There aren’t many cars on the roads today that run purely on batteries, but three new models are off the drawing boards and – if the manufacturers claims are to be believed – will be selling and seen on the streets within the next twelve months. And all three of these companies are in sunny, high-tech California.
The first of these 100% battery powered cars is the Zap Zebra, which is really an oversized golf cart. Based in Santa Rosa, California, ZAP has been around for over 10 years, and have experimented with various light duty electric cars including fuel cell prototypes. Zap’s latest creation is street legal on roads where the speed limit is under 45 MPH. The Zap Zebra costs under $10,000, has a top speed of 40 mph, and a range of 40 miles. Depending on how durable this car is, and how long their batteries last, it could pay for itself in fuel savings as a 2nd car for shopping and short trips.
You’ve heard here about the Tesla Roadster, which runs on lithium ion laptop batteries and claims a range of 250+ miles along with 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. It’s about time someone used electric motors to build a sports car, the torque curve and RPM range of electric motors are far better than gasoline engines. We’re trying to set up an interview with Tesla officials to ask a few more questions about their heat management systems and the longevity of the batteries.
Now another 100% battery powered car manufacturer is stepping up, Phoenix Motorcars based in Ohai California. Claiming a range for their existing prototype of “75-200 miles” and a top speed of 95 MPH, Phoenix is aiming at a more affordable vehicle than the Tesla Roadster. But this car is still a freeway legal, full size car. What’s also noteworthy about Phoenix Motorcars is their relationship with Altair Nanotechnologies, who claim to have proprietary nano-lithium ion battery technology.
The only thing keeping electric cars from eventually dominating the automotive world is the energy density of batteries. Trying to create a “hydrogen economy” has diverted billions of dollars from the more feasible achievement of improving batteries. Even current battery technologies make an electric commuter vehicle feasible, and with a nudge from research that has gone into batteries for hybrid cars, the all electric car is making a comeback. Lithium ion batteries can carry over 300 watt-hours per kilogram. That is quadruple the energy density of traditional lead-acid batteries, hence quadruple the range.
Hybrid cars typically use the nickel metal hydride battery, more advanced than lead acid, but still only able to get around 150 watt-hours per kilogram. If lithium ion batteries can become cheap, safe, and longlasting, they will change the automotive world. If the work being done at Tesla Motors and Phoenix Motorcars is to be believed, that world is changing before our eyes. Stay tuned.