Monday, January 14, 2008

Electric Cars -- The Latest Flying Carpets

Four gallons of gasoline -- about 20 pounds of fuel -- will move an average car farther than a quarter-ton -- 500 pounds -- of fully charged batteries. The Fisker, pictured here, looks great. For $80,000 you can own it, charge the batteries, drive it around the block a few times, and recharge it. But it doesn't solve the basic problem of all electric vehicles.

The problem boils down to batteries. But the chemistry of batteries is well known and not about to change. Meanwhile, most of our electricity generation depends on oil, natural gas and coal. One way or another, until nuclear power replaces power generated from hydrocarbons, we will depend on the same old combustion process to meet our rapidly growing demand for electricity.

DETROIT -- The race to develop an electric car is heating up and drawing increasing interest from the same venture-capital investors who helped build Silicon Valley.

The latest entrant is expected to be announced today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit when Fisker Automotive Inc. unveils an $80,000 battery-powered luxury car it aims to begin delivering in late 2009. The Fisker Karma, a so-called plug-in hybrid, can go 50 miles on electricity before a small gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity to charge a lithium-ion battery pack on board. The company has backing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, perhaps Silicon Valley's best-known venture-capital firm.

The Fisker Karma is a plug-in hybrid sports sedan set to begin delivery in late 2009.
The luxury-electric-car deal, finalized last week in Irvine, Calif., where Fisker Automotive is based, is one of the first deals in which former Vice President Al Gore provided advice for Kleiner, which Mr. Gore joined in November as a partner. The precise size of the investment in Fisker wasn't disclosed, but Mr. Lane said it was more than $10 million and "one of our bigger investments." Mr. Lane, the former No. 2 executive at software company Oracle Corp., will join Fisker's board.

Mr. Fisker's vision is to sell 15,000 electric cars a year. Mr. Fisker said the Karma is environmentally responsible and capable of going 125 miles per hour, consistently. It can hit a speed of 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, equivalent to the performance of a gasoline-powered V8 sports sedan, he said.

Silicon Valley money is backing an array of green-car projects that include little-known upstart companies such as Aptera Motors Inc. and Phoenix Motorcars Inc., both southern California companies. Tesla Motors Inc., the high-profile company that is close to shipping a $98,000 electric sports car, has raised $105 million from investors, including VantagePoint Venture Partners, Technology Partners, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Former tech executive Shai Agassi, formerly the products chief at German software behemoth SAP AG, announced last year that he was turning his energies toward electric cars. Mr. Agassi, who runs Project Better Place, a start-up based in Silicon Valley, has raised $200 million for a venture that would sell electric cars designed by auto makers such as France's Renault SA and set up a network of stations where drivers could charge or replace batteries.

The Karma, Mr. Fisker said, will use lithium-ion batteries, the most-promising next-generation energy-storage technology for automotive use so far. Some of those batteries, however, have been found to overheat. In 2006 and 2007, reports surfaced that lithium-ion batteries for laptops and cellphones were catching fire, leading to several recalls.

Mr. Fisker wouldn't say what kind of lithium-ion battery the Karma will use, but he said safety concerns have all been "resolved."


Anonymous okjimm said...

oh, wowsers....nobody cared about this opinion, either.!!!!

7:46 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

Except you. But you have included yourself in the category of "nobody", which makes you what? A zero?

11:07 AM  

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