Test Drive: Phoenix Motorcars electric Sport Utility Vehicle

I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the Dallas, Texas unveiling of the new Phoenix Motorcars Sport Utility Truck tonight, up in Farmer’s Branch, at the Sam Pack Automotive Museum.

Ed Begley Jr., the guy from the Living With Ed TV show, was there to introduce the truck.

I was on the list with my coworker Steve, from Clean Air Gardening. (We were invited because Clean Air Gardening specializes in environmentally friendly lawn and gardening tools and supplies, and the organizers correctly figured that we would be interested in attending.)

We arrived at 6 p.m., and immediately went over to sign up for a test drive. Steve and I were number 16 and 17 on the list, and we each got to drive the electric truck a few blocks after waiting for a half hour or so.

When you sit in the driver’s seat, it seems pretty much like a regular car, until you look down at the shifter. There was a neutral setting in the middle. To put it into reverse, you just pull the shifter backwards to R. To drive forward, you shift it forward into D. Those three settings were all that there was.

I drove at dusk, so I turned on the headlights during my drive.

When you first push down the pedal to give it gas (or juice, I guess I should say), it was a little bit sluggish and weird feeling, and you could tell it wasn’t a regular car. It was much quieter, for one thing. I wouldn’t call it a fast car, by any means. I would probably compare it to driving a Toyota Corolla as far as the acceleration goes. But it was plenty fast for a typical commuter vehicle, which is how you’d probably use it.

The prototype model I drove had no air conditioning, but it was perfect weather, so it didn’t matter. The final version is supposed to have AC. They told me that it will cut your driving range by 20 to 30 percent to run with the AC on. The heat also uses battery life, because gasoline cars use the heat from the engine, and an electric car doesn’t generate heat that way, so it needs a heater.

The weirdest part about the truck was the way they had it set up to regenerate power whenever you let off the gas pedal or hit the brakes. You actually didn’t need to brake very much, because if you let completely off the gas, then the car started to slow down fairly dramatically as it used the slowing down kinetic energy to charge back up the battery. It takes a slightly different driving style to keep you from speeding up and then slowing down all the time like some kind of a crazed taxi driver.

The truck looks kind of like a plainer version of the Honda Ridgeline, but it is sized sort of like the Subaru Baha, but maybe a little bigger and taller.

They said that the price would be $45,000 for the truck. In California, you might pay as little as $35,000, because the state evidently has some kind of program to promote the use of zero emission vehicles and will give you back $10,000, from what I understood from the Phoenix Motorcars guy I talked to. Evidently, the company also gets some kind of subsidy that brings the upfront price down too, or it would be higher than $45,000. Their cost to build it is evidently higher than that, but they didn’t say how much higher.

After test driving it, I can say that I would definitely buy one if I could get the $35,000 California deal, and I would probably buy it at $45,000 if the car was available and there was a place in Dallas to get it fixed.

The company says it is making 500 of them in 2007, and selling those first 500 mostly to fleets, like PG&E in California.

In 2008, they should make several thousand (I don’t remember exactly, but I think they said 5,000), and they hope to ramp up to around 20,000 in 2009.

Here are the details from the sheet they handed out at the event:

Phoenix Motorcars Sports Utility Truck Specs:

Top Speed: 95 mph

0 to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds

Range: Urban or Highway, 100 plus miles per charge

Charging Time: 5 to 6 hours with the 6.6KW on-board vehicle charger, but just 10 minutes to 95 percent SOC (I think that means 95 percent charged) with the 250KW charger that you would stay at your home or charging location.

So how much does it cost to charge it? Approximately $3 to $5 for a full charge that will take you 100 plus miles, according to the engineer I spoke with.

Motor Manufacturer: UQM Technologies

Power Rating: 100KW peak, 55KW continuous

Torque Rating: 500Nm peak, 300Nm continuous

Controller Thermal Management: Liquid cooling

Regenerative Braking: Programmable

On-Vehicle Charging System: UQM Technologies

Battery Type: NanoSafe Lithium Titanate

Battery Management System: Altairnano Technology Integrated BMU

Overall length: 194 inches

Overall Width: 73 inches

Overall Height: 69 inches

Wheelbase: 108 inches

Gross Vehicle Weight: 4,800 lbs

Curb Vehicle Weight: 3,800 lbs

Payload: 1,000 lbs

Battery Life: This type of lithium battery supposedly has no “memory” issues, and has a life span of 12 plus years, or approximately 250,000 miles.

Photos: (Click through to Flickr to see larger versions.)

Phoenix Motorcars truck engine

Phoenix Motorcars truck and crowd

Phoenix Motorcars truck side view


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Preston March 8, 2007 at 11:03 pm

What? I was there too. It was pretty fun, huh?! I didn’t know you were in Dallas. I loved the tricked out Phoenix inside the showroom. That Ed is quite the nice guy. I’m glad I got the invite.

