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Power Toys Technology

Small Electric Car May Usher In Big Changes 575

An anonymous reader sends us to a profile in on a Norwegian car company that is building a compact, plug-in electric car, the Think City, that will go on sale in Europe early next year. It could hit US markets in 2009. The CEO is working with Silicon Valley VCs and with Google, Tesla Motors, PG&E, and Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway. Plans are to sell the car only on the Web. No dealers, cheap manufacturing plants, and a battery pack that you lease, not buy — there's potential here for shaking up the auto industry the way Dell did PCs.
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Small Electric Car May Usher In Big Changes

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  • Get real (Score:2, Interesting)

    by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:23AM (#20054655)
    $15,000 *without* the battery?! A $100 - $200 monthly fee?!


    That's a good joke, they should take this act to Vegas.
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:24AM (#20054667)
    People need automotive transportation. There are plenty of good economic reasons for a car like this, especially these days, and once someone Does It Right(TM) they'll be raking in the cash.

    They don't need rolling gyroscope toys. There are few good economic applications of Segway; it's niche and its hype was, well, hype.
  • Carbon Free? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JuanCarlosII ( 1086993 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:25AM (#20054669)

    ..carbon-free electric driving machine
    I appreciate that looking forward a larger proportion of our electricity will come from sustainable and green sources, but given the current situation I can;t see how they can claim an electric car to be 'carbon free'. Admittedly the car itself emits very little carbon, but this just means that the carbon emissions are being diverted to the power generation (unless of course, the electricity is being generated using a perpetual motion machine []). Also:

    He points to the black steel chassis of a City standing on a nearby pallet; it's shipped preassembled from Thailand. At one station, workers attach the car's aluminum frame -- made in Denmark -- and drop in a French motor. At another station, prefabricated rust-and dent-resistant polymer-plastic body panels produced in Turkey are hung on the frame of a nearly completed car.
    I'm not sure how shipping in different parts from all corners of the world necessarily helps the 'carbon-free' thing either. Basically, my thinking is that until electricity supplies are all (or at least mostly) from renewable and sustainable sources then a small electric car is no more or less environmentally friendly than say a small diesel car.
  • Re:"Not a car" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rvw ( 755107 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:29AM (#20054687)

    In europe these vehicles are not classified as cars and as such do not have to subject themselves to the Euro NCAP.

    Recently Top Gear magazine paid for one of these to be subject to the most basic testing - the results were pretty horrific.

    If so, they are not allowed to go faster than 40 KM/H. That's the same speed as a moped or scooter may do. I prefer to be in one of those stupid electric vehicles than on a moped when in an accident. Furthermore, if this would really become big, security will improve fast, and city traffic speed will become slower.
  • This is car enough (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zeromorph ( 1009305 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:30AM (#20054703)

    I think it's a good idea with a lot of potential here in Europe, maybe not in the US.

    For me it's definitely enough car. For most people it would make a great second car.

    From their homepage: []
    Range: 180km
    Speed: max. 100km/h

    A max. speed of 120km/h would be nicer, but range and speed are sufficient for all of the routes on which I prefer car over train.

  • by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:42AM (#20054747) Homepage Journal
    If I hadn't already posted in the thread, I'd mod you informative.

    There are already plenty of electric cars, but most don't go past 120 miles, and neither does this one. I have a small car with a small gas tank, and I have to refuel every 250 miles and I find it a hassle. Some electric cars can only go 70-80 miles before a recharge, and when you factor in having to drive home, that means driving 40 miles out and 40 miles home.

    In a city like LA where people often live pretty far out from where they work, it just isn't feasible. Even a max of 112 miles (180km) is stretching it. A car isn't very useful to me if I can't really drive it much.
  • Stirling Engine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @05:44AM (#20054749) Homepage Journal
    If I were to design a car these days, I would do as these guys did and use an electric motor for propulsion, and a Stirling engine for power generation. For those not in the know, Stirling engines [] are engines that run on heat. They can be powered by pretty much anything that generates enough heat, including but not limited to fossil fuels. Compared to conventional combustion engines, they Stirling engines are more efficient, but they take a lot of time to increase or decrease speed. That is a problem when using them for driving the wheels, but not when generating elcetricity.

    Thanks to AKAImBatman for pointing me at Stirling engines; I first read about them on his blog.
  • by ScorpFromHell ( 837952 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:03AM (#20054843) Homepage
    did we ever discuss about the Indian electric car company Reva [] any time in the past? Their latest variant, Reva i [], released this month costs around USD 9K (at exchange rate of INR 40 per USD).

