An electric car that attempts to combine cost, comfort and style with good environmental credentials is due to be launched across Europe next year.
Its Swiss designers claim the three-wheeled vehicle, called Sam, is the most ambitious bid yet to fill the gap between the conventional small car and the scooter for town and city driving.
Cree (Creation Research Engineering and Ecology), the firm developing Sam, hopes it will sell by the tens of thousands as urban motorists look for smaller, cheaper ways to get around.
The electric motor powering the vehicle is designed to be as efficient as possible by making maximum use of the energy created naturally during driving.
Cree said most of the kinetic energy produced while rolling to a stop, driving downhill or braking is converted back into electrical power.
Sam’s polyethylene body and aluminium chassis give it a weight of 545kg including batteries, which Cree said also helps to dramatically reduce the vehicle’s power consumption.
Sam will retail for about £4,300, relying on rock-bottom running costs and savings in other areas such as insurance to tempt drivers away from the combustion engine.The car has a range of 50km to 70km depending on driving conditions, with a maximum speed of 85kph. According to Cree, a full battery charge takes six hours and uses only about 45p’s worth of electricity.
Cree chairman Daniel Ryhiner admitted Sam will inevitably attract most attention for its environmental credentials. The company claims that 90 per cent of the material used in the body, chassis and batteries can be recycled.
But Ryhiner said commercial success would depend on not compromising in other areas such as comfort, design and affordability. Not least, he hopes the tiny car – just 3.1m long and 1.5m wide – will achieve some degree of cult status.
‘The environmental aspect is extremely important, and was the reason we began developing the vehicle in the first place,’ said Ryhiner. ‘But environmental design does not sell vehicles. We know that if you want to create a product that is a commercial success, then issues of price and the way it fits into people’s lifestyles are just as important,’ he added.
Cree has tested prototypes of Sam among Swiss drivers and is currently re-engineering the vehicle to take account of their feedback.
Production next year
‘The market research suggests to us that we can sell several tens of thousands of units in Europe as long as we can keep the price below that of a conventional small car,’ said Ryhiner.
According to Ryhiner, a crucial element in keeping the retail cost low will come through manufacturing the vehicle within, or very near to, its major markets.The company is currently negotiating with potential production partners around Europe, and hopes to begin volume manufacturing in the first half of 2003.
Cree was set up in 1996 by a group of specialists from the automotive, materials and environmental technology sector with the aim of developing a novel vehicle for urban use.