September 26, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Second-fastest sports car runs on batteries

Electric cars are far superior to traditional gas cars in performance and fuel efficiency, asserts Ian Wright. The problem is the cost.

"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."

Wrightspeed

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.

Click here to Play

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."

CONTINUED: The problem is the batteries…
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8 comments

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It's the Ariel Atom?!
So this is essentially a battery-powered Ariel Atom.

I'm surprised nobody else has mentioned it!
Posted by bishop375 (16 comments )
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It's the Ariel Atom?!
Thats exactly what I said when I saw it. Wikipedia says that it is an Ariel Atom that is just modified to use an all-electic powertrain.
Posted by coolz321 (2 comments )
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Ariel Atom mod?
are they the same people who made the Ariel Atom? The pictures on the site doesn't show the "A" logo on the seat nor on the nose of the car. Or did they just buy an Ariel and changed it to electric, took out the logo and called it their own?
Posted by skippytbk (1 comment )
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the chassis is from ariel
The chassis is from Ariel but the drive train and engine of course are not, so overlap between the two is limited. (the engine after all is a big deal. If it were a gas car, we wouldn't be writing about it.). Drive train comes from AC propulsion/.

Saunders from Ariel will design the final frame. The commercial version will look similar but different. Possibly carbon fiber.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
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Modified and rebadged Atom
"Ariel" is actually the name of the company that makes the Atom car. They are based out of England. This car is being sold by a different company, so it's pretty clear that they are just pulling the Honda motor out of the Atom and putting an electric drivetrain in and then slapping their logo on it.

Does make for a nice performance comparison of electric (X1) vs. ICE (Atom) though. Going with the numbers in this article vs. the Ariel Atom 2 with a 300bhp supercharged engine, you get the following:

The X1 does 0-60mph in 3 seconds, the Atom does it in 2.9 seconds.

0-100-0mph for the X1 is 11.2 sec., for the Atom it is 10.9 sec.

Fuel consumption strongly favors the X1, at about 70-90mpg equivilent (the "170mpg" number listed ignores the 50%+ loses to generate the electricity in the first place) vs. about 20-25mpg Atom (I couldn't find reliable numbers for the supercharged model, but the naturally aspirated one comes in at 9.5L/100K, or around 30mpg).

Trip length strongly favors the Atom, at about 500km (320 miles) per 60L (16 gallon) tank of gas vs. only 160km (100 miles) for a full charge of the Atom.

Of course, all these numbers are kind of moot, because really these are not "cars" in the normal sense of the word, but track-day cars. You take them to the racetrack and run some crazy laps with them on the weekend. The problem being that with the X1 you can only run about 5 laps before you need to stop and recharge.
Posted by Hoser McMoose (182 comments )
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Racing Teams Ready? American TV viewers are.
first, leaving the chassis design to a name manufacturer just plain makes sense. What precious brainpower an electric startup can spend, should be spent on motor, battery, and control chip design.

The third one, control chip, is the complete key to adding range without adding weight/cost. Once a chip is designed, the manufacturing costs become insignificant. The real magic of any electric transportation is re-using the energy that is otherwise wasted as heat during the braking process. The japanese have been feeding passenger train braking energy back into the power grid for decades. When Phelpes Dodge lifts a couple hundred tons of rock off the side of a mountain, it pumps the energy of lowering it into the grid.

A modern electric car, including the EV-1, and most hybrids, achieves range by recovering braking energy. This is not a trivial task, the energy absorption to stop a car is equal to the energy that was used to accellerate it, but is generally applied much faster. People love small G-forces, its a reason American drivers are not getting the mileage they should from their hybrids, they stop faster than the batteries can accept the charge.

The answer, as i stated earlier is great chip design. Adding supercapacitors, with their high current capacities, into the mix will help too.

100 miles per charge is just fine for a lot of people. If the jobsite has charging facilities, the range is further than most commutes.

But the consumer does not care about that... They want to know who is winning the ECAR cup this season. Which Manufacturer? Which driver? Fast charge at pit stops? battery swap...

Hey, this is gonna get really fun, real soon.

and a few years from now new car choices will be just a matter of selecting the right range. An all-electric for around town/commuting, and a heat engine or fuel cell for road trips.

letting the rich consumers and race fans pay for all that great design talent is a good way to buy the brains needed, the publicity is almost a freebie.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
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Lithium
I am always confused by the "lithium battery is toxic" argument. Lithium batteries are NOT toxic. Especially when compared to the lead acid battery in a standard car. In fact, the standard 18650 lithium battery can be disposed of in a landfill, though recycling is much better. Ingredients: Cobalt/Lithium Oxide, Graphite, and the electrolyte. Cobalt isn't the best, but is still considered landfill safe.
Posted by mjtimber (16 comments )
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