It was no surprise that the Chevrolet Volt and Nisan Leaf grabbed center stage at the ride-and-drive event that took place outside the Business of Plugging-In conference this month. But they weren’t the only vehicles to be sampled on the improvised half-mile cone-lined course on the banks of the Detroit River. I used the opportunity to sample the Chevrolet Equinox AMP, Ford Transit Connect EV, and Smart EV.
Here are some first impressions from behind the wheel:
Chevrolet Equinox AMP
Hidden in plain sight was an undistinguished white Chevrolet Equinox converted by Cincinnati, Ohio-based company AMP. AMP is staffed by several veteran Detroit Three engineers, including Jim Taylor, the former vehicle-line executive on the first-generation Cadillac CTS. We last saw this company during the Automotive X Prize competition, where they campaigned a converted Saturn Sky.
The Equinox retains all of its original practicality and employs a 37-kwh lithium-ion battery that is said to be good for 120 miles of real-world driving. Recharging takes four hours with 220-volts (level 2). Two rear axle-mounted electric motors produce power equivalent to 220 hp and 236 ft.-lb. of instant torque. Acceleration from 0-60 mph is claimed to be under 7 seconds. Indeed, the BMP Equinox proved quick, quiet, and refined. It was the best Equinox I have driven and the only rear-wheel-drive version, at that. Inside, there was no indication I was driving an EV, even though the tachometer showed kw rather than rpm and the gas gauge indicated battery’s state-of-charge. Price is expected to be $47,000 after tax breaks. Though for that money, you’d go completely unnoticed.
Ford Transit Connect EV
The Connect makes a lot of sense as an electric delivery van for fleets with a predictable daily route. It attracted our interest at this event as a possible harbinger for the upcoming Focus EV due out in 2012. The Connect EV’s body shell comes from Turkey, along with regular Connects, then the electric drivetrain is installed in Michigan. Converted by a company called Azure Dynamics, this Connect has a 28-kwh lithium-ion battery supplied by Johnson Controls. The electric motor’s output is said to be the equivalent of 130 hp. In my short drive, the van was responsive enough, but the drivetrain moaned and whined quite a bit. Range is claimed to be 80 miles on a full charge, and charge times at 220 volts are said to take between six and eight hours. Production begins in April 2011 and the price is expected to be about $50,000. Potential customers are utility companies, universities, food service businesses, and municipalities.
While BMW is wrapping up its Mini E consumer field test and getting ready to start leasing the BMW 1 ActiveE next summer, rival Daimler is just gearing up its electric-car program spearheaded by the Smart. The Smart on hand was a phase two, out of three, product, which means it’s essentially a pre-production unit. Smart intends to lease these tiny boxes for $599 a month starting in 2012. It’s intended to be a purely urban runabout that’s good for an 80-mile range from its 16.5-kwh lithium-ion battery. Using 220 volts, the Smart can recharge in 3.5 hours if the battery is between 20- and 80-percent full. When we first tested the Smart, bystanders would ask if it was electric, presumably because it’s so small and unusual looking. After driving it, I think being electric suits this car. The electric drive system eliminates the Smart’s herky-jerky transmission, and you won’t be tempted to take it on long journeys, which are painful in this car.
See our guide to fuel economy for advice on saving gasoline. Learn about future technologies in our guide to alternative fuels.