Max Gladwell

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The Ultimate Green Hack: An Electric MINI Cooper

September 27th, 2008 by Max Gladwell · 5 Comments

Hybrid Technologies hacks production cars like the MINI Cooper and re-brands them as electrified green machines.

Driving an all-electric vehicle takes some getting used to. First, you have to remember to plug it in at night. Next, you have to get over shifting and the very sensation of shifting, because there’s just one forward gear: drive. Finally, you must come to terms with the power.

With all-electric cars, the torque is transferred to the wheels almost instantaneously and at maximum power. There’s no build-up like you get with internal combustion. One touch of the pedal on Hybrid Technologies’ LiV Flash, and this hacked MINI Cooper jumps off the line without the slightest hesitation. Seriously, you have to get used to feathering the gas pedal because it’s dramatically different from what you’re used to.

Of course, this is not exactly what you would assume about an electric car i.e. a much larger type of golf cart. But that’s the nature of electricity. It produces power more quickly and more efficiently than liquid fuels and internal combustion. It is superior in every way. This is the future of personal transportation and personal refueling.

Hybrid Technologies (HT) has been around since 2000. Among other things, the company offers a line of lithium-powered vehicles, many of which are quite familiar. In addition to the MINI, you can order a SMART Car (LiV Dash), Chrysler PT Cruiser (LiV Surge), and Toyota Yaris (LiV Wise). The company buys these cars, removes the engine, drivetrain, exhaust, and much more, replacing it all with the company’s own battery-electric drivetrain and recharging system. It’s the ultimate green hack.

From the driver’s perspective, the LiV Flash is nearly indiscernible from a stock MINI Cooper. HT adds a few new controls for the AC, power windows, and power locks. Mounted in front of the shift knob, you find a display that shows battery power, range, total energy used (w-hr), efficiency (w-hr), battery temperature, and more. The speedometer and odometer still work, but the fuel gauge always shows empty, and the tachometer never moves.

The lithium-ion batteries are recharged from standard 110 or 220 outlets. As the numbers suggest, 220 charges the batteries at twice the rate i.e. half the time. We used 110, and it took longer than the six hours HT advertises, so 220 would be essential if you were to own one of these. Otherwise, you plug the HT power cord into an outlet where the gas cap used to be, and the system automates the recharge. It will shut off and stop drawing power as soon as it achieves a full charge. It’s a rather advanced system that maximizes efficiency.

The MINI’s range is 100 to 120 miles on a full charge with a top speed of 80 mph. HT claims a 0-60 mph time of nine seconds, which felt about right. But we were more impressed with 0-30 mph, which arrives in an instant. The acceleration feels like it levels off from 30 to 60, so you probably hit 30 in about three seconds. When you let off the gas, the motor reverses and slows the car while capturing that energy. In other words, the motor turns into a generator and recharges the batteries on hills and when coasting. So you can maximize efficiency with strategic driving. HT says their test drivers get up to 158 miles on a charge this way.

There’s no question that it’s a fun and even thrilling ride, while also being green. The question is whether it’s worth $58,000. In other words, is it worth buying one green MINI for the price of two standard models? Let’s run the numbers.

The cost to run the LiV Flash, according to HT, is approximately $2.20 of electricity per charge. So you’ll go 120 miles on less than the cost of a gallon of gas. So if you drive 15,000 miles per year, you’ll spend $275 on “fuel”. According to message boards on the gasoline MINI, it ranges from 18 to 41 mpg. So let’s call it 30 mpg to give it the benefit of the doubt. The last tank of gas we bought cost $3.69/gallon. At that rate you’d spend about $1,845 per year on fuel to go the same distance.

HT says the LiV Flash batteries can be charged to full capacity at least 2,500 times. Beyond this, the company says you’ll start to max out below 100%, which will reduce the car’s range. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop driving it. And when it comes to replacing the batteries, it’s anybody’s guess what they’ll cost in five to 10 years. The assumption is they could get pretty cheap. So you’re looking at a good seven years of reliable, full-range driving before you either buy new batteries or deal with a shortened range. At that rate, you’re saving about $11,000 on gas over seven years. You’ll also save on maintenance expenses, which typically run about $650 per year or an additional $4,550 over the seven years we’re estimating. So in a seven-year period, you’ll save $15,550. If you take this out to 10 years, you’ll save $22,200, which is close to paying for itself.

There are obviously a number of variables that can throw this balance one way or another, but it’s pretty clear you’ll pay a premium to drive this emissions-free ride. Emissions free? Yep.

Compared to the alternatives available, this is as emissions free as it gets because it’s not just about CO2. While it’s almost certain that your grid power comes from fossil fuels, using electricity for transportation is more than twice as efficient. If the electricity is produced from natural gas, then the impact is minimal. It’s more efficient and cleaner than running straight CNG (compressed natural gas), and natural gas doesn’t emit cancer-causing toxins like gasoline and diesel. If it’s coal power, then it’s still emissions free in the sense that you’re not spewing toxic emissions in urban environments where most people have to breathe. Indeed, there are zero tailpipe emissions.

The reality is that nothing is emissions free. Solar power has a carbon footprint, yet we all agree the power it produces is carbon neutral. The ideal scenario, of course, is that you use solar power to fuel the LiV Flash and take another step toward absolute zero emissions, which is currently unattainable.

Overall, we’re quite impressed with our first all-electric experience. Due to the fact that you can produce your own electricity via solar and wind and the fact that you can refuel your own vehicle, avoiding gas stations or biofuel stations or hydrogen stations altogether or CNG stations, makes electric vehicles the clear choice for a sustainable future in transportation.

The really cool graphical wrap was done by SkinzWraps.

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Tags: Alternative Energy · Automotive · Online Video