a powerful impact on the American automotive market.
— 1920s: The EV’s popularity plummets, due to its lack of horsepower, a healthy supply of gasoline and the American consumer’s desire for longer distance automobiles.
— 1966: Congress introduces bills advocating EV use as a way to reduce air pollution.
— 1970s: A growing environmental movement, combined with rapidly climbing oil prices, sparks a revival in EV interest from both consumers and manufacturers.
— 1972: “Godfather of the Hybrid” Victor Wouk converts a 1972 Buick Skylark into the first full-powered, full-size hybrid vehicle for the 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program, later killed in 1976 by the Environmental Protection Agency.
— 1974: At the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, DC, Vanguard-Sebring debuts its CitiCar, which has a top speed of more than 30 mph and a range of 40 miles. Although in 1975, the company is the sixth-largest automaker in the United States, it is dissolved a few years later.
— 1975: The U.S. Postal Service launches a test program utilizing 350 electric jeeps from AM General, a division of AMC.
— 1976: Congress passes the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act, intended to foster the development of hybrid-electric technologies.
— 1988: GM partners with California’s AeroVironment to design what would later become the EV1.
— 1997: Toyota introduces its Prius, the world’s first mass-produced and marketed hybrid car, in Japan, selling almost 18,000 units during the first year.
— 1997-2000: Big car manufacturers produce a few thousand all-electric cars, such as Honda’s EV Plus, Ford’s Ranger pickup EV, Nissan’s Altra EV and Toyota’s RAV4 EV, to name a few. However, by the early 2000s, all major automakers’ all-electric production programs are discontinued.
— 2003: GM announces it won’t renew leases on its EV1 cars, citing difficulty in replacing repair parts. The company begins efforts to reclaim all its EV cars by 2004.
— 2004-2005: GM reclaims, crushes and recycles its EV1s, prompting electric vehicle enthusiasts to hold an unsuccessful 28-day “Don’t Crush” vigil that begins on Feb. 16, 2005.
— Present: A few pure EVs and plug-in hybrids are on the market in limited numbers. Due to rising oil prices and renewed public demand, the future looks promising for EVs once again.
Tesla Technical Paper
The battery pack of the Tesla Roadster electric vehicle is one of the largest and technically most advanced lithium-ion battery packs in the world. It is capable of delivering enough power to accelerate the Tesla Roadster from zero to 60 mph in approximately four seconds. Meanwhile, the battery stores enough energy for the vehicle to travel 250 miles without recharging, something no production electric vehicle can claim.
For a copy of a downloadable, six-page technical white paper on the details about the design of the Tesla Roadster’s lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack (otherwise known as the ESS, or Energy Storage System) with a particular focus on the multiple safety systems, e-mail Underhood Service editor Ed Sunkin at [email protected]
Charging into the Electric Vehicle Market
In January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors Corp. unveiled a new electric vehicle concept that could nearly eliminate going to the gas station altogether.
The concept car, called the Chevrolet Volt, is a battery-powered electric vehicle that uses a gas engine to create additional electricity, thereby extending its range. The Chevy Volt draws from GM’s previous experience in starting the modern electric vehicle market when it launched the EV1 in 1996, according to GM Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz. “The Chevrolet Volt is a new type of electric vehicle. It addresses the range problem and has room for four to five passengers and their stuff. You can climb a hill or turn on the air conditioning and not worry about it.”
The Chevrolet Volt can be fully charged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for approximately six hours each day. When the lithium-ion battery is fully charged, the Volt can deliver 40 city miles of pure electric vehicle range. When the battery is depleted, a 1L, three-cylinder turbocharged engine spins at a constant speed, or revolutions per minute (rpm), to create electricity and replenish the battery. According to Lutz, this increases the fuel economy and range. “If you lived within 30 miles from work (60 miles round trip) and charged your vehicle every night when you came home or during the day at work, you would get 150 miles per gallon,” Lutz said. “More than half of all Americans live within 20 miles of where they work (40 miles round trip). In that case, you might never burn a drop of gas in the life of the car.”
To further underscore the point, the Chevy Volt is designed to run on E85, a blend of 15% gas and 85% ethanol. With E85, fuel economy of 150 mpg using gasoline would translate into more than 525 miles per petroleum gallon.
In the event a driver forgets to charge the vehicle or goes on a vacation far from home, the Volt would still get 50 mpg by using the engine to convert gasoline into electricity and extend its range up to 640 miles, more than double that of today’s conventional vehicles.
Other companies currently designing electric vehicles include:
- Phoenix Motorcars, Ontario, CA, said it is in initial development production for two distinct markets: fleet and consumer.
According to its website, www.phoenixmotorcars.com, Phoenix Motorcars’ primary 2007 focus is on fleet sales to companies, organizations and agencies in California needing economical, energy-efficient, zero-emission, mid-sized sports utility trucks (SUTs) and SUVs. However, later this year, a limited number of vehicles will be released to selected consumers in California. And in 2008, the company plans to release consumer versions into the California market. Production estimate of electric vehicles this year is 500 vehicles, and 6,000 vehicles for 2008.
ZAP, a Santa Rosa, CA-based company that specializes in small electric vehicles, announced earlier this year that it is working with Lotus Engineering on the development of the new ZAP-X Crossover, incorporating distinct technological advancements that will result in one of the most advanced electric cars ever built.
ZAP (www.zapworld.com) said the drive system features an innovative all-wheel drive option with revolutionary electric motors inside each of the wheels, potentially delivering 644 horsepower and speeds up to 155 mph.
It also utilizes an advanced battery system that will enable the car to travel a range up to 350 miles between charges, with a rapid charge technology that can recharge the batteries in as little as 10 minutes.
At this time there are no production models available, although a concept version is on display at various auto shows. ZAP said the ZAP-X mileage and range is expected to be 350 miles per charge or about 1 cent per mile using a rapid 10-minute re-charge.