Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Who's Reviving the Electric Car?

It appears that electric cars are getting more attention recently - is it because people are demanding more eco-friendly forms of transport?... the rising cost of fuel?... or new tech-ventures are soon to be launching their electric car models on the market? Or a hybrid of them all? Here is what Worldchanging is saying:

"Several notable efforts are taking place to bring all-electric or plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles to market. And for all appearances, these stand to be far more substantive -- and more sustainable -- than GM's initial entry ever was.

Over the past few months, I've been tracking several threads of this story. Here's a snapshot of what's going on.

At least two car makers are viewing electric cars as a high-end niche market -- something the Hollywood or well-heeled Silicon Valley set will want to embrace simply for the cool factor. After all, now that "everyone" has a Prius, what's the Next Green Thing?

The Tesla, for starters. Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley start-up, has been keeping its sports car under tight wraps for months, showing it only to a privileged few. (I assumed that my role on the clean-tech advisory council of VantagePoint Venture Partners, the venture capital firm that is the lead institutional investor in Tesla, would get me in the door to have an early look. It didn't.) Tesla's first vehicle, an electric sports car set to be unveiled later this month, runs on the same lithium-ion batteries found in cameras and cell phones -- 7,000 of them per vehicle, the inventors told me. They claim that the Tesla Roadster, built on the chassis of a Lotus Elise, will go from 0 to 60 mph in just four seconds, travel 250 miles before needing to be recharged (by plugging in to a regular AC outlet), and retail for about $80,000. They intend that Tesla's second-generation car, due out in 18-24 months, will be somewhat more popularly priced at around $50,000.

The Tesla rolls in the same league as the Wrightspeed, another Silicon Valley entrant. (Founder Ian Wright formerly worked at Tesla.) Wrightspeed's X1 model is a high-performance all-electric $120,000 roadster that beat out a $440,000 Porsche on a test track. (I did manage to snag a ride on the X1. Wright took me for a spin in downtown Palo Alto late one night, showing off his car's prowess by going from 0 to 80 to 0 in a single city block. It was the closest I can approximate to being shot out of a cannon -- albeit a noiseless cannon, but for the wind racing by.) The X1, which is not yet in production, boasts a quarter ton of rechargeable batteries."

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