Electric Cars Soon for Mases

By Izwan Ismail

RISING oil prices and advances in battery technology are refuelling interest in electric cars. Izwan Ismail recently buckled up Detroit Electric’s electric car technology at Proton’s Test Circuit in Shah Alam.

Just imagine: Before going to sleep, you plug in a charger into your car. The next morning, the car’s all charged up and ready for your drive to work.

Too far-fetched a thought? Well, Dutch car manufacturer Detroit Electric is working towards making fully electric-powered cars affordable for the masses.

According to company chairman and chief executive officer Albert Lam, Detroit Electric has been developing electric car technology over the past two-and-a-half years and now has a durable electric drive system ready for affordable electric cars.

“We are in preliminary talks with Proton on the possibility of licensing its vehicle platforms such as the Persona, Savvy and Lotus for the production of the electric alternative.”

As part of the Government’s initiative to tackle rising fuel prices and source for alternative “green” transportation modes, Proton has been tasked to test and validate Detroit Electric’s technology and to explore collaborative development possibilities for a range of pure electric cars.

Besides Proton, Detroit Electric is in talks with a car manufacturer in Europe and another in the United States for a similar initiative.

According to Lam, US$5 million (RM17 million) has been spent on research and development at its facility in the Netherlands, and there is a possibility of setting up a US$10 million battery facility in Malaysia.

Over the next five years, Detroit Electric expects to invest some US$300 million for the mass production of electric cars.

Good progress

Although electric technology for vehicles has been around for many years, not many such models made it into full production. Detroit Electric has made big strides so far, for example, developing an electric motor that is four times lighter and battery performance that can last up to five years.

To date, the company has integrated its electric drive system into three Lotus Elises, two Proton passenger cars (the Persona and Savvy), a Daihatsu-Cuore and a Volkswagen Golf, all with the aim of developing pure electric cars for volume production in the next 18 months.

The Detroit Electric car is powered by lithium-ion dry battery and has a range of up to 300 kilometres once fully charged. Depending on the power of the battery, which ranges from 50 kilowatts to 150kW, the electric drive system can accelerate the car up to 220km per hour.

The charging process, which takes about eight hours, can be done through the conventional electric outlet. There is also a fast charging format that allows the car to be charged for just 30 minutes with 80 per cent power rate.

Driving an electric car is similar to the conventional petrol or diesel car, except that you will not hear any engine sound since the engine has been replaced with an electric motor.

The Detroit Electric car will be priced at about RM80,000 for a model the size of the Persona. This may be slightly more expensive than the conventional car, but since the electric car does not consume fuel, savings over the long term is significant, Lam pointed out.

In terms of cost savings, the electric drive system is capable of powering a sedan at just 3.5 sen per km, compared to 35 sen per km for a petrolpowered equivalent – that’s 10 times cost savings, and it includes the cost of charging the battery at current electricity tariffs.

Detroit Electric is looking at producing electric vehicles in three categories: sports car, sub-compact and mediumsized sedan.

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