    Sure, it can only do a top speed of around 50MPH with a range of 60 Miles per charge, but I guess that's enough for city driving? I don't know, but is USD 9K too much for a small electric car that can carry two adults & two children in your place? In India, it is a viable option as a second car, for the growing numbers of nouveau rich at least.
  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:09AM (#20054883) Homepage Journal
    For those of you who are about to RTFA: be warned, it contains businessspeak.

    I have no idea what they mean by describing the car as "open-source". Also, they can't seem to decide whether it's a car, a glorified terminal, a power generator, or an iPod.

    I also get the eerie impression that it is vaporware. Golden mountains are being promised, but will they be delivered? With so many rich people being enthusiastic about it, there is just a chance, but still, I don't want to get my hopes squashed again.

    All in all, it looks very cool. I want one.
  • by Corporate Troll ( 537873 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:17AM (#20054925) Homepage Journal

    Well, if it's payable.... Meaning much less than for example a Smart car, I'm all for it. When I was young and crazy, I bought an small roadster, which really is a gas guzzler at 10l/100km (~23.5mpg according to Google) and I still have it to this day. Selling it won't bring me enough money to buy an eco-friendly car and I don't want to invest in a new car. I mean if I have to add another 15k€ on the selling price, it'll take years before the savings start to kick in. It's stupid to replace a perfectly fine, but old car.

    That said, I only work 10km from home and during peak traffic I need about 30 minutes to get there. Taking public transportation, I'm in for 45min at least. Taking the bike is 35min, but I'm all sweaty and we don't have showers at work. Sure, a towel some soap, a fresh t-shirt can do wonders, but it is sub-optimal.

    A car like this would probably save me time and be environmentally friendly. I could keep the small roadster if I need to go somewhere further and faster...

    Also, it's small, and while parking space is not an issue where I work, it's pretty much a big issue in the rest of the country. So, if it's in the 5k€ range (about the price of a small motorcycle), why not?

  • by ptbarnett ( 159784 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:28AM (#20054965)
    Selling via the web may sound cool, but at least one state (Texas) requires that a retail automobile purchase be conducted through a brick-and-mortar dealer.
  • Re:Refill? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @06:48AM (#20055071) Homepage Journal
    Assuming that there is an outlet where ever I have to park, which simply isn't the case. And how long does it take to recharge?

    Do you think cities are going to put outputs in front of every parking spot in a city? Who is going to pay to install them? Who is paying for electricity used to recharge the cars?

    Frankly, a plug-in car can really only be charged at your house. And until they can go 200 miles (100 mile each way) before a recharge, I don't believe they are feasible.
  • Re:Refill? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by phozz bare ( 720522 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:06AM (#20055177)

    Do you think cities are going to put outputs in front of every parking spot in a city? Who is going to pay to install them? Who is paying for electricity used to recharge the cars?
    You don't have parking meters where you live, do you? You'd have the same thing, but with an electrical outlet. You will pay for the electricity. The city will make money off it, paying for the initial setup.
  • by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:06AM (#20055179) Homepage
    What I'd like to see is the Goverment doing something useful for a change (in the UK at least) and allow companies to charge their employees electric vehicles for free (ie a tax free perk) - sort of an green update on the old company car scheme.

    So, drive 40 or 50 miles to work and plug the sucker in. It charges all day and you drive it home. A small overnight boost will get you back to work again!

    Doing something like this would be a useful kick-start to the technology, and once it becomes more commonplace it should also get cheaper and drive the technology forward!

  • Re:Stirling Engine (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:13AM (#20055229)
    I'm pretty sure it could run on flour for example, or haven't you ever heard of flour silo explosions?

    Now that would be cool. The catalytic converter could be turned into a bread maker, so you have fresh bread when you get where you're going. "I get 1.25 loaves/100km" you would tell people.

    More seriously though, i'm not sure that flour would provide adequate lubrication, and the 'fuel' delivery system would be a nightmare to design, as would the exhaust.
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:39AM (#20055385) Journal
    "Get the price point down below $5k, include the battery -- keep battery replacement costs below $1000"

    They've done that. Their called Gold Carts.
    Interestingly, my home town has golf cart paths all through it, so you can take them anywhere. It was pretty cool. I drove ours to high school for a bit. article on google about it [].
  • i'm all for it! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dirgotronix ( 576521 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:49AM (#20055441) Homepage
    i'm a cab driver. i drive 300-500 miles a day.

    the taxi company buys old police cars, gigantic, gas-guzzling V8's, because they're easy to get parts for and easy to fix. the drivers are the ones paying the $500/week to keep them moving, so they don't care.

