Little-known EV-maker Wheego debuts the 2011 Life--its 100-mile-range electric two-seater--at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show this month.
It's the first highway-speed vehicle for Wheego, which launched a similar-looking low-speed electric vehicle called Whip in 2009, around the same time it split from parent company Ruff N Tuff. Since then the Georgia-based e-carmaker has been flying under the radar, albeit unintentionally, while it developed the Life, which has a top speed of 65 mph.
That's huge progress for a start-up with only five employees, and the Life is just the beginning. Wheego president Jeff Boyd says the company will introduce a highway speed crossover and truck in late 2011, which would bring its total electric product offering to four vehicles before many automakers have one on the market.
But let's start with the Life. At 118 inches, it's a foot longer than the Smart ForTwo and 3 inches wider, but uses a 115V lithium battery pack to power a 60-hp electric motor and delivers an approximately 100-mile range. It takes about 5 hours to charge the car from 50 percent to 100 percent using a level 2 charger. And yes, the mini car has been crash tested.
Wheego has developed the car to meet the 2011 automotive safety standards as set by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), including airbags, antilock brakes, and tire-pressure monitoring system. In addition to self-certifying that it passes all crash tests, Boyd fully expects NHTSA to choose their vehicle for its own independent testing when it hits its network of 30 dealerships in mid-December. They've also received their electric vehicle certification from the California Air Resources Board, which means it qualifies for the state's $4,000 tax credit in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit. In Georgia, the compact EV will earn state taxpayers a $5,000 credit.
And buyers will definitely want those credits to help them offset the Life's $32,995 price tag, and that's before the $1,995 optional air conditioning. But if you want an electric vehicle, your pickings remain slim, especially if you want that vehicle sooner rather than later. The consumer will also face stiff competition with the federal government, which is looking for bids from EV makers to supply the General Services Administration with 1,700 electric vehicles--100 of which Boyd expects will go to the White House. Nissan, which is building the 2011 and 2012 Leafs in Japan, has the capacity to manufacture 50,000 Leafs annually.
With demand coming from government and fleet contracts, which are crucial to helping manufacturers lower production costs until advances in battery technology makes it more attractive to the mass market, there's room for EVs of all shapes, sizes, and price tags. Besides, the Life isn't in competition with other electric vehicles. Says Boyd, "We're in competition with the internal-combustion engine."