01 March 2009

Electric Dreams

Written by Published in Technology

Electric cars may have had a reputation for sluggish performance and gimpish looks, but Sublime finds three of the coolest electric vehicles set to defy convention



The Lightning GT is another example of a ground-breaking electric vehicle, this time a sports car. This distinctly British-looking rival to the Tesla roadster seems largely a prototype at present but we hope the reality lives up to the hype because it sounds very exciting, and from a visual point of view it is stunning.


A key innovation in the Lightning is the batteries from US company Altairnano. Lithium-ion batteries are by now well known in laptops and mobile phones, but they have to be carefully manufactured and controlled to avoid thermal runaway problems. Altairnano’s lithium titanate batteries do not exhibit any thermal runaway issues, so the batteries can be charged at extremely high power levels.


The car’s makers suggest that a super-fast charge time of 10 minutes is possible. This is quite challenging due to the high power levels involved but expect impressive charging times nonetheless. The car also has motors built directly into the drive wheel hubs giving fantastic performance and possibilities for excellent four wheel drive control.





Electric cars may have had a reputation for sluggish performance and gimpish looks, but this is changing thanks to modern lithium-based batteries and cars such as the Aptera 2e hitting the streets.


The Aptera is a futuristic-looking three-wheeled two-seater vehicle from Californian company Aptera Motors, the design of which incorporates extensive use of recycled materials and organic dyes, as well as a solar panel on the roof to run the air-conditioning system. The body has an extremely low drag coefficient, resembling a small aircraft (but without wings), while composite materials produce a lightweight but strong construction. These factors give the electric version of the car an 120-mile range and an equivalent fuel efficiency of more than 300mpg, and yet performance is reasonable – 0–60mph in less than 10 seconds.


A plug-in hybrid version, which has a small engine-generator to extend the range of the car, will soon be available.




Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt from Chevrolet represents a seismic shift in focus away from petrol/gasoline powertrains to all-electric powertrains. The benefit of switching to an electric powertrain is that electric motors are 80% to 95% efficient at turning electricity into motion, whereas combustion engines have an average efficiency of about 20%.


The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid, an electric car with lithium batteries and a small gasoline engine to provide backup power (via a small generator) when the batteries run low. The concept is quite different to the well-known Toyota Prius (where the motors and engine run in parallel rather than series to drive the wheels). For journeys of less than 40 miles the combustion engine is not used at all and so the car is essentially all electric, and can be recharged overnight.


This kind of vehicle platform is showing the way for car manufacturers to fight current the recession and reinvent themselves for the low-carbon economy.



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