Monday, December 17, 2007

A full-size electric ATV...coming soon!

Barefoot Motors, a new startup founded by former Zap executives, has started promoting their "Model One" all electric ATV, or earth utility vehicle as they would say. And "full-size" is the key here, as even my 2-year-old already has a battery-operated Power Wheels ATV! So the Model One quad is powered by lithium batteries and equipped with both high and low gears, all wheel drive, regenerative braking and 1000 lbs of towing capacity.

What is the real impact?
You can read about their clear focus on the environmental issues involved with ATVs and the agricultural target market, but wanted to make some broader comments of my own. I think the simple advancement of technology in this industry, more options for different people, and more awareness and support for the versatility that quads offer is a great thing.

While they do use some pretty damning statistics of current ATVs...

"Gas-powered ATVs are up to 10 times more polluting than cars"

"Replacing a single gas-powered ATV with ours is the equivalent of taking four cars off the road."

I actually think comparisons to automobiles are bad statistics as environmental impacts go beyond just emissions. I'm becoming a huge proponent of "quads as vehicles", basically smaller machine footprint all the way around. I know it is a radical but think what some towns would look like if the majority of local transportation were done with side-by-sides and ATVs (reduced need keep clear cutting and paving roads and massive parking lots). Funny thing is, here in Arizona I can already ride my ATV around town although I often walk or ride my bike.

I think with more focus, the current quad designs can become la ot more efficient as well. Also weigh in battery disposal and the production of electricity to recharge them, although as they mention, if you have a solar system, as many wineries do, now you can close the energy loop completely.

Other applications?
So beyond the obvious target market for farmers, it would seem there would be more niches to start with as well. With increasing ATV use by hunters, the ability to get out into the remote woods with minimal noise and disruption would certainly be a huge benefit. I'm not a hunter myself, but I understand scent - or lack thereof - is critical and so you could at least lose the exhaust scent ;). And really anywhere we want to preserve the experience of "wilderness" yet still enjoy the man + machine combination. I just wonder how the batteries and sub-systems are being designed with any of these in mind, specifically thinking about water + electricity problems!

The details
With investment capital, Barefoot hopes to have five to ten prototypes in beta testing locally by the end of 2008, then moving from initial prototypes to production in 2009. If you are interested in purchasing one now, you can contact Barefoot is building about 150 next year and asking for deposits of roughly 10 percent which we will apply to the price of the vehicle. It is fully refundable at any time. Initially costlier than a traditional ATV until efficiencies of scale can be developed, I think the price is still reasonable at $12,000-$15,000 especially considering fuel savings. A lot of new gas-powered ATVs are approaching $10,000. And if you want something right now, checkout these guys making modified offroad golf carts, not that they are really going to be the same class as the Model One.

Finally, here is a video where you can see that Mythbuster legend, Jamie Hyneman is a design engineer for Barefoot. Ironic that for being such a smart guy he doesn't have a helmet on...