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Dutch Firm Plans Cheap, Powerful Electric Cars

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 1:15pm

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (AP) -- A Dutch-based company announced plans Tuesday to produce affordable electric cars by the end of 2009, promising they will be much more powerful than existing models and have zero emissions.

Detroit Electric is in negotiations with Malaysia's national auto maker, Proton, to produce the car in this Southeast Asian nation and is also talking to a German and a U.S. carmaker, said the company's chief executive, Albert Lam. He declined to name the companies.

"We believe in affordable electric vehicles for the public. That is our dream ... to find innovative ways to counter global warming," Lam told a news conference before journalists test drove a sports car, a sedan and a subcompact car fitted with Detroit Electric's technology.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi drove the sedan Sunday when he arrived at a National Day parade -- which officials called a testament of the government's commitment to finding green alternatives to tackle rising fuel prices.

Lam said the car will use lithium ion batteries and a motor developed in-house.

"When people tell you it (an electric car) is not practical, that it runs at a slow speed and you can't charge it, that is not true," Lam said at Proton's test track in central Shah Alam city.

An Associated Press journalist who drove the sports car felt it zoom from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in less than five seconds, comparable to gasoline-powered sports cars.

Most electric cars developed so far are quite a bit heavier than regular cars, weighed down by their battery and motor, which limits their acceleration.

Existing models were used for the demonstration -- the sports car was a modified Lotus -- but will create their own designs and market the vehicles under the Detroit Electric brand -- named after a now-defunct U.S. company that produced electric cars in 1907. Lam bought the rights to the name to restore its historical legacy.

Detroit Electric's chief scientist, Frits van Breemen-Schneider, who invented the motor, said it is four to 12 times lighter than existing motors and has a much higher power-to-weight ratio. It can produce 5 kilowatts of power per kilogram, whereas the best electric car in existence can only produce 0.25 kilowatts per kilogram, he said.

The 80,000 ringgit ($24,000) price tag of the car will be more expensive than conventional vehicles in Malaysia, though the additional expense would be offset by fuel savings. The car battery will have a life span of 200,000 kilometers (125,000 miles).

The company is majority owned by Lam, a British citizen, and has entered into a partnership with several Dutch, American and Malaysian investors with an investment of about $300 million over the next five years.

They are targeting about 30,000 vehicles worldwide within the first year, ramping up to 270,000 vehicles in the third year.

The cars will have a range of about 200 miles on a full charge after keeping them plugged to an ordinary electric power outlet for seven to eight hours.

Lam acknowledged a major challenge would be to set up battery charging stations throughout the country for long distance travel, but expressed confidence it can be done at least in Malaysia because of the government's backing.

"It is about conviction. If you're an early adapter, there will be some inconveniences, but I'm sure that in two to three years, there will a comprehensive infrastructure for fast charging," Lam said.

The Dutch government has given incentives to electric cars, including free parking.

"It is great news that Detroit Electric is practically ready to produce a car that has zero emission," said Jan Soer, the Netherlands' deputy ambassador in Malaysia. "All the technology came from the Netherlands. We are very proud of our tulips, our windmills and our wooden shoes, but we are more than that."

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