A century-old technology is about to re-emerge as a petroleum-free solution to our dependence on oil. While the price tags of eco-friendly electric cars will be high and availability will be spotty at first, the future of vehicular transportation looks bright.
Just when you thought there was no help on the horizon to ease your pain at the gas pump, a century-old technology is about to re-emerge as a petroleum-free solution that will be inexpensive to operate, literally for pennies a day.
A new and improved era of practical, reliable electric cars is about to begin. Although costs will be high and some models will initially appear in limited numbers and regions while the technology continues to evolve, nothing may be able to kill the electric car this time. Here’s some of what to watch for in 2009 and soon thereafter.
One of the first full-functioning electric cars that is slated to appear in 2009 is the Miles XS500, a five-passenger, four-door sedan currently undergoing crash tests to meet U.S. safety standards. The Chinese-manufactured, battery-powered car will offer all the amenities and performance Americans expect from a conventional sedan, but with about 120 miles of all-electric range instead of 25-something miles per gallon. Beta tests of the vehicle will begin in summer 2009, with sales to come a few months later. Initial pricing is targeted at $35,000 to $40,000.
Next will be the long-labored Th!nk A306 from Norway, a sprightly two-seater in the same vein as the Smart car. The current version is powered by a sodium-based battery that delivers a top speed of 63 mph and a range of 110 miles. The U.S. version, expected to arrive in late 2009, is rumored to be equipped with more powerful lithium-ion batteries that will likely boost its range and top speed. The price target is in the mid-$20,000s.
BYD is a Chinese cell phone battery maker-turned automaker. It has developed an electric car, the E6, and a plug-in hybrid akin to the in-progress Chevrolet Volt (more information about it below). BYD says its battery technology will be good for over 300,000 miles. Release of the E6 is expected sometime during the second half of 2009.
This Southern California start-up excited the electric car world when it introduced an all-electric conversion of a pickup using advanced lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged in minutes. Phoenix hopes to begin limited delivery of the truck in California in 2009, with wider sales after that. The current price tag is about $45,000. Phoenix says the vehicle has a top speed of 95 mph and a range of 100 miles or more per charge.
If money is no object, but speed and excitement are, then the Tesla Roadster is what you’re looking for. This all-electric sports car has revived the fortunes of electric vehicles with the attention it has received for its range of 220 miles, top speed of 125 mph and zero to 60 acceleration in under four seconds. The first 600 are already sold, despite the $100,000 price tag. Tesla also is developing an all-electric sedan that may cost half that figure.
Pininfarina is best known for designing some of the world’s sexiest and most expensive sports cars, but now it has teamed up with French battery maker Bolloré to develop an electric car, called the Bolloré-Pininfarina B0 (B Zero). The company says it wants to sell the vehicle in America in 2010.
Mitsubishi has been perfecting an electric version of its “i” car, a four-door subcompact sedan known as the iMiEV. Mitsubishi will begin selling small numbers of the iMiEV in Japan, with sales in the United States likely to follow in subsequent years. A few prototypes may take part in U.S. demonstration trials this year.
Subaru has been testing small numbers of its R1e electric car with Japanese utilities and says it will soon launch similar initiatives in the United States. The R1e’s batteries can be recharged to 80 percent capacity in just 15 minutes.
If you’re still uncomfortable with the limitations of an electric car, watch for the Volt. GM is working hard for a late 2010 release of its highly anticipated range-extended electric car. GM says it will drive 40 miles on battery power, and 300-plus miles using a four-cylinder gasoline/ethanol engine that doesn’t propel the vehicle but does recharge the batteries. Prototypes will hit the streets in 2009, with sales likely to begin in 2011. The final price tag may be $35,000 or more.
Toyota is road-testing a plug-in version of the highly successful Prius hybrid. Fleet tests will begin in 2009; actual sales in 2011 at the earliest. No pricing has been announced, but expect it to run at least several thousand more than the conventional Prius, which is about $22,700. The automaker also says it’s planning an all-electric car to roll-out in the 2010s, a squishy time projection likely dependent on the pace of its “beyond lithium” battery research.
What the Tesla Roadster is to two-seat luxury electric cars, the Fisker Karma — due out sometime in 2009 or 2010 — is to luxury plug-in hybrid sedans. The four-door, four-passenger car will have a top speed of 125 mph and zero to 60 acceleration in under six seconds. The initial price tag is set at $80,000, but expect more.
Specifics are scarce, but Nissan sounds serious about electric cars. Executives from the automaker have stressed the goal of a mass-produced, all-electric and zero-emissions electric car on sale by 2010. The Japanese automaker also says it won’t sell an electric car unless it can do so at an affordable price, and still make a profit.
An alliance between Nissan and French automaker Renault will produce an electric car to be released in Israel and Denmark through Better Place, a startup company with a new take on electric cars. In a business model similar to that of the cell phone industry, drivers would buy miles for their cars; the latter would be deeply discounted, maybe even free. Drivers would recharge anywhere in an extensive network of plug-in outlets, paying for the miles of power like you pay for the minutes of cell phone use. If your car needed a full recharge in short order, you would go to a battery exchange location, which would install a new battery in minutes, for free. You wouldn’t own the battery, but you would pay for its power.
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