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31 July, 2006 - 17:35 By Staff Reporter

Lotus aiming to prove electric cars have come on since C5

Norfolk based Lotus Group is having another go at electric cars, 21 years on from its involvement with the much-maligned Sinclair C5.

A Silicon Valley company has come up with a muscle-bound successor to Sir Clive Sinclair's C5 and it is coming to Norfolk.

Group Lotus, which played a key role in designing the Tesla Roadster, is set to manufacture the hi-tech, high-performance electric car at its Hethel factory.

Just as Lotus designed the chassis for the C5 - the world's first production electric vehicle – a team from the Norfolk company has fashioned the bodywork for the new Roadster, the result bearing a more than passing resemblance to the Lotus Elise.

Tesla Motors has proved that the technology has come a long way since Sinclair's abortive foray into the market, producing a vehicle that boasts 0 to 60 mph in a staggering four seconds, a range of 250 miles and the equivalent of 135 mpg.

As far as performance comparisons are of any value at all, the C5 had great difficulty reaching 60 mph full-stop, steep downhill runs aside. It's top speed was cited as 15mph, compared to the more than 130 mph the Tesla Roadster is said to be capable of.

Fewer than 17,000 C5's were ever sold and Sinclair Vehicles was put into receivership less than a year after the launch of the project.

Both Tesla and Lotus are staying tight-lipped about when production will begin at Hethel and also the numbers that will be produced there.

However, there are plans to make about 1,000 a year in the near term, during which time they will only be available in the US. It is understood that the bulk of the manufacturing will take place at Tesla's plant in Taiwan, with assembly taking place in Hethel. Deliveries are expected to begin next summer.

Tesla is a powerful combination of innovation, entrepreneurial experience and deep pockets. The compaany chairman is PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who led a $40m funding round last month.

Key to the car's massive range, which is between two and three times that of any other commercially produced electric vehicle is its use of lithium-ion technology.

The Roadster's Energy Storage System (ESS) provides power to the entire vehicle, including the motor. Its tamper-resistant enclosure includes: 6,831 lithium-ion cells, a network of microprocessors for maintaining charge balance and battery temperature, a cooling system, and an independent safety system.

There is no clutch. Torque change and speed matching for shifting is done using computer software. Maximum torque is 260Nm and maximum input speed is 13,500 rpm. Since electric motors can run in either direction, there's no need for the additional weight from a "reverse" gear; a simple switching arrangement reverses the motor. An on-board controller provides traction control.

The vehicle was officially launched at a suitably glitzy event at Santa Monica airport last week, attended by California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood producer Joel Silver among others.


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