AC Propulsion's eBox

Interview with Tom Gage, CEO of AC Propulsion:

AC Propulsion has been around since 1992. Would you say your company is where the modern era of EV’s began?

Alan Cocconi founded AC Propulsion after working on the project that developed the General Motors Impact EV. GM went on to produce and then crush the EV1. AC Propulsion developed the AC150 drive system, the tzero, and now the eBox, so yes, we were there at the beginning and we’re still here.

Your “tzero” provided propulsion technology being used on the Venturi Fetish, along with several other prototypes and concept cars, including the DWRA “White Lightening” which was clocked in 1999 at a top speed of 254 MPH. How would you summarize this technology?

The key factor is high efficiency AND high performance. Electric power for cars is unique in this regard – you can have performance and still have very high efficiency and of course zero emissions from the car. So far, our drive system is the best embodiment of this concept and our technology and designs are being put to use by the companies you mentioned.

Why did your company decide in 2003 to limit production of the tzero to the three prototypes already built?

By the time we had built three tzeros, we understood that building cars from the ground up would divert us from our core skills – designing and manufacturing electric vehicle power systems. We decided that it was better to focus on what we did well and leave other aspects of car manufacturing to others. This approach bore fruit in 2004 when we began to license our technology, and again in 2006 when we started selling the eBox, an EV we build by converting an existing car rather than starting from scratch.

Describe the eBox and the basis of your decision to produce this vehicle. What speed, range and acceleration do you expect a standard eBox to deliver?

We chose to build conversions based on the Scion xB because it was light in weight, well-equipped, affordable, relatively easy to convert, and provided a lot of utility for the customer. Once we made that choice, the eBox name became an obvious choice. We are building about one car a month now. The ebox accelerates to 60 mph in 7 seconds, does 95 mph top speed and will go 120 miles on a normal charge, and 150 miles on a full charge.

The first eBox prototype hit the road in June 2006. Since then how many prototypes have you built, how many orders have you taken, and when – if ever – do you intend to go into volume production with this car. How much will it cost and when can I go buy one?

We have orders for eBox production through October right now. We expect to build 20 to 25 eBoxes in total through early 2008, and then start building a new EV based on an as yet undisclosed vehicle. The new AC Propulsion EV will be built in higher volume, but will still be very limited production. The eBox is $55,000 for the conversion plus the cost of the Scion xB, or about $70,000 total. The new EV will be priced the same or less.

If you were to pick a competitor’s electric vehicle as your favorite – aside from the eBox, of course – which vehicle would you choose and why? Related question – there are a lot of LEVs coming along and now a few high-performance EVs such as the Tesla Roadster and the ZAP-X. Do you see the eBox as fulfilling the demand for something in the middle, a practical, but freeway-worthy vehicle?

The eBox is intended to serve as the best current example of what people can expect from electric cars when, in the future, they become more broadly accepted and manufactured in much higher volume. What they can expect is superior performance, driveability, efficiency, and convenience, and that’s what the eBox delivers. Right now there is really nothing else available that represents what EVs can be. Over time, more and more people will come to understand that the limited range of an EV is easy to work around, and that the advantages and
pleasures of driving an EV are worth paying for.

What do you think of “range-extender” designs such as the Chevy “Volt” concept?

AC Propulsion has been building range extenders since 1993, first as trailer-mounted generators that we towed behind n EV to keep the battery charged while we accumulated test miles on our drive systems, then, in 2002, as a self-contained plug-in series hybrid based on a VW Jetta. The PHEV we built 5 years ago has almost exactly the same specs as the GM Volt concept. We recently upgraded it to Li batteries so it now goes 50 miles as a pure electric, and with the engine running can sustain 80 mph indefinitely without running down the battery. Having driven both our PHEV Jetta and our eBox, I prefer the eBox. Of course for long trips the Jetta is the better choice, but most of my driving around Los Angeles is less than 100 miles a day. With the eBox I can drive electric all day long. With the hybrid, I might have to run the engine some days. I think pure EVs or plug-in hybrids will both have a place in the market. In the long run, I think pure EVs will win out over cars like the our Jetta prototype and the GM Volt concept due to factors such as cost, complexity and driveability.

Do you ever see batteries being able to be recharged within minutes, as some aspirants to become volume EV manufacturers are claiming?

