Days of the gas gussler numbered
AN Australian-designed electric car to be built in China plans to take on the world with a sub-$10,000 price, an iPad like dash capable of downloading apps and the promise of never needing fuel.
Set to debut at July's Melbourne motor show, the Noddy-like EDay hatch will initially arrive next year as 100 lease vehicles before going on sale in 2012 from $9990 (plus on-road costs), undercutting petrol powered competitors by thousands and about 14 per cent of the price of the only mass produced electric car on sale today, Mitsubishi's i-MiEV.
Able to travel up to 160km between charges, it has a top speed of just 80km/h and a weight of 450kg it will be the slowest and lightest new car on the market - and the cheapest, something sure to cement its appeal in a segment where shaving a few hundred dollars can boost sales.
The top secret project is being run by EDay Life, a small Australian company run by former Holden director of innovation and advanced engineering Laurie Sparke and car dealer Robert Lane. The pair have formed a team of 20 designers and engineers and are finalising plans to sell the cars in countries as diverse as Malaysia, Hong Kong, UK and France.
"What we're bringing ... is Australian innovative technology," says Sparke of the ambitious start-up project. "We are going to develop the new-generation of electric car."
While the prospect of a start-up taking on the established car makers may seem laughable, Sparke says the size, flexibility and clean-sheet approach brings advantages.
Just as fledgling brand Tesla prompted others to take notice - Toyota has since signed an agreement with the Californian electric car specialist - he predicts a rise of next-generation vehicle manufacturers driven from the IT industry, pointing to the Dell computers business model of lean manufacturing.
"If you look at who is driving [the technology behind] electric cars, they're not from the auto industry," says Sparke.
"It's the new technology that is coming, and the global [automotive] manufacturers can't respond."
Sparke says a ground-up design allows engineering flexibility while Australian ingenuity - often leveraged by US giants Ford and General Motors with their local operations - and EDay's miniscule size gives it an advantage over established players.
"Currently an electric car is simply the smallest car in a global manufacturer's range. It's had the engine pulled out and an electric motor put in - that's a very compromised solution. An electric car needs to be different in a whole range of ways and we'll develop those in Australia.
The EDay will also get a touchscreen display to control major functions and the ability to download apps that could include everything from basic vehicle data to vehicle-to-home communication
Sparke believes the world will be accepting of an affordable electric car. Already there are various Australian fledgling operations converting conventional hatchbacks into electric vehicles, but the EDay promises to be by far the most affordable.
"Our global advantage is we'll be able to do that in a time frame of three to six months with smart solutions that aren't locked up in the way cars are always being done," he says. "And we'll have globally competitive vehicles."
However, he concedes manufacturing a budget electric car in Australia doesn't make sense, prompting the move to utilise the low manufacturing costs of China, which is fast becoming a global automotive powerhouse. With production set for a Shanghai plant with capacity of 50,000 (and potential for 100,000) EDay plans to sell the cars around the world.
"What we've been very skilled at in Australia the last 20 years is smart engineering. We [Australia] can't manufacture as cheap as China, but we can design, develop, test and certify and that's the automotive business that Australia can do, a world-competitive business."
Sparke admits the EDay is a specific vehicle that will sell largely on price and its zero emissions promise.
"We're starting with a car that's fairly mundane," he admits. "But we'll satisfy the market needs because people are eager to have an electric car and its looks are a secondary consideration.
Sparke, who was instrumental in introducing life saving safety features into the Holden Commodore is aware of the mountainous road ahead in a world where profits have slimmed and major brands been forced to change the way they do business.
"Today's challenge is to establish ourselves in the market as a credible supplier of electric vehicles," he says. "To ensure we don't compromise that credibility, we've gone to a lot of effort to monitor this fleet so we don't trip over when we go into a larger volume of production.
"We'll utilise Australian technology and suppliers to do the prototype and testing here. And when we've got a proven solution, we'll send that to our manufacturers in China and they'll produce it."