Friday, February 27, 2009

Electric Cars only for the Rich and Famous?

Let's start out with a basic rundown of what exists today for the aspiring electric car enthusiast from a few car companies you may never have heard of:

The Tesla Roadster lists for $109,000 (US) and goes approximately 224 mi (360 km) highway per charge.
The Eliica is an 8-wheel car designed by Professor Hiroshi Shimizu and is one of the fastest cars in the world, combustion and electric combined!  The Eliica can go about 200 mi (320 km) and can reach speeds of 230 mph (370 kmph).  It uses an innovative design where each wheel has its own electric motor and thus no torque is lost in drive train transmission.  But, now for the sticker shock: the Eliica is estimate to cost a staggering $255,000US if a retail manufacturer can be found, though as yet Professor Shimizu has yet to find a manufacturer in Japan willing to make his prototype into a practical choice, all be it again for the Rich and Famous.
Tata Nano-E
Tata Motors of India is renowned as the makers of some of the smallest and most inexpensive cars in the world.  The Nano, a concept car which is to be Tata's smallest and least expensive offering, is proposed to have an electric model, the E-Nano which is to have a fully electric drive train.  Though not on the market yet, the likely range of the Tata E-Nano will not make it practical for daily commutes in the U.S., which for me is about 75 mi (120 km) round-trip.  It remains to be seen whether the Tata may make the first affordable electric car in the world, or will it just be a grocery-getter no good for anything more than puttering around town.
The Zenn car of Québec, Canada, is an around-town, short trip car with Lead-Acid batteries that allow it to go 35 mi (55 km) per charge and have a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 kmph).  Ironically, these cars were until recently only street-legal in the U.S., and not in their home of Canada.  Of course, with a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 kmph), the Zenn car isn't good for much of anything except keeping to roads where the speed limit never exceeds 35 mph (55 kmph), meaning that again we do not have a practical electric vehicle.

A number of major automobile manufactures have also proposed electric cars or series hybrids with a fully electric drive train, and I shall provide a rundown of those in a subsequent post.  But for now, chew on this: imagine the Eliica's axle-free drive-train with the Tesla's batteries at a Zenn-car price?  Alas, the Lithium-Ion batteries used by the Eliica and Tesla are what make these cars beyond the average consumer's budget, but we can dream!

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