No, I think the idea of fast charging is an artifact of thinking that no car can be commercialized unless it operates just like a gas car. With that logic comes the insistance that 300 mile range and fast refueling are necessities. That dogma has led, in turn, to the mass delusion that a “hydrogen economy” was both necessary and feasible. A more realistic scenario is that electric cars will assume duties for which they are well suited, namely commuting and all manner of local driving, and combustion cars, both conventional and hybrid, will be in ample supply for long distance driving. In this scenario, there is no justification for the extremely high cost of 10-minute charging stations.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to getting EVs on the road in great numbers?

There are three barriers, perceptions, money, and time. First, people need to change their thinking about what they need from a car and what they are willing to pay to get it. For the past 100 years, the perceptions of the driving public in this country have been shaped by the US government’s policy of keeping gasoline cheap. When this policy changes, or when it can no longer fend off global energy realities, the driving public will start to look for alternatives which will include more efficient cars and alternative fuels. When they start looking, they will find electric cars are a good choice.

Second, conventional cars enjoy a cost advantage borne of a huge investment in productive capacity and an almost 2-billion unit learning curve. Electric cars will cost more to produce until economies of scale start to take hold. That cost penalty will slow commercialization unless offset by policies or energy cost factors that favor electricity over gasoline.

Third, the auto market is so large that it takes time to have a significant effect even with the most successful products. The tenth anniversary of the first Toyota hybrid is coming up and Toyota has produced about 1,000,000 hybrids in total. But in a world with over 500 million vehicles those hybrids represent a small fraction of a one percent of the total vehicle population. Even with enlightened market perceptions and reduced costs, electric transportation will take decades to become mainstream.

8 Responses to “AC Propulsion's eBox”
  1. kent beuchert says:

    I’d say that Tom Gage is living in a dream world in which everyone maintains two cars – one EV for around town and one gas for the long haul. And yet he talks about costs!!! His scenario is the most inefficient conceivable. I’ve also seen the price tag that AC puts on their Scion conversion. It’s about as close to robbery without a gun as I can imagine. Extraordinarily expensive way to ruin a pretty good car
    just to boost your ego. The VOLT will crush these fraudulent aftermarket conversions and put all these “mushroom” companies out of business. Good riddance to AC Propulsion. Gage is also is missing the effect he desires (large scale production of EV parts), which will occur as soon as the first Chevy VOLT rolls off the assembly line.
    The numbers projected for the VOLT and its E-Flex sibblings are
    large, but probably understated. The main cost issue of EVs is , of course, not the parts, but the batteries. That’s why EVs don’t make any sense until an affordable battery shows up, and the market will only have strong support for serials like the VOLT. All electrics offer only small advantages over serials in terms of carbon emissions and
    crude reductions.

  2. Paul Scott says:

    Kent Beuchert’s response was awfully rude, not to mention factually innacurate.

    Tom never claimed every household has two cars, but it happens that over 60% of American households do. In practice, Tom’s scenario is exactly how things will work out. The daily driver will be a highly efficient battery powered EV (BEV) using renewable electricity. The second car will be an efficient plug in hybrid (PHEV).

    For those who only have one car, they will either drive a BEV or a PHEV. If the person rarely drives more than 150 miles per day, they would get along fine with a BEV. For the long trips, she could either rent or borrow a gas car. This is what I do when I take those rare long trips that are beyond my BEV’s range.

    For the person who does drive long distances, and only has one car, the PHEV is a great vehicle.

    The future will see both of these technologies push out the large innefficient vehicles of today.

    Kent should take a chill pill and relax. He seems to have a lot of anger over something.

  3. Adam says:

    No more excuses for not producing EV’s check this out: http://WWW.PHOENIXMOTORCARS.COM $45,000 diverting oil subsidiaries to companies like these and providing other incentivies will reduce this price even more. This is NOT a concept, it has been built, tested and orders are being taken.

  4. M.C. Green says:

    Ouch! Harsh on the EBox! There’s lots of people who want something now (rather than wait until when….?). And we are waiting for GM ???

    “Fraudulent mushroom companies” who’s in the dream world?

    Yes, it does cost more for custom work, but some will take the charge.

    And for “robbery”, ch.eck the oil companies

  5. Marcos Peixoto says:

    >> kent beuchert wrote:

    The main cost issue of EVs is , of course, not the parts, but the batteries, . That’s why EVs don’t make any sense until an affordable battery shows up.

    I agree, Kent. I drive a costly EV because car companies did not make enough of them. They did not generate enough demand or created enough visibility for these cars. Under 2000 were made of the model I drive. total. Compare with Internal Combustion Engine car models that are made in tens of thousands a month. Nickel batteries are 100% ready for today’s EVs. When mass produced they would allow for sub $30K EVs. Once the first plug-ins are placed in consumer’s hands, there will be no looking back.

