The main problem with the electric
cars that reared their heads briefly a decade ago was their
ability to only go so far on battery power. Charges lasted
just 50 miles or so, so you were in trouble if you needed to
go farther or ran out of juice somewhere in-between electric
outlets. Hybrids, on the other hand, which have side-by-side
electric and gas motors, never need to be plugged in and instead
use the motions of their gas-powered engines (as well as those
of the car’s wheels and brakes) to keep their batteries
charged at all times. And with a huge infrastructure of gas
stations, refueling is always as easy as pulling over to fill
Electric car advocates have long touted their alternative vehicles
as primarily short-distance commuter cars. At a 50-mile range,
most electric cars could make such short trips without the need
for recharging. One need only plug her vehicle into an electric
outlet in the garage overnight to charge up the battery for the
morning commute, and if needed then plug it in at the office
for the return trip later.
But most people want more from their cars than just the daily
commute—and gassing up takes minutes whereas recharging
takes hours—so sufficient demand never materialized. Hybrids,
though they do use gasoline, are as versatile as conventional
cars—and the coming “plug-in hybrids” (covered
previously in this column) promise to substantially increase
efficiency, to perhaps 100 miles per gallon or more, by using
the electric motor exclusively for short runs and commutes and
the gas engine only for long trips.
Even though all-electric vehicles are not currently in vogue,
innovative engineers are busy working to improve them. Technological
advances in battery life and engine efficiency mean that electric
vehicles may be able to roam farther than ever before. According
to EVWorld.com, drivers looking to go electric will soon have
a few options.
California-based Tesla Motors will soon be accepting deposits
on orders for its Tesla Roadster, and plans its first deliveries
for 2007. Tesla claims its car can go 250 miles on a charge,
which can even be extended further through its “regenerative
braking” technology, similar to that which is employed
in the hybrids.
Spokane, Washington’s Commuter Car Corporation is taking
orders for its Tango 600 (a kit you have to assemble) and its
Tango 100 and 200 models (fully assembled), with plans to deliver
by 2007. Actor George Clooney was Commuter Car’s first
customer. The Tango can only go 60-80 miles on a charge, but
boasts of its ability to go zero to 60 in four seconds and attain
a top speed of 150 miles per hour.
Elsewhere, California-based AC Propulsion is working with Toyota
on a Scion electric conversion, and Cleanova, based in France,
is developing an electric Renault Kangoo, a popular European
Keep in mind that, if your utility is a dirty coal-fired plant,
or one fueled by oil, tapping that power could mean creating
more pollution than driving a gasoline- powered car. Progress
in renewable energies may well solve that problem and help usher
in a new era for electric vehicles.
Contacts: EVWorld, www.evworld.com; Tesla Motors, www.teslamotors.com;
Commuter Car Corporation, www.commutercars.com.
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