KleenSpeed's KAR could storm electric car market, but needs a manufacturer
What would be the modern electric car equivalent to the old school VW Beetle? Small, inexpensive, designed for the people, that's what the original Beetle stood for (unlike today's caricature of the Beetle that's on sale now). Calling it the "Car of the Future" and the "VW Bug, in the electric version," KleenSpeed CEO Tim Collins unveiled the KAR on Wednesday evening at the San Francisco Auto Show. The KAR is a very small, two seater, inexpensive ($9,995) electric car that amazingly delivers a lot of power and a massive 150 mile electric driving range.
The combination, of a massive electric range and a tiny price has not yet been done by any electric car maker. KleenSpeed has a business model with which they could pull this off. The ultra-low price does depend on a high manufacturing volume, and a leased battery pack. By leasing the battery pack its' cost is removed from the KAR's MSRP, and is replaced by a monthly lease fee. How much? That's envisioned to be $175 per month.
The Renault ZOE is also sold under a similar model, with a lower up-front cost and a leased battery pack.
We covered the initially revealed specs of the KAR on Monday, but the company released on Wednesday more details.
There are two versions of the KAR. The KAR S EV is the normal version, and its estimated MSRP is $9,995. The KAR GT EV has a beefier suspension that's closer to racing quality (Tim Collins has a background as a race car driver), and its estimated MSRP is $13,995. Both models offer the same 40 kilowatt-hour battery pack, giving a 150 mile electric driving range.
The drive train is built around a UQM 100 kilowatt motor & controller spec'd at 134 horsepower and 221 ft-lb of torque. The wheelbase of 80.9" puts it in the ballpark of the Smart Fortwo or Fiat 500. The 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds means it'll have fun acceleration but top speed is limited to 85 miles/hr. Collins was boasting it'll go faster than a Tesla Model S, but maybe he hasn't looked at the S's spec sheet. He was present last summer when five Tesla Model S's smoked that many Tesla Roadsters at last summer's REFUEL race, and KleenSpeed does participate in REFUEL every year. Maybe Collins will be putting his money where his mouth is at next summer's REFUEL race, and pit the KAR against the Tesla's?
While Tesla and KleenSpeed are targeting very different markets, the KAR's claimed 150 mile range as well as the zippy acceleration does make us want to name a point. The two obviously appeal to different classes of people. One critique of Tesla and Fisker is that while it's great they're building electric cars, both companies are targeting the ultra-rich while promising they'll eventually get lower priced models on the road. KleenSpeed, however, is starting from the low cost mass market end of the spectrum.
Like the Tesla Model S, the KAR prototype has a fully digital dashboard and touch-sensitive central display panel. The central display panel looked like it was 12-15" in size and occupies the space where the heating/cooling/radio controls would sit. The KAR is turned on and off from this control panel, and you also select forward/reverse/neutral from on-screen buttons.
There is a telemetry system which can, at the KAR owners option, send data back to KleenSpeed servers. The company has an enlightened attitude about that data. First, they've partnered with Scrambls, a division of WAVE Systems, to provide data encryption to ensure the data is transferred securely over the Internet. Second, they describe the data that's collected as being the car owner's data, and intend to make all the data available rather than locking it away as other automakers do.
The KAR on display at the show is a prototype model and had a few rough edges. The build quality of the passenger compartment seemed reasonable given the price and the fact that the KAR's body is sourced from Chinese automakers. A company spokesperson said to expect quality similar to other $10,000 cars.
Its design features two main units: The skateboard chassis containing the battery pack, suspension, and drive train; with the KAR's body and passenger compartment bolted on top.
The chassis was designed by KleenSpeed's engineers, and what the company brings to the table is the full system of motor control system, integration with the UQM drive train, battery pack and battery management systems. The company's intent is to license the design to other manufacturers who will build car bodies that attach to the KAR's base chassis.
For a tiny start-up automaker, KleenSpeed has big plans. To achieve the $10,000ish MSRP they have to somehow ramp up production higher than any other electric car has been manufactured before. If this can be done, they will have erased one of the major barriers to electric vehicle adoption, the high out-the-door purchase price. The price, speed and electric driving range should make the KAR a killer combination, if they can work out the rough edges and line up a manufacturer and dealer/distributor network.