  6. Jeff Chan says:

    The only reason GM is doing the Volt and Toyota is working on plug-in hybrids, both of which work like pure electric vehicles for 10 to 40 miles, is that AC Propulsion built the Impact prototype of GM’s EV-1 electric car. If there were no AC Propulsion there would probably be no Volt.

    Once more people start driving plug-in hybrids and serial hybrids and compare the cost per mile and Carbon per mile, they will demand more plug-in and serial hybrids and battery electric vehicles. The efficiency in terms of dollars, Carbon, fuel, and energy of EV operation is very significantly higher than gasoline or diesel. The facts will win on this one once more people are exposed to them, particularly when they compare their transportation costs before and after.

  7. Gordon Day says:

    As someone who is about to receive an eBox I feel I should step in and mention our motivation for purchasing one and how I expect it to impact our lifestyle.

    My wife and I are motivated by concerns over both climate change and conserving a constrained resource. We completely understand the resource consumption resulting from purchasing an EV but we are convinced that unless a market has early adopters of alternative approaches there will never be a broad based migration away from the status quo.

    We are lucky enough to live in British Columbia where our electric power is 90% renewable energy due to our enormous hydro power resources. That combined with very low retail electricity costs and regionally small driving distances (1.5 million lower mainland residents commute less than approximately 80km daily) makes our local environment an ideal one for EVs. It also puts a responsibility on our shoulders to use our very green energy wisely. Using this energy at nighttime to offset daytime generated CO2 as well as other toxic gas that our highly efficient but still polluting Volkswagen Golf TDI currently emits seems wiser than using it to drive a big screen TV or air conditioners.

    Once we receive the eBox we will be a one and a half car family. We’ll use our eBox for probably 95% of our yearly mileage and the we’ll share the Golf with friends and family when we’re not using it for the remaining 5% long haul trips.

    On the resources consumed by the eBox the one that is of primary concern is the battery pack. We expect the pack to last between 7 and 10 years. This is taking into account both the projected annual mileage as well as the inherent (approx 7% per annum) degradation that Li ion cells experience. Once the pack has been exhausted it will be recyclable by Toxco a local Li ion battery recycling company (the first in North America as far as we know). Even at this time Toxco is able to recover both the lithium and cobalt from the cells.

    This model of owning an EV as your primary vehicle but sharing an efficient but fossil fuel driven vehicle with your immediate community makes total sense in most urban environments. We never expect to be inconvenienced by the EV. In fact, we expect that its quiet and powerful performance will be a great convenience.

    We realize that a no compromise EV is not immediately practical for most people due to the high cost of the battery pack but we also feel that supporting companies with the right kind of technology (e.g. AC Propulsion) for addressing the problems we face collectively is the right thing to do.

    Of course we will still continue to walk, ride the bus, and cycle as much as possible but the EV will be a wonderful option for dashing to work or hitting the drug store late at night for our 2 year old.

  8. albert says:

    Shell, Exxon, Bp and Mobil make a combined 80 billion dollars each year in net pay (after expenses and taxes), so then, if the United Nations made them give 10 billion of that each year to the starving and desperate people of Africa and the rest of the world, would that be enough each year???

    If not how about if Wal-Mart and some other big companies each give another 1 billion each year?

    Also it is pretty apparent to me that the people on American Idol Show are lip synching. They are not playing their instruments also.

    Are people so easily fooled by this? Are people so fooled that they don’t believe some new car company could make a car like a honda element or toyota scion, and a truck that looks like a toyota Tacoma that all run on battery power just like golf carts do? Sure, we have the smarts to figure out physics in the order of black holes and string theory, can charge our cell phones and portable drills each day but we can’t plug in a car. Golf carts have been doing their thing fine and the first electric car came out in about 1918. The makers of new cars are now boasting of the great 30 mph they get, but I thought they were getting this already in the 1970′s.
    Why don’t a few rich guys get together and make an electric automobile company? Who is stopping them? Think about it, electric cars and trucks for you and me, but that would mean that the oil companies may not be able to afford to give 10 billion each year to the starving, right? Are they giving that much?????????????????????????????????????
    Am I right???????

    Best regards and God Bless you, Albert Einstein
    p.s. will it do any good to ask the auto makers to build electric cars if they are in cahoots with the oil makers?


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