Driving an AmericanBuilt Electric Car

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Saturn Electric Cars

Driving an American-Built Electric Car

Written by Philip Proefrock on 19/01/10

Advanced Mechanical Products (AMP) wasn’t on the show floor in Detroit at this year’s North American International Auto Show, but a few of the company’s representatives brought the company’s X Prize competition entry vehicle to Detroit. Initially, I was offered a chance to drive the car out on the streets of Detroit, but the weather that day was somewhat icy (and I had a particularly slow drive into downtown Detroit to get to the show that day). The lightweight, rear wheel-drive, electric-converted Sky was probably better handled by someone familiar with it, so I went for a ride with AMP President Steve Burns to experience the AMP’d Sky.

Given the conditions, we stuck to the surface streets, so we didn’t demonstrate the 0 — 60 mph (0 — 100 kph) in about 8 seconds that the car can reach. But, other than the big, red cutoff switch where the gearshift lever had been (an X Prize requirement), it was a Saturn Sky inside, and driving around was really no different than riding in any other car on a cold January day.

Since the vehicle we were in is AMP’s X Prize entry, there were a couple elements that were more like a test vehicle than a finished car. In addition to the aforementioned cut-off button, there was some extra equipment among the batteries under the hood, and there was soundproofing omitted in the rear, so the motors were louder than they would be in a commercial AMP Sky, though not so loud that we couldn’t have a conversation. But, beyond the unusual motor noise, the vehicle was an ordinary Saturn Sky in look and feel.


AMP’s approach has been to work with the best of what is already available, rather than designing new systems from scratch. This is why they are working with existing vehicles that have already been engineered and safety tested to the extent that only a large automaker like GM can manage. While they take out the gas engine and install stacks of batteries and a pair of electric motors directly connected to the rear wheels, they leave as much of the conversion vehicle intact. Nothing is welded to the existing frame. The brakes and tires are exactly as they came from Saturn.

Saturn Electric Cars

This actually disadvantages the conversion in some ways. For example, the rolling resistance of the stock tires is not as ideal for an electric vehicle. But this makes it easier to produce the vehicle without expensive design and engineering changes.

The electric motors are the same ones that GM is using in their Tahoe hybrid. But, using two of them to propel a much lighter vehicle means that the vehicle can be 100 percent electrically driven. Again, by using stock parts, AMP makes it that much easier to build an affordable, serviceable electric car.

Customers can take their car to a dealer or service center and have the brakes repaired using identical parts to a standard Sky.

We’ve also started an interview with Steve Burns for an upcoming EcoGeek of the Week segment. If you have questions you’d like us to ask, you can ask them in the comments below (before this Thursday 1/21/2010).

Saturn Electric Cars

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