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The Competitive Landscape

Discussion in 'Electric Vehicles' started by tonybelding, May 15, 2007.

  1. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Red Herring posted an article today (http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=22254&hed=Beyond+Tesla’s+Roadster) describing Tesla's plans for their "Whitestar" sedan in some detail.  There wasn't much really new to die-hard Tesla followers, but a couple of interesting comments at the end about potential Tesla competitors:

    Still, making such cars carries a potentially astronomical price tag. And there are plenty of competitors making electric cars of all shapes and sizes, from the oddly shaped but reasonably priced ZAP Xebra Sedan, which is a kind of three-wheeled tuk-tuk, to Venturi’s Fetish, a rare, fancy sports car which runs close to $400,000.

    Norwegian Think Nordic and Spokane, Washington-based Commuter Cars are also in the category. But for its size and luxury status, a Tesla Sedan might face more direct competition from the ZAP-X, with its expected 350-mile range, and Mitsubishi’s MIEV, both of which are in the works.

    The modern electric car business has left an impressive trail of roadkill behind it, from the Henny Kilowatt (less than 100 produced) through the Bradley, the Tropica, the Solectria Sunrise, the EXAR-1 and others.  What are the odds that these new startups will fare better?  Things are different now and people are starting to really cry out for alternative-fuel vehicles.  I think some of them will make it.  Keep in mind, I'm not talking about NEVs here.  I consider that a different business, although there are a couple of companies that sort of straddle the line, such as ZAP and Think Global.  So, here's my case-by-case analysis, starting with the ones I consider most promising and working down from there. . .

    Tesla Motors -- is really in a class by itself.  They have the funding and serious intent to build a real car company, with everything that entails.  If anybody can make it in the BEV business, it should be Tesla.  It's important to remind ourselves, however, that what they are doing is fantastically ambitious and a lot can still go wrong.  It's all very well for Martin Eberhard to joke about someday buying Ford, but he'll have plenty to be proud of if Tesla is still in business making cars ten years from now.

    Myers Motors -- often overlooked with their three-wheeled weirdmobile, the NMG, they are one of the few companies making and selling highway-capable BEVs today, not just talking about next year.  They also have one of the best websites, second only to Tesla, which makes a persuasive sales pitch.  Although I can see a certain amount of success with the NMG, I can also see how there are natural limits to its acceptance by the public.  As far as I know, Myers doesn't have any other model in the works (and they didn't design the NMG, it was acquired from Corbin).

    Miles Automotive -- have been keeping things low-key, but what they are trying to do with the Javlon is quite impressive.  They've got their manufacturing lined up in China to keep prices under control, they've got a design based off an existing gasoline vehicle.  For those who long for a Tesla but find it too pricey, Miles just might be well positioned to catch those sales.

    Think Global -- has the well-proven Think microcar, which is something more than a NEV but most Americans would look askance at it.  With a top speed of about 60 MPH, it's an apt expression of the "city car" concept.  Think gets bonus points for having an actual product, unlike some other BEV companies, and they are continuing to improve it with new battery technology: Think will be buying battery packs from Tesla.

    Mitsubishi Motors -- is one of the few established car companies to maintain an ongoing research program in battery-electric vehicles after the CARB ZEV mandate was weakened.  Their MiEV vehicles have gone through several revisions since then.  Recently they formed a partnership with Mitsubishi Corp and GS Yuasa to produce large format li-ion batteries for cars.  The plan is to start selling MiEVs to the public by 2010.  However. . .   Even if all goes well, it's unclear whether they intend to produce many cars or sell them outside of Japan.

    Phoenix Motorcars -- have a couple of very impressive vehicles, in the Phoenix SUT and SUV.  These are produced for them as "gliders" by a Korean company, then the electric drivetrain is added by Phoenix.  They are using some advanced battery technology which is very expensive, and part of their business plan hinges on selling ZEV credits in California to compensate for the high battery costs.  The viability of this plan has been questioned.

    ZAP -- have an estabished business selling NEVs, they have income and they have distribution.  They have made an alliance with Lotus Engineering and PML Flightlink, who definitely have some outstanding technology.  However, with the ZAP-X vehicle, ZAP seem to be counting -- and hyping -- their chickens before they hatched.  The ZAP-X inspires much hope but not so much confidence that they can deliver.

    Silence Inc -- is bringing the electric version of the three-wheeled Campagna T-Rex to the world, in the form of the Silence PT2.  It is scheduled to go on sale this summer and should be a blast to drive.  The disadvantage is that it must be driven on a motorcycle license and lacks such luxury features as "doors".  It's no substitute for your typical gasoline powered car, but as a high-performance toy it just might send the Wrightspeed X1 to an early retirement.

    Venture Vehicles -- is looking to produce their three-wheeled VentureOne in both plug-in hybrid and pure battery-electric forms.  They have a decent website and claim to have formed partnerships with a number of other companies, including A123Systems who will provide batteries, PML Flightlink who presumably will provide motors, and Carver Engineering who provide their unique tilting vehicle technology.  The VentureOne is still in an early phase of development, but definitely bears watching.

