The Business of Converting Existing Cars Into E.V.’s
September 1, 2010
By JIM MOTAVALLI
If you like the idea of an all-electric Chevrolet Equinox S.U.V., General Motors won’t sell you one, but Amp Electric Vehicles certainly will. Amp, based near Cincinnati, is one of a growing number of companies that says it believes it can make a successful business out of converting conventional cars to battery vehicles.
Amp brought one of its cars, a converted 2010 Equinox LS, to New York recently. Aside from “electric” badging, the car looked like a stock G.M. product. But it certainly didn’t drive like one.
The top speed remained theoretical, because Manhattan streets are not conducive to fast cruising. But in a brief burst on a relatively deserted avenue it exhibited spirited performance. The car felt solid on the potholed roads and obviously much quieter than the gasoline version. A glitch stalled it in traffic, but for the most part it performed and handled well.
The Amp has an on-board charger, and the company said the vehicle will fill up in four hours from a 220-volt outlet. The vehicle uses a 37-kilowatt-hour air-cooled lithium-ion-phosphate battery pack imported from China and two rear-mounted Remy electric motors (as supplied to G.M. for its two-mode hybrids) to produce 160 kilowatts of peak power and about 214 horsepower. A Delphi inverter and most of the batteries fit neatly under the hood. The company claims the S.U.V. can achieve zero to 60 in less than 8 seconds and reach a top speed of 90 miles per hour. It can travel 150 miles on a charge.
According to Steve Burns, the chief executive of Amp, the company (which went public two months ago as an over-the-counter stock) chose the conversion route because producing a car from scratch would have meant $2 billion and five years of work, with no guarantee that the resulting product would be superior to its Equinox donor vehicle. “The bar is set pretty high for a modern-day passenger car,” he said.
Amp also converts G.M.’s discontinued Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice roadsters. The company entered a Sky in the $10 million Progressive Automotive X Prize, reaching the finals but finishing out of the money.
For the Equinox, the conversion price is $32,500 (though a $7,500 federal tax credit takes that down to $25,000), and the $22,000 to $30,000 cost of the vehicle itself. The Solstice/Sky models are eligible for a $2,500 tax credit, reducing the $27,500 cost of conversion to $25,000.
Will people pay $50,000 for a battery-powered Equinox? Is an approximately $45,000 electric Solstice commercially viable? Amp thinks so.
The company has built three Equinox conversions, but Mr. Burns said the company planned to add another 10 next month for customers. In the next year, he said, Amp said it would produce 700 to 1,000 electric cars. The company also has long-term plans to convert vehicles from other manufacturers as well.
Amp could presumably produce cheaper conversions of the Equinox if it started with so-called “glider” versions of the car minus their gasoline drivetrains. But though the company is seeking such a relationship with General Motors, Amp doesn’t have one now.
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