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I live near Skyline Blvd in Woodside California, just 20 minutes from Silicon Valley proper. Skyline Blvd is a renowned mountain-ridge road that attracts motorcyclists, cyclists and Tesla test-drives. The neighborhood is woodsy, foggy and remote-feeling, despite it’s proximity to the center of the world’s entrepreneurial capital.
Tesla gives its long waiting list’s members test rides up here, and I’ve witnessed a few. It’s a disconcerting pleasure to see these cars’ lightning acceleration unaccompanied by the usual ICE cacophony.
The people doing these test drives, if I may be lookist and judgmental here, are more software engineer/geek millionaire than movie star. But that makes sense because these are the people on Sand Hill Road now driving Maseratis, Ferraris and Aston Martins from stoplight to stoplight at 8 mpg.
Tesla deserves credit for capturing the public’s imagination and making electric vehicles cool again. The company deserves credit for sheer audacity in taking on the challenge of building a car company from scratch. And Tesla deserves credit for executing and getting at least a few of its sports cars out the door and into the hands of paying customers, or at least into the hands of boardmembers and royalty.
Perhaps Tesla will succeed in ramping-up and using its hard-won knowledge to scale and build its sports car and new sedan in high volume. And I wish the company luck in its future fund raising, be it another venture round or an IPO, despite predictions of disaster.
But here’s the problem (one of them, at least): trying to shoehorn the EV concept into a conventional ICE chassis and transmission is difficult and inefficient. “The current ICE architecture is low efficiency, less than 20 percent,” says Lawrence Liang, CEO of EV Innotech, one of many EV start-ups, adding, “Get rid of the conventional drivetrain and put the motors in the wheels.”
The CEO of another EV company, now in stealth and asking not to be named believes: “You have to rethink every aspect of a next-gen vehicle, from drivetrain to weight ratio, from body materials to bumpers."
Tesla is just one of many new car companies going after the “green” car market and the following is a very partial list of those entrants. The list includes all-electric vehicles as well as hybrid architectures. Many of these firms are taking orders and some are delivering in small volumes. A few are in real mass production.
American Electric Vehicle: An “NV” or neighborhood vehicle, its Website suggests you unplug your toaster and plug in the Kurrent, which is appropriate as the car accelerates like and resembles a toaster.
Aptera: Backed by Idealab, et al., this futuristic three-wheeled motorcycle/car will be offered in an all-electric or hybrid configuration.
Commuter Cars: Angel and Sergey Brin-funded Commuter Cars produces the Tango, an expensive, all-electric two-seater vehicle, which is half the width of a regular car. Production vehicles aren’t available, but you can place a deposit in escrow.
Eliica: An all-electric concept car from Keio University in Tokyo. The Eliica is powered by lithium-ion batteries and resembles an eight-wheeled Citroen – but not in a good way.
Fisker Automotive: This high-end vehicle uses a small gasoline engine to turn a generator, which charges the lithium-ion battery pack, which powers the electric motor in the rear wheels. Fisker has received VC funding from KPCB (see A New Plug-in Hybrid Startup Amid Hybrid Wars).
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Global Electric Motorcars (GEM): GEM is a division of Chrysler that offers low-cost electric vehicles in the NEV or LSV class. The vehicles are available now with a mandated top speed of 25 mph and a range of 30 miles.
Lightning Car Company: Another (in this case, stunning) boutique supercar. This vehicle is U.K.-based in the grand tradition of British automotive reliability. Lighting Car Company’s auto is an all-electric beauty powered by Altairnano’s nano titanate-based batteries.
Miles Electric Vehicles: Miles builds low-speed, all-electric vehicles. Its prototype sedan will reach 80 mph and travel over 120 miles on a single charge.
Modec: The U.K.-based Modec offers plug-in all-electric vans and chassis for commercial use. Modec sells the vans and leases the batteries. It has a 60 to 100 mile range depending on battery type and a top speed of 50 mph.
Myers Motors: Myers’ lithium-battery powered, highway-speed capable, single passenger, all-electric vehicles are available in 14 vertigo-inducing colors. The cars have three wheels, an amusing shape and a range of about 45 miles.
Obvio: Avalable in flex-fuel or plug in versions, this car has three things going for it – it’s fluorescent green, it’s Brazilian and the firm is working with Zap (see below).
Phoenix Motorcars: Phoenix is unique in going after the SUV/SUT market with zero-emission, freeway-speed, all-electric vehicles for commercial fleet and consumer use. Lithium titanate battery-based, their extended-range battery has a range of 250 miles.
Reva: India-based Reva builds an all-electric city car and may be the world’s most-produced electric vehicle, and it has been in production since 2001. The U.K. DOT had “serious safety concerns” in 40 mph crash tests. Top speed is 43 mph with a range of 50 miles.
Tesla Motors: Tesla’s all-electric Roadster has massive VC backing, boasts more than 200 miles per charge and furious acceleration courtesy of 6000+ lithium-ion batteries. The firm is funded by Bay Area Equity Fund, Compass Venture Partners, DFJ, Technology Partners, VantagePoint, Elon Musk, et al.
Think: An ongoing Norway-based concern rejuvenated with funding from Element Partners, British Hazel Capital, Canica, Capricorn, CG Holding, RockPort Capital, et al. Think North America is in partnership with KPCB and Rockport. Think’s “city” car uses a leased-battery business model and is available with sodium batteries or lithium-ion batteries from A123 or Enerdel.
Velozzi: An AC engine lithium-ion hybrid electric super car.
Venture Vehicles: Funded by VC firm, NGEN Partners, this three-wheeled “motorcycle with cupholders” tilts aggressively into turns via a hydraulic system designed by Carver Engineering. It has a 20 to 40 mile range plus a supplemental fuel tank.
Venturi: Venturi Automobiles – the world’s only Monegasque car company – builds a high-end electric super car in the great tradition of French car manufacturers. With a 150 mile range, a top speed of 100 mph, and a cost of $450,000, the solution to our energy problem has arrived.
Zap! Electric Cars: Zap claims to have delivered more than 100,000 EVs. The company builds and distributes electric cars, scooters, bikes, ATVs and rechargers.
Zenn Motors: The all-electric Zenn NEV has a range of 35 miles and the NEV-mandated top speed of 25mph. Zenn Motors is publicly traded on the TSX. Zenn has released plans to incorporate the super-secret EEStor ultracapacitor technology into its vehicles in 2009. Zenn is also an investor in EEStor. However EEStor pans out, this should be interesting.