The team that won the Automotive X Prize is the only one of the competition finalists whose car wasn’t electric. Edison2 had two cars in the finals, and both ran on gasoline. Now that the race is over, however, the company is converting one of its Very Light Cars to electric power, as they told us when we called for a blog update last month. The electric version of the car is now finished, and the team has begun testing.
Edison2 is careful to say that the test results are preliminary and have not been validated, but they are very promising. Based on their data, we calculate that the eVLC returned 310 miles on the electric equivalent of 1 gallon of gasoline. (The test was conducted over 91 miles, at about 45 mph, before the car ran out of juice.)
Edison2 is very careful to point out that these preliminary results would not translate directly to an EPA rating, which could be significantly lower. But the test does illustrate that the benefits of weight savings are magnified in electric cars. Lighter cars (and very aerodynamic cars, like the VLC), require less energy to move down the road. Needing less energy means battery packs can be smaller, saving even more weight. As a bonus, smaller battery packs are also cheaper. The electric VLC weighs in at just 1,031 pounds.
These smaller, cheaper batteries have another advantage in electric cars: reducing charging times.
The main gripe about electric cars is that they have a limited range before requiring recharges of several hours. Clearly, there are two ways to address that concern: Extending the range, or reducing the charge time. The electric VLC’s batteries store just under 10 kWh of electricity, giving it a range of about 90 miles. Using a state-of-the-art 6.6-kW onboard charger and a 240-volt Level 2 charging station, a 10-kWh battery should theoretically be able to charge in just over two hours, about a third of the charge time of our tested Nissan Leaf. (The Leaf is scheduled to get a 6.6-kw onboard charger for 2013, replacing its current 3.3-kw one which should cut charge times from 6 hours to 3 hours.)
Other, established automakers have also made this point, including Volkswagen, with its Nils concept that will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show this month, and BMW with its upcoming electric i3 model. Both the VLC and the i3, however, seat four passengers, while the Nils concept is a single-seater.
Building cars this small and light will require a shift in mindset, both for automakers and consumers. Could cars like this spawn a whole new type of urban transport? In the right city and with the right government incentive, perhaps. Only time—and likely the price of gas—will tell.
Visit our guide to alternative fuels and vehicles.