September 26, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Second-fastest sports car runs on batteries
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"You can't make cheap electric cars. You can now make good ones, but not cheap ones," he said. "While everyone wants efficiency, no one wants to pay for it. It's like selling safety...You've got to offer your customers more than energy efficiency."
As a result, Wright and his Burlingame, Calif., start-up, Wrightspeed, are taking a different tack than other electric car companies. Instead of trying to bring down the cost of the technology to the point where a family of four could afford an electric sedan, Wrightspeed will concentrate solely on elite sports cars selling in the $120,000 price range.
But for that price you will get a lot of car for your money, says Wright. The X1, the company's prototype, can go from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in three seconds. Put another way, by the time the car is going 60 mph, it has only traveled 117 feet.
In track tests, the X1 has handily beat Ferraris and Porsches. A Ferrari executive who took a test drive in the X1 gave Wright a one-word review: impressive. Going from zero to 100 mph and back to zero takes 11.2 seconds.
"There is only one car that you can buy that is quicker and that is the Bugatti Veyron, which does it in about 9.9 seconds," he said. "Everything else is slower."
The commercial version of the X1, which will hit the market in late 2008, will go faster, according to Wright.
Video: The X1 electric sports car
The Wrightspeed X1 can outdo most cars on the market. CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos goes for a ride with founder/creator Ian Wright.
At the same time, it's guaranteed to get noticed. Heads turned as we drove through downtown Burlingame on a recent test drive. Because the cockpit is open, people often stop and ask questions. Wright has been pulled over by policemen, but after confirming that the car is street-legal, most want to know about the technology. In a test drive, your mood switches quickly from terror to exhilaration.
"It appeals to just about everybody," Wright said.
The problem with electric cars is not the engine. By themselves, electric engines outdo gas engines in almost every way, according to Wright and others. With gas engines, car designers either have to shoot for fuel efficiency or power: Performance is related to the rate of fuel consumption. A Dodge Neon has great gas mileage, but is slow; by contrast, a Porsche accelerates quickly but gets low gas mileage. Hitting top speeds fast also requires switching gears.
Not so with electric engines. When the power gets flipped on, the engine goes. Delivery of power to the engine is not as big of an issue. Most electrics also only have two gears, forward and reverse, so drivers don't get stumped by a mis-shift. Additionally, very little of the energy gets lost.
"The energy you take out of the wall, almost all of it ends up on the road," he said. "They are so close to nearly perfect that there is no point in inventing anything else."
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