Smart EV Moves to Next Generation

In a Daimler demonstration project, 100 all-electric Smart ForTwo minicars have been darting about London since the end of 2007. Those versions employ Zebra batteries and have about a 62-mile driving range. While they have been functioning and enthusiastically received, a Daimler engineer—who preferred not to be identified—told that the battery performance was far from optimum.

The newest version of the electric Smart, set for demonstration projects in the US and Germany, will instead use lithium ion batteries
that should give the car close to 100 miles of range. Conversion of the Smart to electric drive is relatively simple compared to most vehicles since its original design incorporates a “sandwich” floor designed to accommodate alternative powertrains. The sandwich design is also critical to the car’s crashworthiness. What Daimler calls “small series” production of the electric two-seater will start at the end of 2009.

Daimler will use the same lithium ion cells for the Smart batteries as the ones found in the company’s hybrid heavy-duty buses. Daimler sees this strategy as a way to amortize the high cost of the batteries and extend the technology. Since the buses are further along—many are in real-world service—proven technology can be scaled down to Smart. Most of the industry is going in the opposite direction—trying to scale up lithium batteries for cars from use in small electronic devices.

The batteries aren’t the only anticipated change in the electric Smart. If and when the electric minicar comes to the US, Daimler is likely to move away from the “Smart ED” name. The letters “ED” are likely to draw a blank for American consumers. The more common “EV”—for electric vehicles—is better known (although mostly to fans of battery-powered cars).

The new generation of Smart EDs could also have new high-tech gear: an onboard charging unit that communicates with a charging station. This could be put to test in the upcoming Berlin deployment, conducted in conjunction with the German utility RWE. According to Daimler, the new charging unit will ensure that the battery is automatically charged with low-priced electricity when the network is not used to full capacity, for example at off-peak times. In other words, the Smart could come equipped with a “smart” charging meter.

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  • Ross Nicholson

    “Smart Charging”? Please do not stop there! There is no need to stop the vehicle to charge it, either, as the simple concept of in-flight refueling demonstrates. Electricity can be transported quickly (literally at the speed of light) and easily (the electricity itself weighs almost nothing). Electricity to power vehicle motors can even be transferred through the air over short distances via Tesla coils or by road generation. Thus charging cars while they are on the move on roads will be easy. Frequently recharging small batteries is more efficient than infrequently recharging large batteries. This is because battery mass and maintenance must be propelled as part of the vehicle, after all. Most of us realize that it is easier to transport electricity with wires than with batteries, but not everybody went to Georgia Tech, I guess.

  • Libor

    Ross, I don’t want to destroy your enthusiasm, but what you say is not really possible and most importantly not economic. See, everything cost money, or even better explained – energy. If you want to build such roads, you’d need a crazy money, even just to cover small percentage of major roads. Then the transfer itself would be expensive, then it wouldn’t be probably safe for people to be on such roads (due to strong electromagnetic zone) and finally a lot of electronics would have to be built much more robust to actually work properly while you’re “charging” (if it is even possible). Practical side is even worse I think – with lowest voltage at around 175V and high currents… So high, that it could melt your car. And you can’t go lower: “If, due to improper tuning, the maximum voltage point occurs below the terminal, along the secondary coil, a discharge (spark) may break out and damage or destroy the coil wire, supports, or nearby objects.”
    And if you want electricity transfer for a selected bunch of vehicles, than the solution is here for well over 100 years. Those are available in many European states even in small towns of 30 thousands people. They are very economic, durable and as comfortable as ordinary buses.
    By the way in-flight-refueling is not simple and it is available only to small percentage to all aircraft.
    But nevertheless, it would be nice if Tesla coil worked for this purpose.

  • Roger Chace

    With the improvements being made in batteries, even if one battery will only work for 100 miles, you could always carry a back-up and change it out when the first wears low, like you do now with a flashlight or i-pod.
    And yes, they will be expensive at first but will come down in price and size as the technology advances.

  • Jon

    Actually idea Ross mentions is an interesting one… OT and irrelevant to the Smart ED, but most comments here seem to be. Continuing that tradition… One wouldn’t need to electrify every street, just freeways and just one lane to start. This would would solve 99% of the problems with pure electric vehicles. You’d easily have enough range to drive around in town and to from most places, and if you were going on a longer trip you could keep charged along the way. Freeways also are pedestrian restricted already so you have less issues with electrifying the roads becoming electrocuting the people.

