Electric car start-up Fisker leads the news this week, both for unveiling the design prototype of its second extended-range electric car – the Atlantic (formerly known as Project Nina) – and for proving that you can’t keep a tenacious EV contender down (more on this later). The California-based EV-maker staged the official unveiling on the eve of the 2012 New York Auto Show, and judging by various reactions (“boy is it pretty!”) the reception was pretty good. The details, according to Inhabitat: the Atlantic is a mid-sized plug-in electric hybrid sedan which features an all-electric range of 50 miles in addition to a highly efficient four-cylinder turbocharged BMW engine that kicking in to generate electricity for longer trips, providing an extra 250 miles for a total extended range of 300 miles (Inhabitat also has plenty of photos of the “gorgeous new EV” if you care to see). According to GigaOm’s Earth2Tech, there weren’t too many details on price and launch date, but Fisker said the car would be priced in the range of an Audi 85 and BMW 3 series, so less than the Karma (Inhabitat says half the price of the Karma, actually, with the cheapest package set to sell for about $US45,000).
Fisker has gained its fair share of attention lately, both good and bad. Good: Canadian teen pop sensation Justin Bieber being gifted a $100,000 Fisker Karma for his 18th birthday, live on US TV. Bad (as described by Matter Network‘s Dave Hurst): Seeing the “excitement about the product crumble …thanks to the recent, incredibly public, failure of the $102,000 Fisker Karma while being prepped for testing by Consumer Reports.” It seems the Karma has experienced various technical difficulties, including problems with batteries supplied by A123 Systems, and software glitches in early models. Also bad was the freeze on loans from the US Department of Energy – due to missed production deadlines; and SEC investigations of original investors. As Hurst points out, any one of these developments, as well as the recent CEO change, “could mean that implosion is imminent.”
But, as Earth2Tech‘s Katie Fehrenbacher also notes, this week’s Atlantic launch seemed to be saying “‘yes’ Fisker will still make its second car, despite the series of troubles it’s faced in recent weeks.” Fehrenbacher says that the company’s chief design officer (and former CEO) Henrik Fisker said that the Nina (Atlantic) has been 90 per cent developed and that Fisker has raised $130 million in the past several weeks and now over a $1 billion in private investment. “We want to make it very clear that this car will be built and will go into production,” Fisker said. And with that attitude, and those looks (and that pop star connection), perhaps they will succeed. Inhabitat certainly seems upbeat: “The sleek design features rear handles that are flawlessly hidden between the window and the C-pillar. It’s the perfect example of sporty sedan meets EV, and it couldn’t be better timed – as the government is investing heavily in electric car infrastructure.”
Drive it, park it, fold it, leave it
From form to function, we cross now to Spain and the official launch of the Hiriko: a folding electric car that will soon be built by a consortium of Spanish and Basque companies (hence the name, which means urban in the Basque language). CleanTechies reports that the compactible car, that has been in the capable hands of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was this week presented officially to the press and general public by the European Commission’s President, José Manuel Durao Barroso, which touted it as “an answer to the crisis” of urban stress and pollution. Needless to say, it’s a two-seater, with a 120 kilometers (75 miles) range and a top speed of 50 kmph – both limitations making it the ideal urban ride. It’s powered by four individual in-wheel electric motors that enable the car to turn 360 degrees and park very easily. Driver and passenger both enter and exit the vehicle a front hatch.
But the feature that defines the car is its size – it’s tiny: 2.5 meters (8 feet) long unfolded, under 2 meters folded. That is to say, once folded, you could park three Hiriko’s in one regular parking space. As for the folding, this is done by activating a command on the in-built screen of the steering wheel. And about the steering wheel, as the car’s official website notes: “HIRIKO will be driven by means of a haptic steering wheel, without a steering bar, and it will be electronically managed. The joystick will be an option offered to those customers who demand it.” CleanTechies reports that the cities of Berlin, Madrid, Malmö, Hong Kong, Quito and San Francisco will soon test the Hiriko on their roads. The Huffington Post reports that talks are also under way with Paris, London, Boston, Dubai and Brussels.
See below for MIT Media Lab’s demonstration video of a half-scale version of the folding car, from August last year. As the MIT rep says, it’s designed specifically for one-way vehicle sharing – as in, you pick it up, drive it where you want to go, and then leave it (after folding it up, of course). He also points out that it’s not just an electric vehicle, but an electronic vehicle – “intelligent mobility.” The Hiriko is expected to go into production in 2013.
Out of Africa
Fisker might have lucked out by getting Justin Bieber on its team, but other EV companies have to get a bit more creative in order to raise the public profile of their wares. And French luxury electric vehicle maker Venturi is doing just that, announcing this week that its Berlingo model would be setting off on a long-distance adventure across eastern Africa. Venturi, which EarthTechling reports has staged similar expeditions in the past, is calling this latest effort (which is reportedly back by noted EV enthusiast Prince Albert II of Monaco) “Misson 04,” in which the company’s all-electric Berlingo will travel almost 3,000 miles, starting in Nairobi, Kenya, and travelling through nature reserves in Tanzania and Zambia, along Lake Victoria, through the Okavango Delta to Botswana, and winding up in Johannesburg.
The Berlingo sports three 23.5kHh nickel sodium chloride batteries and a 42kW, three-phase asynchronous electric motor. This all adds up to give it a range of approximately 310 miles and a top speed of just under 70 miles per hour. As EarthTechling points out, finding appropriate stations to charge the vehicle, on a continent where 65 percent of its inhabitants have no electricity at all, will be one of the tour’s main challenges. But if the mission is a success, it will prove that EVs can endure tough conditions, just like conventional cars. The entire journey will be documented, and those interested can follow it on a website set up to follow the mission, which is set to kick off on May 11.