“Instead of making a $110,000 car, we’re trying to do this for $24,000.”
Proving that the global economic crisis can’t thwart the American entrepreneurial spirit, the South Carolina-based maker of amphibious vehicles is building a three-wheeled plug-in diesel hybrid. According to inventor John Giljam, the vehicle will have an all-electric range of 50 miles before using any liquid fuel. Based on testing of a pure diesel version that achieves more than 65 mpg, Giljam said, “We would be getting 130 to 150 miles to the gallon with the plug-in hybrid model.”
Giljam said the vehicle will essentially be an electric car—using six conventional 12-volt lead-acid batteries that will be charged by a 1.6-liter diesel engine to extend the range of the vehicle. The same plug-in series hybrid design is being used by General Motors for the much-ballyhooed Chevy Volt.
“Instead of making a $110,000 car, we’re trying to do this for $24,000,” said Giljam, referring to luxury plug-in vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma. “We feel that there is a huge market for simpler vehicles that are cost effective.” Giljam said that the first prototype—a version built specifically for people with physical disabilities—will be ready by the end of June.
In an exclusive interview with HybridCars.com, Giljam was asked how he would be able to handle the complexities and cost of managing the battery system, electric drivetrain, and diesel engine. He laughed and responded, “That’s what I have in my patents that I keep hidden.” Giljam said that the onboard computer would cost about $200.
Giljam’s company Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International—which has been building half-car-half-boat vehicles for 10 years—was until recently planning to only produce diesel-power versions of the “Biotrike.” The company’s website still explains that the Biotrike will not be a hybrid because “battery technology has to catch up some to the market as they are very expensive.” But Giljam recently became convinced that he could build his next prototype—the “handicapped” version—using the plug-in hybrid technology.
The diesel-only model that was previously in the works—the B3X2 which seats two people, one in front of the other—was priced at $24,000. The company plans to offer the plug-in diesel hybrid version at the same cost, and also has plans to produce a four-seat model for $30,000. The company, which has manufacturing facilities in South Lima, NY, and Ridgeland, S.C., is gearing up to produce 10,000 vehicles a year by 2011, according to Giljam.
For safety, the Biotrike uses a steel tubular roll cage running along the bottom and sides, with three roll bars overhead, not dissimilar to the Smart Car’s cabin and the one used in the Aptera 2e—also a 100+ mpg three-wheel vehicle. Unlike the Aptera, the Biotrike is capable of receiving service at the local fast food drive-in window.