NEW APPROACH TO MAKING ELECTRIC CAR
A MASS MARKET PRODUCT
In a new approach to making the electric car a mass-market product, a California company has unveiled a model that is very specialized, very expensive and very fast. The two seats roadster will sell for $85000 to $100,000 has been developed by Tesla Motors.
It goes from zero to 60 miles an hour in four seconds. Because it is an electric, the driver does not have to shift into second gear until the car hits 65.
The Roadster comes 10 years after the introduction of another two-seat electric car that was hailed as a breakthrough in technology, the EV-1 made by General Motors. While many environmentalists had hoped that would be the vanguard of a new trend, GM withdrew that car as the three-year leases expired, saying that its limited range-less than 160km made it unmarketable.
In the contrast to EV-1, the roadster is supposed to go about 400km on a single charge. It uses lithium-ion batteries, the kind most commonly found in lap tops, and carries about the three times the energy the EV-1 did, although the battery pack weighs only about 400kg; the original EV-1 battery pack weighed more than 500kg.
And where EV-1 had 26batteries wired together, the roadster has 6,831, arranged in a complex network. The voltage of the batteries is added together, as if they were wired serially, like flash light batteries. If one fails the computer running the car will notice, he said, and the effect on total energy storage would be like â€œdropping a couple of marbles in the gas tank of your car.â€? The car comes with a kit that connects with a 240volt circuit and charges the batteries from dead to full charge in three-and-a-half hours. It can also be charged on 110volt house hold outlet, but that takes longer.
At the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that is not normally a fan of fast cars, Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program, called the roadster â€œa remarkable potential breakthroughâ€? because it does not use oil and can be powered by clean sources of electricity.
The Roadsterâ€™s advantage is that it avoids expensive gasoline. Still, saving money presumably wonâ€™t be the prime motivation of most potential buyers, since to earn back the $65000 premium over a two seater like, say the Mazda Miata, would require more than 700,000 miles of driving.
The way to get a new product into the mass market is to sell it to rich people. Cell phones, refrigerators, color TV, they didnâ€™t start off by making a low-end product for masses. They were relatively expensive, for people who could afford it.
The companies that sold those products at first, did so because that was how to get production started. The company hopes to begin deliveries of electric cars in the middle of next year
TOYOTA PLANS HYBRID THAT RUNS ON BATTERIES
Already a leader in the hybrid market with its Prius sedan, Toyota motor plans to develop a hybrid vehicle that will run locally on batteries charged by a typical 120-volt outlet before switching over to a gasoline engine for longer hauls.
The technology is far from being ready and thereâ€™s no timeline for when such cars might be offered for sale. Still the automaker is taking a serious look at another idea aimed at reducing motoristsâ€™ dependence on gasoline: flexible fuel vehicles capable of running on E85, an alternative fuel made of 85% ethanol.
According to the company, the plug in being pursued by Toyota would be able to travel greater distances without using its gas engine, it will conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels. Plug-in hybrids use larger battery packs that can be recharged with a 120-volt outlet, allowing a driver to travel locally on battery power before the vehicles uses its petrol engine. Daimler Chrysler has been developing a plug-in hybrid van.
Though the technology has potential, obstacles exist, ranging from making the batteries lighter, less expensive and more durable. Some observers have expressed concern about the ability of the electrical grid to support the vehicles, but supporters say most plug-ins would be recharged at night.
Hybrids account for only about 1% of the market but have grown in popularity with petrol prices rising. A report on fuel economy trends issued by the Environmental Protection Agency this week found that the Puris, Honda Civic hybrid and Ford Escape hybrid sport utility vehicle had the highest gas mileage ratings in their respective classes.