    i think this car is a great idea. increase the range, up the max speed to 75, and make it large enough to seat four people, and it'll be the next big thing.

    as far as speed is concerned, i drive all night long. there's no reason for the max speed of a commuter car to be higher than 75. driving faster is your own impatience. if you stop and realize that you're not the most important person on the road, you'll stop wanting to burn gas going so quick.

    the shared power grid features of the car are the amazing part. not only is it a mode of transport, it's a mobile capacitor to help the city's power demands. that is truly thinking different. i can't wait to see this concept go worldwide.

    i'm all for it.
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @07:51AM (#20055455) Homepage Journal
    and their bottom mileage figures are going to be closing in on 20mpg... at that point many who thought of switching when gas gets over $3 are simply going to get a hybrid tech'd SUV.

    Combine this with the fact that many new technologies being developed to create hyper efficient small cars can also easily be adapted for big vehicles and pretty soon you'll be back to where you started.

    In fact, its far easier to make the big SUV and trucks this way. They have more slack in their price than small cars meaning some of the new tech's cost can be absorbed and the final price more tolerable for consumers.

    In other words, the world of big SUVs isn't going anywhere, its going to transform into more fuel efficient forms because it has to. People want big vehicles and all this gee-whiz fuel tech works just fine in that size too. Hell, a series hybrid would be very easy to do in the space afforded by most SUVs. They even have loads of space for batteries under the chassis.

    Go check out the spec's on the new hybrid-Tahoes coming out. Then think down the road how new technologies will further increase their efficiency which at the same times decreases the desire to be rid of them
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:16AM (#20055671) Homepage Journal
    They are pretty common on Catalina Island, too. You wont see them wizzing down Studio City or Long Beach. any time soon, though. Not 'street legal'.

    The option is neat when it's available -- but it's not.

    This [] is a good option, though -- which I've considered. Still too pricy for the options I want, but it's getting closer.
  • Re:"Not a car" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Calinous ( 985536 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:18AM (#20055683)
    If you have a 4 tons Hummer and a 1 ton car. Each runs at 30 mph.
          After collision, you will have a (Hummer+car) construction, going 18 mph in the direction the Hummer went (assuming the cars lock in accident, and won't jump back).
          So, the Hummer just hit a wall at 12 mph, while the other car hit the same wall at 48 mph.

          Better to be in the Hummer
  • Damned Right! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:27AM (#20055777) Journal
    Why does every damned economical car have to _look_ like an economy car? Why not put an all-electric concept into a Miata, MR2, RX-8, S2000, or other coupe (or coupe+)? Give me a damned spyder hard-top. I would really like an electric car. I drive a 5.4L V8 F150 for work - and I need it for some of the construction sites I'm on - but it gets absolutely horrible mileage, about 14mpg. I commute about 1 mile to work (yes, I do bike from time to time, and walk occasionally, too) and many of my in-town meetings could easily be done from a little 2 seater. I could probably put about 1/2 the mileage on my truck if I had something smaller. I'm no fashion diva (see F150, above), but there is no way I'm going to be seen in some fugly eco-box. If you're going to make me feel cool by driving a green car, at least keep me from being taken for a dork by driving something that looks like it came out of the back end of a chicken.
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reddburn ( 1109121 ) <redburn1@ g m a> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:29AM (#20055797)
    The hype sounds similar to the last time an electric car went on the market. If you remember, the conditions of driving one were the same, as well: you couldn't "own" the car, you had to lease it. Yes, you can own the car this time, but without the battery, it's pretty damn useless, no?
  • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @08:58AM (#20056069)
    You don't mean, I think, the kind of Diesel-electric common in ships and trains. It's very inefficient - you generate power with the engine and then use it in the motors, so you have extra energy losses. It is more efficient than the old hydraulic auto boxes, and allows you to have a large gear ratio without mechanical complexity and fragility, e.g. in a ship you can step down electrically by 30 to 1 in one stage. It isn't that it doesn't scale, it's that its benefits outweigh the costs only when you have systems with difficult gear ratios and layouts.

    I think you mean the Diesel-electric hybrid. In this there is only one combined motor generator. The engine can charge a battery while moving, and the battery can move the vehicle slowly in town and restart the engine almost instantly when needed, just as in a gasoline hybrid. The truth is that gasoline hybrids have been mainly cosmetic environmentalism with poor payback of the initial excess energy investment in the batteries and electric motors. Diesel hybrids could do better, especially since it's easy to design a Diesel engine for a 6000h-plus life and thus achieve much better dust to dust costs. (300000 mile service life versus maybe 120000 for a Prius.)

