As researchers, government agencies and financiers discuss how to bring electric vehicles to the masses at the International Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition in Anaheim, Calif., this week, companies are dishing up their latest electric announcements.
The UK's Smith Electric Vehicles said it would open a commercial-vehicle manufacturing plant in the United States, while Ford delivered its first Escape plug-in hybrid for testing and Ener1 said it's boosting a Prius with its lithium-ion battery pack.
Smith Electric Vehicles, which makes electric vans and trucks, said Tuesday its new U.S. factory will have the capacity to produce up to 10,000 vehicles per year starting in 2010.
The company is undecided on a site location for the new factory, but said executives are in talks with various local governments.
Smith already has a facility in Fresno, Calif., which it said would produce up to 1,000 vehicles next year, and a facility in the UK that is expected to make up to 1,500 vehicles next year.
The company also said it is looking for a site for a larger UK facility, where it hopes to be able to make up to 5,000 cars per year.
While some analysts expect it will take years for electric passenger cars to become mainstream, Smith says the market for larger electric commercial vehicles already has arrived.
The company said many commercial vehicles that work in urban areas also tend to drive within defined mileage zones or routes that can be completed within a day's charge.
Ford Plugs In
Ford Motor (NYSE: F) said its demonstration Escape plug-in hybrid is ready to hit California roads. On Monday, the auto giant delivered the first of 20 research Escape vehicles to Southern California Edison to begin testing.
The company isn't the first to test plug-in hybrids. Earlier this month, Toyota Motor delivered prototypes to the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Irvine for testing.
Ford's SUV is equipped with lithium-ion batteries and a plug, and can deliver up to 120 miles per gallon -- for the first 30 miles -- by replacing some gasoline with electricity.
The vehicle, which plugs into standard electrical outlets, takes six to eight hours to charge up.
The delivery comes five months after Ford and Southern California Edison entered into a collaborative agreement to commercialize plug-ins.
Ford and SCE plan to test the durability, reliability and safety of the new battery technology.
But the cost of advanced lithium-ion batteries is another barrier slowing the widespread adoption of the vehicles, Ford said.
Lithium-ion batteries, often found in consumer electronics such as cell phones, have caught the interest of the electric-vehicle community because they are potentially more powerful, for their size, than other car batteries. But they are expensive and also have the problem of "thermal runaway" -- overheating and even catching fire.
But nonetheless, many industry watchers say batteries are key to getting better mileage out of hybrids and better range out of all-electric vehicles. The topic is expected to be a major theme at the International Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition this week (see Batteries Key to Plugging in at Electric Vehicle Symposium).
Compact Power Gets GM's Attention
Unlike regular hybrids, which switch between an electric motor and a gasoline engine, the Volt is propelled by the electric motor alone. The gasoline engine recharges the battery, but never actually drives the car.
The news marks the start of a 12-month development program for Compact Power, in which the company will develop, test and finally integrate a battery system into the car's propulsion system.
But Compact Power isn't the only one working on a battery system for the Volt. In August, General Motors picked A123Systems as one of three companies to work on the project (see What's Next for A123?).
And in the exhibit hall of the International Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition, A123 showed off the technology it's been working on so far.
Ener1 Drops Its Batteries Into Prius Hybrid
Battery developer Ener1 this week claimed to be the first to integrate a lithium-ion battery into an operating hybrid electric vehicle.
Ener1, which trades on the bulletin board under ENEI, said it dropped its high- powered lithium-ion battery pack into a modified Prius, producing twice the energy as existing nickel metal hydride batteries.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company has the car on display at the International Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition.
But Ener1's technology is not in the clear. Part of its marketability will no doubt be tied to the results of third-party testing of the battery’s Prius performance, which are expected to be published early next year.
Ener1 isn't the only one working to bring lithium-ion batteries to the hybrid vehicle market.
Valence Technology and ExxonMobil also made lithium-ion announcements earlier in the show.