    Now for something relevant. It’d be nice if the article talked about recharge duration. Smart charging still sounds stupid to me, if it were me I’d expect my car to be full charged whenever I needed it, not waiting for cheaper electric rates to charge itself. Imagine you come home from work, park your at home, have dinner and then head out to a movie after dinner… oops… batteries are low because it was waiting until later to charge them.

  • Anonymous

    Roger, even the 100mi Li-On batteries (much lighter than NiMh) weigh 100’s of kilos. The relatively small battery in the Prius (a hybrid, not full electric) is about 50kg (100 lbs) for comparison. It’s going to be a long long long time before one could toss an extra battery in the trunk of an pure EV for that long trip… oh wait there was luggage in the trunk for that long trip, never mind.

  • Nate

    I’m just glad to see that they actually have a plan that should have some forward momentum sometime soon. Every car company that plans on being around in ten years needs to get something out now and be vigorously working to improve it.

  • Samie

    Not really news to me, that is its not a 4-door family sedan but (IF)… priced right Smart Cars could be used more by government officials excluding police services. Imagine that! I think as a tax payer it would be nice to see b/c those on-duty government vehicles are often used for off duty things. It would be funny let your local authorizes trade in government SUV’s for Smart Cars. Talk about a good way to cut government spending! Unfortunately, cutting government spending is usually directed towards the little guys 🙁

  • John the European

    A solution is to rent quick change battery packs with adapters at what is now gas stations.

    For your regular driving you would recharge at home, so “gas stations” would be fewer and only on the big highways.

    You could have an adapter like the conny kit on cars from the fifties that you bolt on for long distance travel and return at the last gas station on your trip. Or you rent a mini trailer like we do in Sweden instead of having trucks.


  • Anonymous

    >A solution is to rent quick change battery packs with adapters at what is now gas stations

    Once again… How would you “quick change” a battery pack weighing 100’s of kilos? In addition how would the gas station store all those batteries? Finally good luck on getting dozens of car companies to standardize on a battery when they can’t even standardize on a plug for charging.

  • Picky McPicky

    Why can’t any of these cars use a variety of free charging systems? I.e. a detractable solar roof, a generating system that gets its power from the friction caused by braking, or small wind turbine in the hood of the car to generate wind power? While parked in the company parking lot, a solar panel could generate just enough electricity to increase daily mileage. While driving, the suns rays could also recharge a back-up pack to also extend battery life as could the brakes and the turbine.

  • SoCal GreenMan

    Too bad smart will NEVER bring a smart car with micro hybrid drive technology, smart fortwo electric drive, or even the turbo gas, or diesel smart car to the USA!
    All they will sell us is the most basic gasoline version.
    I guess they don’t think we’re SMART enough!
    Canada, SURE!
    Europe, SURE!
    USA, NO WAY!


    I dont know what is stopping SMARTFORTWO from assembling in india even at Rs.10,00,000/- it will 1,00,000 cars thats a good business proposition.

  • thomatt12

    Good news for Smart lovers out there. I have always liked that car, really cute and efficient too!

  • LC

    It’s a great solution for a 2-car family. Only 1 of them needs to be big enough for long driving family outings. This would serve as the daily commuter car where it would be used for going to work, which is typically a lot less than 100 miles round trip. I will definitely keep this in mind when our 2nd car is ready to be retired.

  • Yiwu

    I like it. But where to buy?

  • LSantana

    Taken into account as to how a Battery is charged in an ICE, via
    an alternator; can the same charging system be implemented in
    an EV.

  • nycsolar

    With a special lift. The could store them in an underground area where they currently store gas. The infrastructure and equipment necessary to store, transport, dispense, and deliver gas is neither cheap nor more easily created/distributed than the infrastructure necessary to supply electricity. In fact electricity is far easier to get than gasoline in the USA. The issue is how much electricity and how devoted are we to move away from an infrastructure we’ve spent 80-100 years to develop (gas stations everywhere), and upgrade one that already exists- the Electric grid. just about Every building in the USA is wired for electricity.

  • China phones

    What’s Smart EV Moves? It is good or bad for the next genernation?

  • China phones

    What’s a good blog here, I have follow it on twitter.