Sunday, December 26, 2010

An exciting ride in a VERY fast EV!

If you give engineers enough time and money, they can design some amazing products. Witness the Peraves E-Tracer, winner of the tandem division of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize.

This amazing 2-seat enclosed "cabin" electric motorcycle can travel close to ten miles on a kWh of energy while traveling 70 mph on the freeway. That's the equivalent of about 350 miles per gallon!

My buddy, Stefano Paris, drove this amazing vehicle to the beach on Sunday and enticed me away from my friends at the rings with the promise of an extended test drive on the LA freeways.

This is the view from the cockpit as Stefano arrived at the beach. Stares from everyone!

My friend, Alexandra, tried to convince me she should get the ride, but I wasn't about to give up my turn in the E-Tracer for anything!

Stef wanted to drive across town to Pasadena to visit a friend. So, I settled into the back seat, which looked very cramped until I got in and found my legs could stretch out fully making for a very comfortable ride.

The E-Tracer, being an enclosed motorcycle, presents an interesting problem when coming to a stop. Since you can't put your leg down as on a normal motorcycle, you have to flip a lever on the dash which triggers outrigger-style wheels that immediately (within half a second) hit the ground. The noise was similar to that of the wheels being lowered on a jetliner, although much quicker and quieter. When the light turns green, or the traffic clears in front of you, the driver begins moving forward and then hits the "wheels up" lever to get back to two wheels.

We jumped on the freeway and Stefano gave me a taste of what this engineering marvel was all about. Traffic was light, and conditions good, so he just barely opened the throttle and the bike bolted forward like it had all the power in the world. We've all driven cars for years, and everyone knows the feeling of a given vehicle's power to weight ratio. Most cars have generally the same feel, a lot of weight and only moderate power. This was not like that.

The acceleration was an enormous rush! It feels like you have about double the power of a normal car, but with one fourth the weight and virtually no drag.

We zoomed past the car in front of us like it was barely moving. It felt a lot like my exhilarating rides in a Tesla roadster, only instead of having the pedal to the metal, the throttle was barely tweaked.

Cruising at 70, we were consuming a mere 4 kW of power from a motor capable of 150 kW. Stefano says the E-Tracer is geared for a top speed of 200 mph! While we weren't about to test the top end of this bike, we definitely got to test the acceleration. The gearing is set for a fast top speed, so the 0-60 acceleration was something just north of 4 seconds. However, the 60-120 time is a mind-blowing 3 seconds! I only got a slight taste of that since Stef is a careful driver and doesn't want to risk a ticket.

The power plant Stefano had at his control is an AC Propulsion 150. This is the same motor that BMW used in its uber-popular MINI-E, and is the basis of the motor in the first generation Tesla. One big difference is that the E-Tracer is a mere 1260 lbs, less than half that of the Tesla.

The straight cut gears gave out a soft whine much like the EV1. Stefano says the production model will use helical gears which will eliminate the sound all together. Other than the gears, all you can hear is the wind. It's a very quiet ride.The view from inside as we cruised the 110 freeway in downtown LA. Notice the "Tron" advert in the upper right.

The windows are huge from the inside. The visibility is almost as good as being outside, yet you're in a climate controlled environment, protected by a kevlar shell capable of withstanding a pretty serious crash. The people inside, who knows? We did have three point belts, and I felt much safer than on my Vectrix.

One of the other aspects of the E-Tracer that contributes to its phenomenal efficiency is a coefficient of drag - how much air it pushes aside as it travels down the freeway - of only .19. This compares to the Tesla Roadster's .35 and a Hummer H2 of .57.

In LA, Ferraris and Lamborghinis are somewhat common, so while they elicit a longing look from the teenage boys and their close cousins, men in their mid-life crisis, they don't garner near the attention this unique vehicle gets. Everyone who saw this bright yellow bullet with its decals and sleek "Tron-like" appearance strained to get close enough to take pictures. I've never seen so many cameras shooting in my direction! It was like being on a movie premiere red carpet. What fun! When we were going through downtown LA and the traffic slowed to a crawl, cars on both sides of us jockeyed to get pictures. Given the speed, we had to drop the balancing wheels several times which must have looked really bizarre to those behind us.

Being a careful driver, Stefano didn't go very fast, but now and then, he would tweak the throttle to show the 7 series Beemer next to us that, well, there is no contest here. I was jonesing for a Ferrari, or even better, a Tesla, to pull up beside us so we'd have some decent competition, but the BMW was the fastest car we got to blow the doors off of.

Before heading back to Santa Monica, we stopped by the home of Alec Brooks, one of the leading designers of the modern EV, and a central character in "Who Killed the Electric Car?". Alec knows this motor well having worked for both AC Propulsion and Tesla in his storied career. Few people on the planet could have the appreciation Alec has for what this vehicle represents.