  • Re:Nuclear + Wind (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Yfrwlf ( 998822 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:16AM (#20056271)
    Getting your electricity from a carbon-free source is no where near as important as getting rid of your gas motor or moving to a motor that consumes less gas at least. Combustion engines are insanely less efficient than having the electricity produced at a coal plant. A combustion engine produces lots of heat that is (usually) all wasted.
  • Re:Big Changes, huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jhon ( 241832 ) * on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @09:48AM (#20056683) Homepage Journal
    I've been tempted by GEM [] in the past. If they can get that sucker down in price for a 4-seater with hard-doors and a better top speed (say, around $6k), I'd jump on it in a second.

    I really don't NEED 100+ mile range. I'd be happy with the 30 mile range of the GEMs for all my local stuff.
  • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @10:05AM (#20056901)
    Diesel is going to make a bigger impact that hybrids in the coming years.

    They already have, in Europe. Diesels account for 50% of car sales in some countries. But diesel isn't without its problems. Governments worry about particulate emissions (and are considering road tax increases to dissuade people from buying diesels).

    There's nothing to prevent hybrid systems where the ICE component is a diesel. There isn't one available now, because the European car makers were concentrating on diesels instead (and on catching up with the Japanese in manufacturing efficiency and reliability). They were caught off guard on the whole hybrid idea.

    A hybrid drivetrain can be more efficient than is possible with an ICE (petrol or diesel) only.

    The next trend that's going to have a big impact is smaller, more efficient petrol engines. We're seeing the first cars come out now where a 2-litre engine has been replaced by a 1.4 with a turbocharger, with the same max. power output while using less fuel and better emissions figures.
  • by rAiNsT0rm ( 877553 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @10:14AM (#20057025) Homepage
    I sold my turbo'd Focus for a 2006 Scion xA in 2005 just to realize some savings in fuel costs, then when things went even higher I was feeling pretty good about the little bugger. I thought I'd miss a lot from the performance/power side of things but honestly it's grown on me. I don't think I could go back to less than 35MPG, and it has become a past time to see how much I can get (44MPG is my best so far). I get the same or better mileage as a Prius, paid ~$8,000 less than a Prius, and have no battery or complexities to worry about.

    Now for this plug in vehicle. I am a strong believer that any company who can bring back the $10k new car will clean up. My father works for GM and I know it can be done, but has been squashed just about every step of the way. If this vehicle could get to $10k (even 11k) and include the battery fee for the first year, then I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

    I have a odd car dealer by my house that sells replica's and oddballs of all sorts (Once I almost bought a Delorean there) and they have been selling the Mercedes smart cars. People are flying in from all over the country daily for them and the waiting list is up to 18 months right now. The price? $60,000. Honestly, people are dying to drop 60 g's for a tiny smart car like this one... the market is there at any price, but for mass adoption and disruption of the market $10k would be it.
  • by circusboy ( 580130 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @12:39PM (#20059199)
    personally I bike everywhere now, but most people that I know who commute with a car fill the tank once or twice a week.

    at current prices, even for a small car, that's $35-$40 a tank. generously, that's $140 a month for gas.

    $100 monthly fee for a battery? sign me up! there's flexcar or rentals for long hauls.

    twice in the last 6 years I've had commutes of between 40 and 60 miles, which was costing me upwards of $80 a week, and that was at lower prices. this is well within the range of one of these cars.
  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @01:17PM (#20059773) Journal
    Well actually they are more common than you'd expect, I was reading in Popular Mechanics that people are going to Lowes and Home Depot and buying Li-ion batteries for rechargable tools in $5-10K batches to convert their Hybrids to plugins now. Ok I know your thinking these people are whacko fringe cases and your right, but eventually the fringes become mainstream.
  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Tuesday July 31, 2007 @01:35PM (#20060071)
    The price issue is not a scientific problem, it's not an engineering problem. . . It's a manufacturing problem. I like to compare with LCD panels. Color LCD panels are some of the most difficult items to manufacture that have ever been invented, and I'm sure you'll recall how expensive they were at first. Companies like Samsung and Matsushita saw the demand, invested huge sums of money to build large, sophisticated, automated factories, worked hard at refining the production process, and now LCDs are almost given away in boxes of cereal. The price reduction has been about 90%.

    The same thing can and should happen with lithium-ion batteries. They are made out of common elements, mostly lithium and carbon. (That's unlike hydrogen fuel cells, for example, which require a platinum catalyst.) It's just a question of investing the capital in large-scale production and refining the process.

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