Kerry Bentra March 9, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Unfortunately, Ed is quite the big liar – in the film “Who Kiled the Electric car?” he claimed that the crappy, pathetic EV-1 met the driivng needs of 90% of the population. Yeah, right! 90% of the folks don’t even have anywhere they could recharge the batteries and, believe it or not, but most drivers occasionally have to travel to destinations over 40 miles away, which was about the limit for the EV-1 after a couple years. And apparently 90% could afford $45,000 for a two seat
without storage, adn $25,000+ every 5 years for new batteries. Oh yeah, the EV-1 was really the wonder car Ed claimed it was. Last month he called the NanoSafe batteries the Holy Grail that electric cars have been waiting for. Which is it Ed? What happened to that EV-1 wonder car, you lying fool?

admin March 9, 2007 at 8:13 pm

I’m not personally that interested in what Ed, or Al Gore, or Leonardo thinks, either way. I was more interested in the truck itself. (I didn’t see the electric car movie.)

In his defense, Ed spoke during the introduction and said that he had been driving electric cars since the 1970s, and his first one was a glorified golf cart. So I’m sure the EV-1 probably seemed like a dream car to him compared to that.

But regardless, if that truck I drove turns out to be real, where you can really get more than 10 years of battery life from it and more than 100 miles per charge, then I’d buy it. The vast majority of my driving is right here around Dallas, and my wife would still own a second car that we would use on long trips.

The whole thing left me feeling like electric cars are a real possibility, and might actually be around in the mainstream, at reasonable prices, within the next five years or so. Because you know if Phoenix Motorcars has any kind of success, then Toyota and Honda will be all over that idea and come out with their own versions, just like everyone jumped on the hybrid bandwagon once the Prius became a hit.

Charles S March 10, 2007 at 9:32 pm

I drove it at a much later time. When I asked about the rough regen., the rep mentioned that they may add options for different regen. levels and maybe even a performance/economy option to help extend battery range. I wish the rep was more excited and offer more info, but I guess he was probably pretty tired by the time it was my turn…

Karl March 13, 2007 at 12:41 am

Nanosafe the holy grail?? Hmm the specs are great unitl you look at the price tag- $75,000 for the battery pack. Ya can’t make these available for the general public anytime soon. On the other hand if EEStor’s solution does what it says it does then that will be the holy grail automakers are looking for: millions of charge cycles and a price tag of only $3,200 per storage system. If EEStor is true, then watch out Exxon.

greg woulf March 22, 2007 at 12:47 pm

The price tag of the battery pack isn’t known publicly yet.

The number you got from $75,000 is from the first order of 10 packs sold to Phoenix for $750,000 for 10 battery packs. That covers so much more than just the 10 packs.

They pass off a lot of the development costs to the consumer and the consumer gets the publicity, and a guarantee of delivery and other related technology along with warranties I’m sure.

It might cost more, it might cost less, right now Altair is still in the process of setting up their production facilities. I doubt they know what the pack will cost to make let alone sell for.

When they have a price on their site then we’ll know at what price they’re selling to consumers at. The materials shouldn’t cost more than a few thousand at most. A normal typical Lith-ion 15 kwh pack using off the shelf single cells would be about $4,500, and that’s selling to the public price, I’m sure their cost to produce is lower than that.

I don’t know how complicated manufacturing is, it seems like if it was too complicated they wouldn’t say they can produce thousands.

Pure Swag would put the cost of a 15kwh to produce at $10k, so after a couple of years of premium costs I’d expect it to sell for $15k.

I don’t know, but I don’t believe anyone does right now. I’ve got my fingers crossed for EESTOR, they keep saying this year and I’ll believe them until they miss the deadline.

Walter Puent May 30, 2007 at 3:34 am

The 250kW home recharger would require over 1000 amps. The typical home has 200 amp service. How do they do that?

admin May 30, 2007 at 6:33 am

Good question! I wonder if the “real” home charger system would then take a lot longer to charge the car, based on the lower amperage. Or maybe it would require an electrician to set it up with its own breaker or something.

Anonymous March 17, 2008 at 12:28 pm

I still do not know if this is an AWD or FWD car does anyone know.

Richard Poor March 27, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Watch out Exxon! Are you kidding? Exxon is partner in a Japanese Lithium motive battery company. The Phoenix electric “baja” is goofy. Get rid of the mini truck bed, lengthen the hood and make it a PHEV. Regen saturation makes for a brake off surge that is dangerous…already experienced in mild form by Toyota Hybrid Camry drivers…watch out pedestrians!

Ciborium July 5, 2008 at 1:51 pm

The 250kW charger runs on 480 volt 3 phase, so you would not need 1000 amps, but then again you probably don’t have 480v 3 phase in your garage either…

The article is incorrect when it states that the 10 minute charge is at your home.

A charging station (if/when they ever get built) would have such a connection. Many industrial buildings already have such connections. I work at a new car dealer in the service dept. We use 480v 3 phase for our air compressors, vehicle hoists, and some int/ext lighting.

Getting it put in your home garage though, would take some doing. It may be against code and/or zoning to put it in a residential garage.

Ciborium July 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

The car is FWD and comes as a SUV or a SUT.

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