Exclusive: Miles Electric—The Startup Below The Radar

The saving grace for Miles turned out to be European and Japanese engineering. The base vehicle for the Miles Highway Speed is a Hafei Saibao 3—a compact sedan built in Harbin, China, that sells for $12,000 with a gasoline engine. State-owned Hafei Automotive Group made roughly 240,000 vehicles last year; it had built the Saibao, introduced in 2004, using components from Mitsubishi. It also hired Italian design and engineering firm Pininfarina to do the styling, engineering, and European market certification. In other words, the Saibao had been designed to meet global safety standards.

With a base vehicle in hand, Miles engineers turned to the battery pack. The lithium iron phosphate cells come from Tianjin Lishen Battery, a large state-owned manufacturer. Lishen assembles its cells into the modules that make up the full pack, with a capacity of 37 kilowatt-hours. It will ship completed packs to Hafei, which will install them on its standard assembly line. Miles owns the intellectual property around the pack design, the battery management system, and the integration of components like the regenerative brakes and stability control software.

Miles Electric Highway Speed Vehicle - Interior
Miles Electric Highway Speed Vehicle - Trunk

Details of the MIles Electric Highway Speed vehicle.

Making Sure It’s Right

Czinger, who had done business in China while at investment bank Goldman Sachs, knew the company would have only one chance to get it right. He called in experienced personnel and automotive consulting firms from the US and Europe to validate the components, the manufacturing processes, and the testing procedures. ”We’re doing a real manufacturing startup of a real car, without the massive capital,” he said proudly.

Indeed, in late August, a Chinese news service reported that an electric Saibao had passed a test replicating a frontal-offset crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While the Institute is entirely separate from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates safety testing, the results of its tests are highly publicized. Getting high scores from the IIHS has become a critical selling point for carmakers.

Assuming that the Highway Speed can be certified for sale in the US, buyers will get a conservatively styled four-door, five-passenger sedan with “ample” trunk space. Options will include power seats and windows, a sunroof, electronic stability control, a GPS navigation system, and Bluetooth connectivity.

The company quotes a top speed above 80 miles per hour, and 0-60 times of 8.5 seconds. Recharging requires a standard 220-Volt socket—used for stoves, clothes driers, and other appliances. The car will come with an 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty. As for range, Miles says the car will go 100 miles or more, giving 94 percent of Americans a safe margin over their daily driving distances of 80 miles or less.

The sticker price will be $40,000 to $45,000, depending on options. But with its battery pack well above 16 kilowatt-hours, a Highway Speed qualifies for the recent federal tax allowance of $7,500. States like California may sweeten the pot with their own incentives as well.


  • Paul Beerkens

    No electrical cars in snowy Chicago then?

    It is a real shame that one of the few viable green cars has to come from China. The US is missing a great opportunity here by not jumping on the green manufacturing opportunity. It is incredible how much damage the Cheney administration has done to the US.

    My first goal is to reduce my footprint on the planet but I would have been nice if I could have done more to reduce the trade deficit at the same time.

  • ACAGal

    There is a US car that has been developed as extended range EV, with plug in recharging. It will be the Fisker, with engineering by Quantum Fuel technologies of Irvine CA. Orders have been taken for the first cars to be delivered at the end of 2009. It will be in the Detroit auto show. Part of the manufacturing will be done in Finland and part in Detroit. It will be too pricey for me for the first few years, but should become more affordable several years into production. I usually drive my cars as long as possible, while keeping them well serviced. I’m hoping my old pup hangs on long enough for a plug-in EV…..maybe I’m also hoping I hold on that long too;->

  • Samie

    Imagine what could happen if China’s auto dealers actual produce some of the first successful mass EV’s in the U.S? Doesn’t seem unlikely due to the fed government needing a Chinese credit card for everything. I’m a little skeptical about the Miles approach but I think the real growth will come in a few years from pure Chinese companies exporting vehicles to the U.S.

  • GR

    With the public’s knowlegde of the US’s massive trade deficit and weakening dollar, along with the perception that China hasn’t had the best reputation for manufacturing lately (pet food, lead-based paint, milk), I find it hard to believe that this will get completely off the ground if it ever does at all.

    Buying Honda and Toyota are one thing since Japan has had decades to build a reliable brand with good fuel-efficient cars and hybrids, but I think Americans are more likely to buy from the big three’s hybrid and EV collection than they are to go to an unknown brand. And rightly so, I think Ford and GM have been working the past few years to improve their hybrid and EV lineup. Not so sure about Chrysler though.

  • Dan L

    There is a certain logic to building a shoddy EV. Sure, it is inferior to most cars in most ways. But, if it is the only vehicle in its class (zero emission highway certified vehicles under $50k), how much does that really matter? A lot of people will buy one who wouldn’t touch an ICE version of the same vehicle.

  • Hal Howell

    You can put lipstick on a pig and its still a pig. Regardless of who makes the EV, if it is ugly no one is going to buy but die hard envirofascists. My Prius is called ugly but really its a very nice looking car and practical to boot. This is the 21st century and most car makers are still making cars that look much like cars did 20 years ago. Most EV cars look weird and expensive or great and expensive. The cheaper ones look ugly. Now who is going to buy an ugly car. Okay, I know a few will. The Scion box on wheels is one example. I still don’t understand that one. Its not even BUG cute. Toyota has the Yaris 2 dr which would be perfect for an EV switch. It looks good, is small and would be a perfect choice for an EV commuter car.

