Plenty of people think Electric Vehicles, EVs, for short, are the Next Big Thing. To celebrate this, we got together the Toyota RAV4 EV, Tesla Roadster, AC Propulsion eBox, Mitsubishi i MiEV, Dodge EV, Mini E and Wrightspeed X1. Among them, one is an old friend, two are already on sale, one is almost on lease and one will be sold soon in Japan. To identify which is which, read on.
This swoopy sports car posts a 0-60 time of 4.0 sec and a quarter mile of 12.7 sec at 105.3 mph. With its 950 lb. of lithium-ion batteries, it handles like a well-ballasted Lotus Elise. No surprise — and no mere hype: The Tesla Roadster is the Porsche 911 of EVs. Its cockpit's roominess profits from the slenderness of its center console. Its dashboard contains EV wizardry such as a Vehicle Display System featuring five operational modes: Maximum Performance, Maximum Range, Standard, Storage and Valet (this last one, with limited performance and range, has also been tagged "Teenage Son Mode"). Guess which setting we'd choose?
Toyota RAV4 EV
The Toyota RAV4 EV is the Grande Dame of electrics. Since 1998, she's accumulated hundreds of thousands of miles in specialized fleets. Back in 2002 - 2003, the EV was also sold to the public for $42,000. (An incredible bargain, as each cost the company around $100,000 to produce.) A good number of RAV4 EVs are still on the road. One recently sold on eBay for $71,000. The city of Portland, Oregon, is getting four refurbished ones from Toyota for its commuter shuttle program. Though hardly high-performance (0-60 mph in 16.1 seconds; a range of around 90 miles), this Grande Dame continues to delight.
AC Propulsion eBox
Start with a Scion xB, have the wizards of AC Propulsion work their wonders, and the result is an eBox. This tidy but trendy city hauler zips to 60 in 7.0 sec, yet loses none of its boxy practicality. Inside, there's a full array of EV-specific instrumentation and controls. Gauges monitor everything from battery state of charge to your own efficiency of driving. A control lever lets you set the degree of regenerative braking. Set at Min, the car brakes and coasts like a conventional one; set it at Max, and you can have one-pedal driving: Lift off the accelerator, and you get braking — plus a return of energy into the car's battery pack.
Mitsubishi i MiEV
The i MiEV is an electrified version of Mitsubishi's Japanese home-market Kei car, a special mini breed that's ideal for Tokyo adventuring. And guess what: This one can also carry four adults (albeit the two in the back better not be whiny types). Its state-of-the-art electric propulsion features an ECO setting that extends range by 10 percent (to a bit more than 100 miles). Mitsubishi is offering the car to Japanese government agencies, company fleets and eco-minded private customers at a cost of around $30,000. This is steep for a Kei car, but remember that batteries typically make up half of the EV cost. (There's no free ride, even if it's electric.)
Chrysler Corp. has ambitious plans for EV and hybrid vehicles: a minivan, a Jeep and this exciting sports car, the Dodge EV. Like the Tesla, the Dodge EV is based on a Lotus sports car chassis. However, it's powered by its own proprietary EV hardware. Key to it is a DC motor design (unlike others in our celebration, all AC motors). Dodge specialists note that, once optimized, this DC motor can be extended or shortened to accommodate different car lines. Similarly, developments of its power electronics and lithium-polymer battery are directed toward a portfolio of vehicles, not just a specific one. Upgrades in styling since our celebration have brought the Dodge EV more closely into the Ram lineup. And we hope its production plans firm up as well.
Take a Mini, swap its rear seat area for 5088 lithium-ion cells, and you have a city EV dream. What's more, if you're one of a few selected on either coast, an $850/month lease could make this dream a reality. Like the AC Propulsion eBox (which shares a lot of its EV technology), the Mini E makes excellent use of its regenerative hardware. It has not only regen braking, but regen coasting as well. In fact, for a lot of driving the Mini E is a one-pedal car. Think of that pedal on the right as not only an accelerator but a decelerator as well. It's a Brave New Electric World.
Ian Wright's X1 isn't for sale; it's a rolling test lab of his battery-integration technology. But does it ever roll quick! Its 0-60 time of 2.9 sec puts it in the same category as the Bugatti Veyron (and Benetton B186 Formula 1 car), the quickest things we've ever tested. The Wrightspeed is an electrified Ariel Atom (think Lotus Seven with the unnecessary bits left off). Its motor is an AC Propulsion unit, air cooled, like its battery, power electronics and, come to think of it, driver as well. The giant smile on the driver's face is standard equipment.