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Electric, Plug-In Hybrids Ready to Hit the Streets

Posted on September 9, 2009
Filed Under Electric Vehicles, PHEV | 1 Comment

telsa roadsterElectric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are two technologies that automakers are trying to develop for mainstream use, but two upstart California companies are leading the alternative vehicle world. Tesla Motors already sells the only electric vehicle legal for highway use, while Fisker Automotive stands to be the first to bring a plug-in hybrid to market.

The Fisker Karma is a stylish sedan with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Also known as a series hybrid, it differs from the hybrids on the roads today in that the gasoline engine acts as a generator only. It has no mechanical connection to drive the wheels. The Karma will drive the first 50 miles on electric power only, after which the gasoline engine will start up as needed to make electricity.

The Karma captures energy used to slow the car down via regenerative braking. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same idea as the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, the Karma will use some General Motors parts, including the four-cylinder engine to supplement the hybrid electric drive provided by partner Quantum Technologies. The vehicles will be assembled in Finland by Valmet Automotive, builders of the Porsche Boxster

Designer and Chief Executive Officer Henrik Fisker styled cars for BMW and Aston Martin. Fisker showed the production version of the Karma at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in January, along with a concept version of a hardtop convertible. The Karma sedan made its first public “driving debut” earlier this month at the Laguna Seca Raceway.

Orders are being taken for both models, with deliveries of the Karma sedan scheduled to start in 2010. Prices start at $87,900. Fisker Automotive has chosen the Patrick and Fields dealer groups to market the Karma in the Chicago area. For now Fisker has decided to work with established dealers with experience in selling luxury brands rather than building new dealerships. They are also not requiring their dealers to stock vehicles beyond demo and display units.

The Tesla Roadster is a two-seat electric car with a stated range of 244 miles and 0-to-60 acceleration of 3.9 seconds. Lotus builds the chassis in England and assembles the bodies. It has a family resemblance to the Lotus Elise, though it actually shares very few parts. The electric motor, controller and lithium ion battery pack are installed at Tesla’s headquarters in San Carlos, Calif. The Roadster base price is $109,000 and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Tesla also offers an even faster, more performance-oriented Roadster Sport.

Tesla Motors has already delivered more than 500 Roadsters. “We are opening our first stores based on the number of current customers we have in each market. We already have several dozen Roadsters on the roads in Chicago and the Chicagoland region,” said Rachel Konrad, Tesla spokesperson.

Tesla is opening a stand-alone store at 1053 W. Grand Ave. in Chicago, with a VIP customer reception on Sept. 10 followed by a public open house the next two days. Tesla wants its locations, which are all company owned, to be more like Apple stores or Starbuck’s than a traditional car dealership.

The master plan is to launch a new car, built in California, in 2012.

“In addition to having numerous customers in the area for the Roadster, we anticipate that the region will be an excellent one for the Model S sedan [below], which is our next car,” Konrad said. “The Model S has half the sticker price of the Roadster and will also be offered in all-wheel drive, which a lot of customers want in the upper Midwest.”

When asked how the sporty alternative Roadster might fare in our climate, Konrad said, “It’s important to note that we do our cold-weather testing literally on a frozen lake in Sweden near the Arctic Circle. We do our hot-weather battery testing in south Texas. Two of our best national markets outside of the United States are Canada and Norway. So it’s very safe to say that we do not have problems in cold weather.

Also, we offer two hard-top options on the Roadster and as you can imagine they are very popular in northern climates, while the standard soft-top is popular in California, Texas, Florida and Hawaii.”

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