  • ZAP Alias

    Cost of production is a major factor that EV manufacturers have to battle; nevertheless, there ARE competitively priced, workable and viable EVs available on the market right now, with the promise of more sophisticated and futuristic offerings n the near future.

  • mdensch

    I guess I’m missing something here.

    ZAP, where are these “competitively priced, workable and viable EVs” that are “available on the market right now”?

    Tesla and Fesker are hardly what I would call competitively priced and current models from ZENN and Miles aren’t quite workable and viable as replacements for the family sedan.

    The reality is that most people use their cars for a wide variety of uses from driving back and forth to work, fetching groceries, occasional trips to the lumber yard or hardware store and longer trips to grandma’s house or on vacation. If they could afford a small fleet of cars, each one used for a specific, limited application, EV’s as they currently exist might fit in as urban runabouts but are not suitable for some of these other uses.

    I suspect that we will, one day, see “workable and viable” electric cars, but for now it is still a far off dream.

  • Anonymous

    So this guy takes a $12,000.00 car, sticks some batteries in it and expects to resell them for $45,000.00??? HE’S NUTS! We need elecrtic cars for ALL the people not just a handful of electric wealthy snobs! The vast majority of people with that kind of money don’t give a damn about gas mileage. This company is a failure before it even starts!

  • Anonymous

    Maybe this is Goldmans new scam? I’m so sick of hearing about the antics of these banker types… Even better, this Czinger is a freaking lawyer too! They are done screwing up Walls st and the American persons dream of living in their own home, so why not move on to cars and screw the American people that way?

    This guy must be a first class criminal. Webvan was a colossal joke. $600m and he couldn’t figure out how to deliver groceries? Got sued, but some of his lawyer buddies probably helped him out.

    I’ll wait until an AMERICAN entrepeneur builds somthing nice, in AMERICA!! No more of these investment bankers looking to make a quick buck selling chinese garbage to the American People.

    Even the Russians would rather drive their Ladas than this Chinese junk … Are we that out of ideas …

  • Olivia

    — And Miles doesn’t need to sell hundreds of thousands of cars, either. In his effort to convey the right information precisely and quickly, the intense Czinger doesn’t smile often. But his grin lights up when he says, “If I sell 10,000 cars every year, I’ll make a tremendous profit.” —

    There it is, this guy doesn’t give a damn about the environment, people, or making the world a better place … All he cares about is “tremendous” profit … Greed and corruption have got us to this place we are all in now and this guy wants to pick through the remains like a dog …

  • Bill Cosworth

    Actually read an article Buying a Toyota Prius is terrable for the enviroment.

    Not only is it made overseas where you lose jobs to USA.

    But the battery mining of minerals and metal to make them.

    You are better off buying an american hybrid or keeping your old hummer.

    Even Toyotas new tundra millage is now much worse than the F150 and if you go on Toyotas site it wont let you compair the 2009 F150 to Toyota Tundra.

    Toyota is trying to turn the USA into a sweet shop.

    So I am happy we are seeing these american start up electric car companies.

    It gives me hope along with Fords new Hybrids and the GM volt to keep high tech here in the USA

  • Michael Thwaite

    I’m very pleased that there is evidence that a B.E.V. can be found for $45k; no, it’s not cheap but cheaper proving that we’re getting there.

    My concern is that we, the US, are not the ones making the cars and exporting them to China.

    There’s $25B out there, why are we not employing GM to build Tesla/AC Propulsion/other drive trains for export?

    MPT
    PlanetTesla.com

  • Shines

    There you go again Bill.
    spreading proven false rumors.
    Sorry you don’t like the fact that Priuses are made in Japan. Toyota is building a Prius plant in the US by the way.
    The Prius is very environmentally friendly. The batteries are very safe and completely recyclable.
    They are pretty much the same batteries as used in the GM 2mode hybrids and Ford Escape (an soon Ford Fusion) hybrids.

    When Toyota builds a plant in the US they pay twice the going industrial wage for the area where they build their plant – improving the standard of living in that area.

    A major reason I think US car companies are struggling is because of the excessively high wages and benefits being paid UAW workers. The UAW had its day but now workers must compete in a world economy. The UAW better get smart or they’ll be bargaining with 3 bankrupt companies…

  • Stefan Kaufmann

    The fact that these cars are built in China is somewhat worrying. On the other hand this world will only become a better place if we share our wealth. As long as labour laws and environmental restrictions are respected and improved, manufacturing cars in China should have a future. Even better of course is when auto makers decide to build cars locally.

    I wish Miles good luck. It is a wake-up call for the big three.

  • JMB

    Bill, I agree that it’s important to consider the effect that mining and battery disposal have on the environment. But that doesn’t come close to making hybrids worse for the environment than gas-guzzlers. If we don’t stop burning so much gas, our air will gradually become deadly like in many parts of China and India. Getting emphysema, lung cancer, and other fatal diseases from toxic air is a hell of a lot worse than mining for the metals needed in hybrid batteries.

