Whether or not electric cars are going to hit the roads in volume anytime soon is more uncertain than ever, with the market for new vehicle purchases off nearly 50% compared to just one year ago, and the price of a barrel of oil back under US $40. But while the near term prospects for the automotive industry are daunting, the future is brighter than ever, and the many credible contenders to deliver EVs continue to grow. The latest EV we’ve found is here as a spinoff from Electrovaya, a Canadian based maker of lithium ion batteries for laptops and medical devices.
About one year ago, Electrovaya announced the Maya-300, an all-electric vehicle with a top speed of 35 MPH and a range of 120 miles. Since then they have announced a series of contracts to supply batteries to the Norwegian manufacturer Miljobil after that company had built five EV prototypes using Electrovaya’s batteries. Also in 2008, Electrovaya announced an agreement to supply New York based Visionary Vehicles with their batteries. They also made a recent announcement to supply batteries to California’s Phoenix Motorcars – and what happened to Phoenix’s other battery supplier, Altair Nano?
Moving from west to east, Electrovaya in November 2008 announced three memorandums of understanding with Chinese manufacturers Chana International Corp. to produce 30 electric cars over the next few quarters, with GuangZhou Lange Electric Equipment Co. Ltd. for battery equipment, and Shandong Shifeng Group Co. Ltd. for zero-emission electric vehicles for the North American and global specialty truck market.
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|The Maya-300, Electrovaya’s new entrant in the EV sweepstakes.
(Photo: Maya Mobility)
It is impossible to say how far Electrovaya will advance in the next generation car sweepstakes, but the stakes are huge. The car is being reinvented, and the car of the future will be cradle-to-cradle recyclable, run on renewable clean energy, it will be smart, safe, and there will be billions of them. Like ZENN, Electrovaya has launched a low speed vehicle (with impressive range), unlike ZENN, they are still only at the prototype stage with their Maya-300. Also unlike ZENN, they have their own battery technology which appears to be genuine enough to have attracted the attention of a lot of partners around the world. Another low speed vehicle manufacturer who has quietly logged fleet sales now approaching 3,000 units is Miles EV, based in Los Angeles and selling to fleet buyers on military bases and college campuses. Late in 2008 Miles had announced plans for freeway capable vehicles available for sale in early 2010.
The current leader in electric vehicles, at least in terms of freeway capable cars on the road, is Tesla Motors. In a post on Tesla’s website last month, Chairman Elon Musk claimed the $40M financing they secured in late 2008 is more than enough to bring the company to profitability. With showrooms in Menlo Park and Los Angeles, and over 200 all-electric cars on the road, they are still the company to beat – but in terms of units shipped, it is a long, long way from 200 to 200,000. Fisker Automotive, with their equally sporty Karma prototype, claim this series hybrid (also known as an extended range EV, or “EREV,” where the drivetrain is all-electric, but an onboard combustion-engined electric generator supplements the battery power) will be in showrooms across North America and Europe by late 2009. The futuristic Aptera Typ-1 is reported to already be in crash testing, although they have delayed the roll-out of a series hybrid version in favor of an all electric model. Tesla, Fisker, and Aptera are pretty hard acts to follow.
The big automakers are not standing still, however. A few weeks ago we checked with our contacts at General Motors to verify that the Chevy Volt was still on track. As an extended range electric vehicle with an electric-only range of 40 miles and a gas/electric range of over 400 miles, and an all-electric drivetrain, the Chevy Volt is one of the most advanced vehicles ever built. At this time GM has dozens of Volt prototypes undergoing extensive testing, and sources at the company stated unequivocably that the Volt remains on schedule for a 2010 delivery to showrooms. The Volt, of course, will be priced to sell in volumes that will start in the tens of thousands. Assuming GM will survive – and they probably will – our money is still on the Volt to set the standard for EVs the day it debuts.
The emergence of next generation cars will be a saga of many auspicious beginnings and many barely noticed epitaphs, as is the case whenever disruptive technology overturns entire industries. Even in these tumultuous times, watching these aspiring companies move from concept to product is a fascinating, inspiring experience.