In the UK where driving distances and range expectations are shorter engineers are beginning to think that electric drive with battery sets are fully viable market prospects.

Such a conclusion relies on some important lessons and reveals the obvious problems. The problem list is short, but significant. The range issue is foremost due to battery limitations and recharge times. Then come the charging facility installations to charge at all, at home, at work and while traveling. And the always contesting for attention are the environmentalist arguments in the building of the cars, the charging faculties and the energy to generate the electricity. You might note the arguments aren’t about the vehicles. There are reasons.

Those reasons come from lessons of experience. James Westcott of the London technology firm Synergy Innovations explained that one of the main reasons for developing the car, a Cooper Mini dubbed the E-drive, was to persuade people that electric vehicles don’t have to look and feel any different from conventional cars. The Synergy design is an everyman’s car that people on the street can relate to. The project is not associated with BMW who owns Cooper, and is currently working on its own electric version of the car, called the Mini-E.

Synergy Innovations Mini Cooper E-Drive.  Click image for the largest View.

Synergy Innovations Mini Cooper E-Drive. Click image for the largest View.

In Coventry at the Tata Motors European Technical Center two vehicles: a hybrid version of its Indica family hatchback and an electric Nano are being studied for marketing.

Tata Indica. Click image for the largest view.

Tata Indica. Click image for the largest view.

But the changer is Delta Motorsport who is taking a different approach and developing an entirely new car. All these cars have something in common, an architecture principle, about where the components are located and why. Delta’s technical director Nick Carpenter explains, “Designing from scratch is absolutely critical to achieving the range. You can’t just take a standard road car, pile it full of batteries and expect to achieve 200 miles cost effectively.” Using a clean slate Delta has come up with a design that simulations suggest will be capable of more than 200 miles on a full charge.

Delta Motorsport X-prize Entry Artists Rendition.  Click image for a larger view.

Delta Motorsport X-prize Entry Artists Rendition. Click image for a larger view.

Carpenter says, “We’ve been careful about the layout of the vehicle and optimized the architecture based on the fact that we don’t have an IC engine. For instance, we don’t need the same level of cooling that you have on a normal road car so we can do some clever bits with the underside of the vehicle to reduce drag and generate a little bit of down-force…”

The builders are creating a special battery compartments under the floor that’s expected to confer some significant benefits. As well as enabling easy access to the battery pack, this will also lead to lowering the center of gravity height. In Delta’s case Carpenter says, “The center of gravity height is 325mm off the ground, which considering a 130mm ride height is pretty impressive. I haven’t designed many race cars with a center of gravity height lower than that — it’s going to handle like nothing else on the road.”

Carpenter continues, “If you’re sufficiently careful with the architecture of the vehicle then you can achieve a reasonably sensible EV. However, there are compromises — you end up with a rather substantial and heavy battery pack. What we’ve tried to do is step in to this arena at the point where it’s just about viable financially, and what we can pretty much guarantee is that it’s only going to get better from here: motors are getting lighter and have more torque, batteries are getting more power dense and cheaper — we’re on the cusp of some big, big changes — it has tipped from the point where you couldn’t build a viable EV to the point where you can.” In the UK for now.

All three companies are entered in the $10 million dollar automotive X-prize, the follow-on to the 2004 competition that saw US aerospace engineer Burt Rutan pilot the world’s first privately funded space mission. The aim of the latest X-prize Foundation initiative is to inspire the development of a new generation of super-efficient, production-capable vehicles. According to the X-prize foundation the contest will include a series of races held next summer. The winners will be capable of the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon and have a range of 200 miles. More than 100 vehicles have already been entered into the competition. Roughly one-third of them are electric and one-third are hybrid electric.

Westcott says, “Electric cars don’t have to be dinky little roller skates and they don’t have to be super cars.”

But in the U.S. they will need another 50% of range to at least 300 miles or so and come heated and air-conditioned, three things that need more onboard energy. But Americans will want something larger anyway allowing more volume and space, so electric drive, both grid charged and hybrid are getting closer. Yet the petroleum fuel advantage in rough numbers near 100 to 1 in energy density and specific energy is going to be very hard to overcome for many buyers with general and special uses in mind.


4 Comments so far

  1. Steve Hardy on May 22, 2009 9:09 AM

    One other tipping point I would suggest is resale value. For a moment imagine that at least one of the many research projects led to a breakthrough that produced a battery with five to ten times more energy density than at present and this in the next two to three years. I would make a guess that the resale value of any internal combustion engined car would plummet through the floor. To put it bluntly buying a car at the moment is more of a gamble than it has ever been.

  2. Mohammad Murphy on October 5, 2010 1:43 PM

    once a week i use a roller skate as my exercise *,”

  3. Styrofoam Sheets  on October 20, 2010 5:05 AM

    roller skating is my sport, this sport is very enjoyable and is a form of exercise too-`’

  4. college scholarships on November 8, 2010 7:53 AM

    Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

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