You want to do right by Planet Earth. You want to drive a car that's easy on the environment. But most electric vehicles look like glorified golf carts. And you'd have to look like Leonardo DiCaprio to get lucky in a Prius.
A fledging Las Vegas-based company called Hybrid Technologies thinks it has the solution. Hybrid will launch a car it calls LiX-75 at the New York Auto Show on Apr.14. The sleek, $125,000 sports car runs off of electric batteries, boosted by solar panels on the trunk. It recharges in four to six hours from a regular three-prong electric socket. And the company claims it will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds and hit a top speed of 200 miles per hour.
"It's the environmentalist mid-life crisis vehicle," says Richard Griffiths, head of business development at Hybrid. "It's a sports car that performs like a Porsche Boxster, looks like a Ferrari, and has zero emissions" (see BW Online, 10/25/06, "Porsche's Entry-Level Dream").
The LiX will utilize lithium ion batteries, big versions of the kind that power laptop computers. Because they can store more energy and degrade less quickly when not in use than the nickel metal hydride batteries used in hybrid cars today, they're rapidly becoming the technology of choice for electric-car developers.
"Lithium chemistry is widely acknowledged to be the next generation of battery power," says Lindsay Brooke, senior editor of the Society of Automotive Engineer's magazine.
Hybrid Technologies is banking on it. The company has had a roundabout route to electric power. Previously called Whistler Investments, it has been involved in everything from mining, real estate, and oil and gas to medical software and a coffee franchise. Griffiths says the company is now making electric-powered versions of PT Cruisers, Chrysler Crossfires and Mini Coopers for customers such as N.A.S.A., the British government and the state of California (see BW Online, 11/2/05, "Chrysler's Deutsch Treat" and 12/28/05, "2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible").
The LiX -- the name is a play on the periodic chart symbol for lithium, Li -- is similarly taking an existing car frame and plopping in an electric motor. In this case, it's a car called the Mullen GT, made by tiny Mullen Motor of Los Angeles. Arthur Allen, owner of the company, says the Hybrid Technologies collaboration happened by chance. He has been selling a gasoline version of the GT for the past five years. In January, he brought one to the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, only as a model to show off an entirely different product. His snazzy ride caught the eye of a Hybrid Technologies rep attending the show and a deal was cut, putting Hybrid's engine in Mullen's car.
Griffiths says the LiX will take four to six hours to charge and get about 100 miles from each visit to the plug. He says the company will be ready to start delivering the cars in about eight weeks from a new 40,000-square-foot production facility it built in Mooresville, N.C.
The high-end electric car market has been tapped before with limited success. San Dimas (Calif.)-based AC Propulsion launched a 200 mph electric sports car called the tzero in 2002. Another curvy electric, the Venturi, made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2005. It cost a staggering $660,000. "If you've got that much money to spend, people are looking at conventional sports cars that might gain in value," says Ron Cogan, editor of the Green Car Journal. "It's way beyond the reach of most early adopters and environmentalists who might step up to the plate."
But Anthony Pratt, alternative-fuel specialist at automotive research J.D. Power & Assoc., sees a bright side to Hybrid's efforts. "What vehicles like this accomplish is raising awareness about this new technology," he says. "It helps to shatter the perception that electric and hybrid-electric vehicles lack performance." And someday that'll mean more sexy, environmentally-friendly cars.