  1. You could sell rides in that thing. What is the range like? Is it ready for a cross country trip?

  2. We just hosted the Zero Race competitors and the team is driving their electric version of the MonoTracer around the world (very similar to the E-Tracer). It has a solid 200 mile range and they already made it most of the way around the world - yes it's ready for a cross-country trip - literally. Awesome vehicle.

  3. Is there any plan to have the outrigger wheels drop automatically?

  4. It would be pretty embarrassing coming to a stop and rolling onto your side... especially with all those camera's clicking away!

  5. Wow Paul- very nice indeed. Thank you for sharing this awesome electric vehicle with us. Sara and I at still in shock that Electric Vehicles are now for sale at the Nissan dealership now- this is truly great to see a steady flow of new and revolutionary design EV's continuously being developed and designed. Sara and I are saving up for hour first Electric Vehicle. It's going to be the greatest feeling- owning and driving a 100% electric vehicle- no gasoline needed :) Congratulations Paul- you have arrived :)

  6. Paul,
    The only concern I have with the E tracer is the gears wheels. I think the wear and tear on it would be the most difficult to overcome and learning to drive it. Do you know how durable they are? It looks wicked cool though and definitely could be part of the Tron world. -Satoshi

  7. Cool. The Foothill Transit Ecoliner battery electric bus gets about 1400 passenger miles per energy equivalent gallon with comfortable roomy seats and air conditioning. We only go 55mph though but we can run on route 24/7 without returning to the shop to charge.

  8. Update... according to Stefano, the manufacturers are not necessarily going to incorporate an automatic function in the landing gear. Sorry, I misunderstood his comment from before.

  9. Thanks Paul for the excellent recap of our fun 70mi ride and a glimpse into what it's like to ride in the world's most efficient high performance vehicle. There are tens of millions of miles logged since the 1980s on Swiss designed Peraves Cabin Motorcycles (BMW gas powered) starting with the original EcoMobiles and now the new MonoTracers (a designed penned by Tobias Wülser in 2005, first shown at the Geneva Auto Show in 2007, and for sale in gas form since 2009). The existing stabilizer (outrigger) wheel system is tried and proven. It has evolved over time and there is a gear computer that aids, alerts, and protects you regarding gear retraction and deployment, but the pilot is the one that decides when the gear retracts or deploys. Realize that the driving dynamics are different when the gear is down (car mode) or gear is up (motorcycle mode). In car mode you turn in the direction you want to steer. In motorcycle mode you countersteer (turn away from the direction you want to go, just like any 2 wheel bicycle, motorcycle, etc...). You would not want the gear to retract when you weren't ready for the transition and you wouldn't want them to deploy into a pothole or at other inopportune times. This particular class of cabin motorcycle has over 25 years of history, design, and evolution behind it with a loyal and passionate owner's base. It is a challenging problem to arrive at a more elegant, lightweight, low power required stabilization solution that doesn't have other driving dynamic drawbacks. For the owners of these vehicles, part of the fun and specialty of the vehicle is being in control of those stabilizer wheels and truly "piloting" these TRON light cycles like one pilots an aircraft (with focus and attention). The MonoTracer E is the most fun wheeled vehicle I've ever experienced let alone the most efficient being 3-4x more efficient than any normal 4 wheel electric car. You travel in comfort, style, on the least kWhrs possible, and with acceleration performance that is shocking. With only a few PV solar modules on your residential roof you can supply all the electricity this vehicle will ever require for tens of thousands of all electric driving miles per year, decade after decade - driving on sunshine.

  10. Stefano took me for a 30-mile spin in this incredible space-mobile a few days before Christmas. I thought I might feel claustrophobic, but the sensation was free floating, fast and, as you indicate, Paul, Tracer visibility is panoramic. So what I felt was pure, unfettered JOY as we glided down the 22 freeway! I am so privileged to be one of the lucky few to have experienced a ride in the MonoTracer E ; ]

  11. I have very little worries about the gears. Stefano was kind enough to explain everything at the Premiere of What Is The Electric Car? Knowing how thorough the Swiss usually are, the manual/assisted gear system makes perfect sense.

    How many automated systems are in cars these days that would frighten the heck out of us if we realized we had no control over? With this gear system, I can still choose and be safe if I make a mistake.

    Also as a European, I have seen them on the road for while and find them simply intelligent.

    Thanks Scott!

  12. Nice design of your Electric Vehicle. What are the features of that? I want to feature that in my blog too. Thanks.

  13. Nice post Paul ! Are there plans for US distribution ? Costs ? I assume it's a Level 1 charge connection, but a Level 2 would be sweet...

    With a 200 mile range, it hits my target for my work travel, but is it quiet enough in the interior to take voice activated dictation while riding (driving ?) That would be one caveat since I'd be giving up my AutoExec car desk and laptop use.

    Lord knows I need my mobile time to be productive...

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