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Thursday, February 08, 2007

ZAP and Lotus to Build High-Performance In-Wheel Electric Vehicle

[From Green Car Congress:]

ZAP and Lotus Engineering are beginning the first phase of an engineering project to use the British consultancy’s APX ("Aluminum Performance Crossover" - pictured to right) as a basis for designing a production-ready electric all-wheel drive crossover high performance vehicle for ZAP—the ZAP-X—in the US market.

A combination of the lightweight aluminum vehicle architecture, a new efficient drive and advanced battery management systems is intended to enable a range of up to 350 miles between charges, with a rapid 10-minute recharging time. An auxiliary power unit is planned to support longer distance journeys.

The APX’s supercharged gasoline 3.0-liter V6 engine will be replaced by in-hub electric motors, delivering 644 horsepower in all-wheel drive mode, theoretically capable of powering the ZAP-X to a potential top speed of 155 mph. A new strong, lightweight and highly efficient structure based on the Lotus technology is planned to give the car a very attractive power-to-weight ratio.

The APX showcases Lotus Engineering’s Versatile Vehicle Architecture technology, combining lightweight aluminum vehicle architecture with exceptionally strong and stiff structural rigidity, as well as lower manufacturing investment requirements.

According to Lotus, the key to the VVA architecture is the high-pressure die cast corner nodes that are combined with bonding, mechanical fasteners, extruded and pressed aluminium. Having first been shown to the world at the Geneva motor show in 2006, the APX concept has won the 2006 European Aluminium Awards in the “Transport and Automotive” category.

The use of in-wheel motors leaves the space previously occupied by the conventional engine and drive train for additional battery capacity and amenities.

The development program is proposed to be managed from a new center of excellence for research and development of environmentally-friendly vehicle designs and technologies. Engineering input will come from Lotus Engineering Inc, and the British technology consultancy’s other R&D centers in the UK, Malaysia and China.

"Lotus Engineering’s APX is a world-class innovative concept and was developed to showcase real solutions to new challenges facing the automotive industry. So it’s very satisfying that ZAP’s proposed new model will make use of a great deal of the APX concept’s advanced body structure and chassis technology. The bringing together of these next-generation vehicle technologies represents another significant step forward for automotive technology."
—Mike Kimberley, CEO of Group Lotus plc

Earlier in January, ZAP had announced the selection of Lotus Engineering to undertake engineering concept studies for a number of electric vehicles. ZAP will display the current Lotus APX concept car at the North American Dealers Association (NADA) annual meeting and exhibition, 3-6 February 2007.

According to another great post on the ZAP-X over at The Energy Blog, ZAP is targeting a price point of about $60,000 and plan to have the high-performance EV available as early as 2008.

Given this timing and price point, the ZAP-X will likely compete with the second-generation electric sports-sedan planned by Tesla Motors, makers of the Tesla Roadster EV [see previous post]. Tesla is targeting a 2009 timeframe for it's sports sedan, which will be comperably priced between $50,000-$70,000 price range. The higher end Tesla Roadster sells for $92,000. Tesla plans to sell between 10,000 and 20,000 units per year of it's sports sedan model.

Presumably, ZAP could produce a 'tuned-down' model with a bit less 'get-up-and-go' and shave a bit off that price tag if they wanted to. Cutting back the power would mean a smaller and cheaper battery pack as well as electric motor.

It will be interesting to see if this higher-end, high-performance market segment can help drive forward the commercialization of electric vehicles (and plug-ins - the batteries for EVs are very similar as the ones used in PHEVs with all-electric ranges, just larger). I'm surprised that one of the big auto manufacturers hasn't decided that producing a high-end, high-performance EV, like these offerings from Tesla and ZAP, in order to help green their image a bit (with a production model EV) and build up the production lines, supply chains and technical expertise needed to get the cost down and produce a more average consumer-oriented EV or PHEV.

The high-end consumer market segment can afford to pay the premiums for an EV in order to drive 'the next cool thing' in a way that the average consumer can't, so it might actually make alot of sense to target that market segment first, and then work on an 'economy' model (interestingly, things worked the other way around with hybrids, with the first models focused on the average consumer and only recently have hybrids with a more luxury or performance segment in mind started to appear). Maybe if ZAP or Tesla is proves this business model can work, one of the major auto manufacturers will buy one or both of them out...

[Pheonix Motorcars is targeting a different niche market with it's electric Sports Utility Truck: fleet sales. Pheonix plans to produce and sell 500 of their electric SUTs to fleet operators by the end of 2007 and will build 16 pilot-build vehicles next month. The company has already received 75 fleet orders from several municipalities and one utility company for it's zero-emissions truck.]

Regardless, these Tesla, ZAP and Pheonix EVs continue to make me question all the fuss GM is making over Lithium ion battery technology not being ready for prime time yet. Either Tesla and ZAP are overly optimistic, or GM is dragging it's heels. Given GM's track record, I bet it's more likely the latter.

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