    Hybrid Technologies -- is in the business of converting gasoline vehicles, and have had some notable success supplying electric taxicabs (converted PT Cruisers) to NYC, a vehicle for NASA, a MINI Cooper for the British Embassy in Mexico City.  They've converted a Smart Car and they've converted a Mullen GT.  Although they've been pretty successful at this, it's unclear whether they are ever going to produce their own vehicles in any way.

    Commuter Cars -- are producing the Tango T600 by hand, in very small numbers, while trying to raise funding to put the T200 and T100 into higher volume production.  This is the perfect example of a small company with an innovative and appealing product, but not enough funding to realize its potential.

    Wrightspeed -- has the Wrightspeed X1, basically an electric conversion of an Ariel Atom.  This got a lot of attention from the videos showing it out-dragging a Porsche and a Ferrari at the race track.  Ian Wright also gets some credibility for being a former Tesla employee.  However, all is not coming up roses, and Wrightspeed has thus far been unable to rake up the funding needed to get a car into production.  Competition from the Silence PT2 might close the book on this story.

    Universal Electric Vehicles -- got some publicity with their UEV Spyder, which they showed off in the wake of the Tesla Roadster's unveiling.  As a potentially somewhat cheaper electric sports car, it might have a place in the market.  Unfortunately, it looks more and more like UEV is basically a business of hand-building kit cars, in somewhat the same boat as Commuter Cars but with a less novel product.

    eVette -- isn't even a company, it's just a demonstration vehicle built by Tom Sine.  It's a three-wheeled vehicle powered and steered by direct motor drive to the rear wheels, while the front wheel is merely a caster-type wheel, and the whole thing is controlled by a joystick.  According to EVWorld, "Sine has funded development of the vehicle out of his own modest resources and explained that to take the project any further, say into limited production, he needs outside investors."  I'm not holding my breath.

    And finally. . .  a special dishonorable mention goes to. . . .

    N-Motion Vehicle Company -- who are promising a perpetual motion car with "non-stoppable forward momentum power".  They also have a slick website that some have compared with Tesla's site, even though N-Motion's is plagued by incredibly annoying music and an almost total lack of meaningful content.
     
  2. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    Nice compendium of the EVs to come. Unclear why you left out A. C. and team.
     
  3. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Oh!  Well. . .  Now that you mention it, maybe I should have put in something about AC Propulsion, but I'm not even sure if they have plans to get into the car-making business.  It seems all their business has been selling technology and powertrains to other companies (including Tesla, Wrightspeed, Courreges and Venturi).  The eBox is more of a technology demonstrator rather than a production car.  I got the impression that they could make a few if somebody calls them up and waves enough money in front of them, and they may be open to a manufacturing partnership with some other company, but there isn't going to be a factory cranking out AC Propulsion cars.

    I lump the eBox in the same category with the PML Mini QED.  PML Flightlink are also selling their technology to various companies (ZAP and Venture Vehicles, that I know of), but I don't see them getting into the car-making business themselves.

    Also. . . I definitely started writing that post with an intention to mention Venturi, and then I forgot them. Venturi are making some interesting vehicles, not least being the Fetish. But how seriously can you take a company that comes up with a fantastic car and then decides to produce 25 of them worldwide? I think it's a business plan that's fundamentally alien to the American mind. :)
     
  4. CEOswife

    CEOswife Member

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    A couple of corrections. AC Propulsion is NOT selling drive trains to Tesla. Tesla makes their own using their own patents. Also, Martin waved huge sums of money at AC Propulsion with a request to make him a tzero. However, when ACP was unable to deliver the car, or any car for that matter, they refunded his money. He took this money and started Tesla.
     
  5. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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  6. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    Thanks for clarifying that.

    For the record, I didn't intend to imply that AC Propulsion was selling hardware to Tesla. Previously it was stated that Tesla licensed some patents from AC Propulsion, though I'm not sure whether any of those patents actually ended up being used. AC Propulsion has sold motors and controllers to the other customers mentioned.

    As for whether AC Propulsion would convert a Scion XB into an eBox for any random wealthy but non-celebrity person (i.e. someone who isn't Tom Hanks), that's an open question.
     
  7. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

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    To me the REVA G-Wiz is . . . well, it's more than a NEV but not quite a real car. It's not sold in the USA and apparently wouldn't ever meet safety standards here, so I tend to disregard it (fairly or not). If you went around the world looking for these kinds of inexpensive, limited-performance vehicles you could probably turn up a bunch more of them.
     
  8. CEOswife

    CEOswife Member

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    To my knowledge, Tesla is only using one minor patent from ACP, and I am not sure how long they will be using that one. They had originally planned to use more of ACP's technology, but their designs were not scaleable for mass production. Therefore, it was back to the drawing board!
     
  9. tin-chicken

    tin-chicken Guest

    From the FAQ on the TM website:

    What is your relationship with AC Propulsion?

    Tesla licensed AC Propulsion's Reductive Charging(tm) patent, which integrates the charging electronics into the inverter in a way that reduces mass and complexity. Tesla has designed and builds its own power electronics, motor, and other drivetrain components that incorporate this licensed technology from AC Propulsion.


    http://www.teslamotors.com/learn_more/faqs.php and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.

    Tin.
     

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