The electric car industry is getting a serious jolt of sex appeal.
A Los Angeles father-and-son design team that created a curvaceous, hand-built, gasoline-powered racer with a top speed of 190 miles per hour has joined with a North Carolina company that will transform it into a zero-emissions electric hybrid but will retain the sleek look.
Mullen Motor Co. and Hybrid Technologies of Mooresville, N.C., plan to unveil their Hybrid GT at the New York Auto Show on April 14.
The developers claim the GT will have a 0-to-60 time of three seconds, will be capable of speeds close to 150 miles per hour and will have a range of close to 150 miles a combination not yet seen in an electric car. In addition, the car is powered by a combination of lithium polymer batteries and solar power, which will slowly charge the batteries while the car sits in a parking lot, making it one of a kind.
"We've been waiting for something to get excited about a car that truly pushes aside the conventional wisdom that electric cars are slow and fragile," said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of The Green Car Journal, a publication dedicated to covering the alternative vehicle industry. "If nothing else they should raise some eyebrows."
The project got its start when retired film industry veteran Art Allen, and his son, Scott, a BMW salesman, were both in search of a hobby five years ago. They decided to build their own Ferrari-inspired racing car. The elder Allen had raced and worked on race cars since the 1940s and had established connections in England. So they began importing parts and had the frame of their first race car built in England.
From there, the duo rented a space in Chula Vista and went to work building the car, spending more than $200,000 of the elder Allen's retirement money on development.
"It started out as just something for us to work on during the weekends," Art Allen said last week, as he leaned on their shiny creation. "So my son and I started playing around and this is what we came up with."
The result was the Mullen M-11: a flashy sports car with the gaudy performance specs. Top speed is about 190 miles an hour. The car weighs a light 2,000 pounds, is propelled by a V-8 internal combustion engine and costs about $90,000.
The duo first showed the car at the L.A. Auto Show in 2001 and won several awards for its design. "That's when we realized we might be on to something," Scott said.
It later got a mention in Forbes magazine, and was featured in a 2002 Microsoft commercial. But it wasn't until the father-and-son team took their car to the Consumer Electronics Show last year that they met up with executives at Hybrid Technologies.
"We fell in love with the Mullen as soon as we saw it. We had a signed partnership 24 hours later," Richard Griffiths, a Hybrid Tech spokesman said.
Hybrid Tech wanted to keep the M-11's design but swap out the gasoline engine for an electric hybrid. The car's engine compartment could easily accommodate the odd-sized electric hybrid system.
"We've combined the top lithium ion battery technology and the top electric motor technology to get this car going," Griffiths said. "(But) if all of that technology isn't surrounded by something striking, no one cares."
Hybrid Tech was established in 2000 as a company that combines technologies from different parts of the world to make cutting-edge vehicles. It's currently working on a hybrid Mini Cooper for the British Consulate in Mexico City, a fleet of hybrid cabs set to hit the streets of Sacramento and a Volkswagen concept vehicle all utilizing the same technology in the Hybrid GT.
Mullen is providing the body and chassis to Hybrid Tech, which will transform the eye-catching car into what they are hoping will become the fastest hybrid production vehicle. The current land-speed record for hybrid-powered cars is 131 miles per hour and was set in 2004 by a Toyota Prius on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
"We can't say how fast it will go, but we're taking a stab at the land-speed record and if all goes well we should smash it," Griffiths said. "We're actually going to improve on the performance of the Mullen a little, but the electric super car market isn't what we want to get into. We're just trying to show what the technology can do. We're looking to make a statement. This is the rock star's electric car."
Steve Temple, an auto journalist who has covered the industry for more than 30 years, agreed that what's been missing from the industry is a sexy car.
"Electric cars have been marketed and made to look like electric cars, not normal or appealing cars," he said. "If someone can come up with an electric vehicle that's a little flashy, fast and doesn't look like a phone booth on wheels, people will definitely be interested in it."
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