European Coachbuilding Goes Electric
The European tradition of coachbuilding—the manufacturing of carriages—dates back to the 1700s. These days, it refers to the high-end auto design firms, such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari, which build custom-designed specialty vehicles.
Like nearly every automaker in the world, coachbuilders are going green, by designing and building all-electric vehicles. Their electric cars are well suited to the congested streets of Rome or Paris, but don’t hold your breath for these cool electricity-powered rides to make it across the pond. By nature, the coachbuilders produce vehicles in limited runs intended for local markets.
1Pininfarina B0 (“B Zero”)
Design house Pininfarina, of Turin, Italy, showed the B0 at the 2008 Paris Auto Show. The B0 is four-seat, four-door electric hatchback—about the size of a Honda Fit. The car has a range of 153 miles and a top speed of 80 miles per hour. The B0 features solar cells across the roof and front fascia to top up the lithium ion battery pack. Acceleration is zero to 60 (kilometers not miles per hour) in a little over six seconds. In other words, zero to 37 mph in six seconds—not quite the pace of the Ferraris also designed by Pininfarina. The company is considering direct sales via the Internet, and will begin production as early as 2009, according to some reports.
The Lightning Car Company is Britain’s answer to Tesla Motors. The company aims to build an all-electric luxury sports car with classic British sports car design. The Lightning provides a top speed capability of more than 130 mph. The Lightning electric car was first unveiled as a prototype at the London Auto Show way back in 1999. It’s been totally revamped since that time. The company is offering a GT model promising zero to 60 mph performance of less than 4 seconds. The “extended range” version claims a range of 250 miles and a recharge time of only 10 minutes using a standard home socket. (Sounds optimistic.) Price is expected right around, ahem, $300,000.
French coachbuilder Heuliez of Cerizay, France, recently revealed its mini minivan called the “Friendly.” There are 27 different variants with variable options such as body length, motor output, and battery type. Depending on these variables, the Friendly will have a range of between 60 and 150 miles, and a top speed of about 65 miles per hour.
All versions are configured with three-seats: one seat in front and two in back. Heuliez, founded in 1920, has been in the business of electric vehicles for well over 25 years. It is starting to focus on EVs, after building chassis structures under contract for Peugeot, General Motors, and other carmakers. The company hopes to build 10,000 a year at its factory, with the first units rolling out in 2010. One warning: The motor has limited power for climbing hills, only for “slopes up to 17%,” according to the company.
Heuliez also recently showed the Pondicherry, a demonstration model of four-wheel neighborhood all-electric urban pickup. Production details have not been confirmed.
5Karmann Quicc DiVa
You’ve probably heard of the Karmann Ghia, right? Well, Karmann, the German company with a century-old tradition of building cars from the ground up, is teaming up with DuraCar, a Dutch company, to produce the all-electric Quicc DiVa urban distribution van. The Quicc DiVa body and chassis of the car are entirely made of plastic. The company has plans to build up to 15,000 units per year.
6Ford F-150 Ha-Pa
Okay, here’s a European-built electric vehicle system that could make it to the US—if an American car builder decides to use the Hi-Pa Drive. The Ford F-150 concept vehicle, shown at the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas, demonstrated a system that allows designers and builders to create an electric vehicle application by installing motors on all four wheels. Together, the four motors installed on the F-150 deliver 600 horsepower—greater power and torque than the 320-hp 5.4L V8 engine that was removed from the truck. The F-150 concept was built by UK-based PML Flightlink in collaboration with Ford. Any takers?