    As for battery disposal, remember that the engines of non-hybrid cars end up in landfills too. The amount of total material put into landfills from a non-hybrid vehicle is no less than the amount put into landfills from a hybrid vehicle of the same size.

    ———————–

    Many people need SUVs or trucks because they have large families, or because they run small businesses that require equipment or supplies. But tens of millions of people are driving SUVs and trucks that they don’t “need” at all.

    For their own vanity and whims, they are enriching America’s enemies, such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Iran. They are also spewing unnecessary amount of pollution into our air.

    Unless you need a vehicle that big for kids or business equipment, start thinking about our country, and our air, and BUY A HYBRID. Better yet, buy a plug-in hybrid, as they become available at better prices soon.

    And I agree with Bill, the best course of action is to buy an AMERICAN-MADE hybrid.

    —————–

    Moreover, the Prius won’t be made abroad for much longer. Several months ago, Toyota announced that it will build a new assembly plant in Mississippi specifically for the Prius. By fall 2011 (the 2012 model year), it’s likely that all Priuses sold in America will be assembled in America.

    As for the “sweat shop” accusation, be aware that the term refers to health and safety conditions, not just wages. Toyota is required to observe the same healthy and safety standards as the Big Three in its U.S. plants, and as far as I know, it does observe them.

    As for wages, would you rather earn an unsustainably high salary — as many workers at the Big Three did until recently — and then be laid-off when the plant closes or reduces operations, or earn a lower salary that lasts your entire life?

    ————-

    And yes, we are eager to do our part to restore American’s manufacturing base.
    My household’s next two cars will be:

    (1) for my fiancee, a 2011 or 2012 Chevy Volt, made in Michigan
    (2) for me, a 2011 Prius, assembled in Mississippi

    ———–

  • JMB

    You’re right that small start-ups can wake up the Big Three and get them moving on all-electric vehicles. I hope that small companies like Tesla (USA), Fisker (USA), Phoenix (USA), and Think (Norway) make a bundle by selling all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

    But we don’t wish Miles luck at all. They are trying to make a buck by collaborating with killers and oppressors — the Chinese Communist Party. This is no better than running a plant in cooperation with the Soviets or the Nazis.

    ——————

    We did recently buy a car made in Japan (the Prius, our first foreign car of eight we’ve owned between us in our lives).
    But Japan is a democratic and fairly free country, which poses no threat to America or other free countries.

    Chian is a far cry from Japan.
    We will NEVER buy a vehicle that is made in a totalitarian country, such as China.

    That’s why the Miles has never been on our list. That company is traitorous as far as we are concerned.

    ———————–

    There are no truly “private” large manfuacturing concerns in China. Their system is not communis anymore, but it certainly is not a free-enterprise system either. It’s a fascist/socialist hybrid.

    The profits from Miles’ plants in China will inevitably help to further strength & entrench the Chinese Communist Party. The Party continues to enlarge and modernize its military at a rapid pace, and you know it’s not because they fear an invasion by the US, Russia or India. They are directly threatening the freedom of Taiwan. And when they’ve taken Taiwan, they’ll subjugate South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, etc. People who buy a Miles car should think about the kind of killers they’re subsidizing.

    ————–

    I’m all for free enterprise. (In fact, I worked to prevent the election of our President-elect precisely because of his socialist voting record and proposals.) But having freedom to choose doesn’t answer the question, how should we exercise that freedom? We should consider the effect that our purchases have on the prospects for freedom, and on the quality of our air and water.

    ——————

    There are plenty of plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars that are being built in free countries: Phoenix MotorCars has its plant in California, the ThinkCity is built in Norway, the Chevy Volt will be built in Michigan, the 2011 Prius will be assembled in Mississippi, etc.

    There is no “need” to enrich a murderous regime by buying a Miles car made in China. SHAME ON THE GREEDY AMORAL BASTARDS AT MILES. Build your vehicles in a free country or go out of business.

  • mdensch

    JMB, I would agree with most of what you said. However, old automobile engines do not end up in land fills. These days, most of the automobile is recycled at the end of its life cycle and just about all of the metal in it is.

    Having said that, I am sure that hybrid and EV batteries will be mostly recyclable, also.

  • JS

    I agree with your comments about Miles – the guy only smiles when talking about profits? He’s a guy that will support oppression to make some cash…

    Here’s a joke I just made up…

    Q: How manty Chinese kids does it take to build a miles EV?

    A: None! Because if it’s as ugly as their photoshop, nobody will buy it!

  • Zero X Owner

    re: Prius looks.

    When did superior aerodynamics start to be considered ugly? I suggest that all who think so visit a military museam and look at a fighter jet or two.

    Perhaps it’s because it’s not covered in useless, heavy chrome from top to bottom, front to back? My favorite foreign description of American made vehicles is “spackled with random, pointless shiny bits.”

    Don’t worry, though, as soon the Chinese start smearing them with glitter, put on a designer lable, and make the butt bigger, we’ll buy ‘em at twice the price like hotcakes.