I had the opportunity to meet Steve Burns, CEO of AMP Electric Vehicles, when he was in Detroit for the NAIAS at Cobo.  I also got to ride in the Saturn Sky they have converted to an electric vehicle for the XPrize competition.  I wrote about the test ride for EcoGeek earlier, and have now posted a follow-up interview with him.  It’s a longer piece, so read it at EcoGeek if you’re interested.


[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Advanced Mechanical Products (AMP) wasn’t on the show floor in Detroit at this year’s North American International Auto Show, but a few of the company’s representatives brought the company’s X Prize competition entry vehicle to Detroit. Initially, I was offered a chance to drive the car out on the streets of Detroit, but the weather that day was somewhat icy (and I had a particularly slow drive into downtown Detroit to get to the show that day). The lightweight, rear wheel-drive, electric-converted Sky was probably better handled by someone familiar with it, so I went for a ride with AMP President Steve Burns to experience the AMP’d Sky.

Given the conditions, we stuck to the surface streets, so we didn’t demonstrate the 0 – 60 mph (0 – 100 kph) in about 8 seconds that the car can reach. But, other than the big, red cutoff switch where the gearshift lever had been (an X Prize requirement), it was a Saturn Sky inside, and driving around was really no different than riding in any other car on a cold January day.

Since the vehicle we were in is AMP’s X Prize entry, there were a couple elements that were more like a test vehicle than a finished car. In addition to the aforementioned cut-off button, there was some extra equipment among the batteries under the hood, and there was soundproofing omitted in the rear, so the motors were louder than they would be in a commercial AMP Sky, though not so loud that we couldn’t have a conversation. But, beyond the unusual motor noise, the vehicle was an ordinary Saturn Sky in look and feel.


AMP’s approach has been to work with the best of what is already available, rather than designing new systems from scratch. This is why they are working with existing vehicles that have already been engineered and safety tested to the extent that only a large automaker like GM can manage. While they take out the gas engine and install stacks of batteries and a pair of electric motors directly connected to the rear wheels, they leave as much of the conversion vehicle intact. Nothing is welded to the existing frame. The brakes and tires are exactly as they came from Saturn. This actually disadvantages the conversion in some ways. For example, the rolling resistance of the stock tires is not as ideal for an electric vehicle. But this makes it easier to produce the vehicle without expensive design and engineering changes.


The electric motors are the same ones that GM is using in their Tahoe hybrid. But, using two of them to propel a much lighter vehicle means that the vehicle can be 100 percent electrically driven. Again, by using stock parts, AMP makes it that much easier to build an affordable, serviceable electric car. Customers can take their car to a dealer or service center and have the brakes repaired using identical parts to a standard Sky.

We’ve also started an interview with Steve Burns for an upcoming EcoGeek of the Week segment. If you have questions you’d like us to ask, you can ask them in the comments below (before this Thursday 1/21/2010).

Previously on EcoGeek:
AMP Road Testing Saturn Sky All Electric Prototype
Saturn All-Electric Conversions Available Next Year

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]

I am always glad when I have a chance to write something positive for my adopted home state of Michigan (or, more broadly, for the Great Lakes region).  My brush with celebrity: seeing Bill Ford, Jennifer Granholm, and (possibly future governor) Andy Dillon at the Ford announcements today.


At the Detroit Auto Show on Monday, Ford Chairman William Clay Ford announced that the company was going to be investing an additional $450 million in facilities for the production of batteries and electric vehicles. Ford spoke of bringing battery technology back “in house,” and returning research and production of battery systems as a “core competency” for Ford. This move will relocate production from Mexico back to Ford’s home state of Michigan, a move which was welcomed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who shared the stage at the announcement.

Ford’s announcement comes shortly on the heels of GM opening its own battery manufacturing facility in Brownstown Township, MI.

The two long time automotive rivals appear to be opening a new chapter in their competition, and are setting the stage for electric cars to be an increasing part of the vehicle mix.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Audi showed up at this year’s North American International Auto Show with some impressive hardware. Not just the cars that they are showing, but also the award for the 2010 Green Car of the Year, which was awarded to the Audi A3 TDI at the LA Auto Show. And today, Audi unveiled their E-tron electric car concept, making another major automaker to join the electric vehicle bandwagon.

The A3 is driven by a 2.0 liter clean diesel engine that gets 42 MPG on the highway. The A3 is another example of the new clean diesel that is legal in all 50 states. Last year’s winner was the 2009 Jetta TDI, so clean diesel has certainly arrived as a competitor in the green car field. Other finalists for the award were the Honda Insight hybrid, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Toyota Prius, and the VW Golf TDI.

Audi also showed up with its second “e-tron” concept car. (An earlier e-tron concept was unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show a few months ago.) While it looks like something a Cylon might drive, it is a powerful 2-seat electric sports car with 45 kWh battery capacity and two electric motors that provide over 200 hp. This gives it a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles). As a sports car, its numbers aren’t quite as strong as the Tesla roadster, but it is likely to appeal to a different buyer than the Tesla.

In remarks today, the company announced that an e-tron vehicle is expected to be ready by 2012. Audi’s strategy for electric vehicles is to skip the ‘mild hybrids’ that use electric motors just as a boost to the gasoline engine and instead focus on full hybrids. Their direction is to prepare for the future when electric drive vehicles are more commonplace. Audi representatives also announced that a full hybrid Audi A8 is to be unveiled at the upcoming Geneva Auto Show.

[Originally posted on EcoGeek]


Electric vehicles have become a common theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Major manufacturers are unveiling new electric vehicles that aren’t simply blue-sky concept car shells. They are designed, engineered and specified throughout, even if they aren’t going to arrive on the showroom floor next month.

A sign of just how far things have come, Tesla is on the main floor, across the aisle from Audi and in between Land Rover and Lotus. There is also a part of the main floor designated as ‘Electric Avenue’ with numerous small manufacturers, as well as a display for the Automotive X Prize, with several of the entrant vehicles on hand for display. Larger manufacturers, including Nissan, with the Leaf, and Mitsubishi, with the i MiEV. For both of these manufacturers, that is the extent of their Detroit presence at the show this year.

The basement of the show this year has been set up with the ‘EcoXperience,’ a set of small winding tracks with numerous hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles available to drive. It’s a tiny course, but it’s enough to put hundreds of journalists–and thousands of show atendees, starting this weekend–behind the wheel of an electric vehicle in order for them to be able to experience first hand what it is like to drive something different. The ordinariness of it may be what is most striking, and many more people may come to think of electric and alternative fuel vehicles as viable options, rather than just car show fantasy.

This morning, I have already driven a Think electric car and a Mercedes Benz fuel-cell crossover. I also met with the president of AMP Electric Vehicles and took a short ride on the streets of Detroit in their X Prize entry vehicle, an all-electric converted Saturn Sky. More about that to come.