For the cost of the latest iPhone, you could build your own snazzy electric car.
Well, at least you can get a kit to show you how to build the three-wheeled, two-seat ride, called the XR3. The $200 kit includes CDs with three-dimensional computer models, a list of auto-parts suppliers, a 149-page construction manual and a DVD showing an XR3 being assembled from scratch.
Robert Q. Riley Enterprises, a product-design firm in Glendale, Ariz., is selling the kit on its Web site, where you also can check out a photo gallery of an XR3 in various stages of construction.
The do-it-yourself kit is a personal project of the firm's founder, Robert Q. Riley, who has been designing kits for building cars, jet engines and hovercrafts since 1974. He also wrote a book called "Alternative Cars in the 21st Century."
Several of his previous projects were featured in Popular Mechanics and the now-defunct Mechanix Illustrated. Riley still sells kits for those projects on his Web site and commands a loyal following. His customers post descriptions of how they put together their head-turning cars, complete with photos.
"There is nothing like building something that no one else has," said Riley, who makes his living designing products for companies in recreational vehicle, health and fitness and other consumer businesses. "Nobody builds things exactly as shown in the plans. They put their own personal touches [on the vehicles]."
Riley said he spent two years designing the XR3, a street-legal, highway-speed vehicle that's classified as a motorcycle. In that time, he said he received more than 2,500 pre-orders for the construction kit. He completed the design and the kit about two months ago and said he has filled all the back orders.
The plans for the XR3 come with three different engine options: diesel, electric or a plug-in hybrid using both. The diesel model is designed to get 125 miles per gallon, while the all-electric version can travel 100 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack.
The plug-in hybrid model can run 40 to 50 miles from the battery pack before the diesel engine kicks in. Overall, the hybrid fetches up to 225 miles per gallon. It also can reach speeds of up to 80 mph.
While the plans might come fairly cheap, building the cars won't be. Putting together a plug-in hybrid with a lithium-ion battery pack could set you back $25,000, Riley estimated, with the battery pack alone costing $9,000. You could use a lead-acid battery instead, which would cost only $1,500, but you wouldn't get nearly as much mileage out of it.
The all-electric model requires additional lithium-ion batteries, adding to the cost. Assembling a diesel model, on the other hand, would cost less than $10,000, Riley said.
For the handy, assembling a car would take about 500 hours, Riley said.
You do need some know-how. But Riley is reassuring.
"You don't need to be a brain surgeon," he said.
Don't have the time or the drive to build your own electric car? No problem.
Other companies also are taking orders for already-assembled versions. Carlsbad, Calif.-based Aptera Motors, for one, is selling a futuristic, all-electric three-wheeler called Typ-1 for $27,000 (see Aptera Scores $24M to Produce Electric Ride).
For $5,000, you can reserve a place in line to dole out $100,000 for Tesla Motors' four-wheeled all-electric Roadster sports car (see "Tesla Begins ‘Regular Production' of Roadsters"). California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got one.
And Riley's XR3 may not remain a hobbyist project either. He said he plans to travel to China to meet with a carmaker and discuss manufacturing the XR3 there.