AMP Electric Vehicles, an entrepreneurial startup in Ohio whose new all-electric vehicles debuted at the North American Auto Show in January, has just qualified for the U.S.' $7,500 tax credit for plug-in electric vehicles. Congratulations, AMP! You're in with the big boys now! Word is that AMP was also a finalist for the Automotive X Prize in 2010. So, cool name, startup, X prize - that must be some amazing-looking car! A Jetson-mobile, maybe, or some other futuristic thing that looks like a cross between a fish and a DeLorean?
Oh. Well, that doesn't look futuristic at all. In fact it looks kind of like a Jeep. Wait ... it looks exactly
like a Jeep. That's because it is
a Jeep. A Jeep Grand Cherokee, to be exact, though the AMP also comes in luxury flavor: the Mercedes MLe.
Okay, so it may not look futuristic, but AMP has figured out how to do something that few innovators have bother to try, i.e. take existing vehicles, remove the entire powertrain, and replace it with a battery and electric motor.
AMP doesn't alter any of the vehicle's other characteristics. It keeps its safety equipment, its interior and exterior design, its roomy cabin and cargo space, its road clearance and all those other qualities that generally appeal to SUV buyers while converting the whole kit and caboodle to 100 percent electric power. In fact, that's the only difference you'd notice from the outside between a stock Jeep Grand Cherokee or Mercedes MLe and an AMPed one is the "100% Electric" logo on the door. Otherwise, it's a vehicle that looks and feels just like a conventional, late-model SUV while doing the zero emissions thing.
AMP Jeep Grand Cherokee
Range: Estimated 80-100 miles?
Battery System: Lithium Iron Phosphate?
Total battery capacity: 37.6 kWh?
Motors: Two rear-mounted Remy AC motors; 152 kW?
Transmission: None; electric motors are direct drive?
Estimated cost to fully charge vehicle: $3 to $4 (based on nationwide average cost of $0.10 per kWh)?
0-60 acceleration: Under 10 seconds?
Passenger room and cargo room: Unchanged (from gas model)
Cost: $57,400 before tax credit
The market for a converted SUV would appear to be niche. But while the AMP Jeep's specs don't paint a picture of an actual "utility" vehicle, it does look pretty practical and quietly comfortable for day-to-day errands, shopping, school pickups, or just commuting to and from work. And for the middle-class household that typically owns a second car anyway, an all-electric "daily driver" with a second gas guzzler for back-up or longer excursion makes perfect sense.
Moreover, if you're one of those who don't drive more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) in a day and would really like to drive an snazzy SUV if it weren't for the corrosive liberal guilt (a free non-optional add-on with most SUVs), an AMP SUV is going to look very attractive. If, that is, you have $49,900 (after the tax credit).
AMP has been working on its Jeep Grand Cherokee conversion for a while now, though it made its entrance onto the electric vehicle scene with an electric Chevy Equinox, which generated considerable buzz and some positive reviews from test drivers. When they approached GM about a partnership, however, AMP got the cold shoulder - presumably, because GM wanted to focus on the Chevy Volt, then nearing its debut.
Without that partnership, it didn't make sense for AMP to continue with the Equinox; they'd been hoping for a "glider deal" under which they could get Equinox bodies and chassis directly from GM, which would lower their costs considerably. Otherwise, AMP has to buy open-market vehicles, remove all of the powertrain components, find buyers for those parts, and then install the electric powertrain.
AMP is currently pursuing glider deals with Jeep and Mercedes; they estimate that with such deals in place they could charge between $8000 and $9000 less per vehicle. They're close to establishing an arrangement with Mercedes under which buyers could choose, before taking delivery of their new cars, to have them shipped to AMP for full electric conversion.
So far, however, the most active interest hasn't been from individual buyers, but from managers of fleets. AMP has just signed an agreement with U-Go Stations Cayman to distribute its vehicles in the Caribbean, with U-Go as the exclusive retailer. It's not certain yet how many vehicles AMP will provide in all, but U-Go will start taking orders from customers after AMP sends its first demo vehicle this summer.
AMP is also in the midst of fulfilling an order of 1,000 electric SUVs for Northern Lights Energy in Iceland. Iceland is in many ways the model set of consumers for AMP; like the Caribbean, Iceland has short commutes, moderate temperatures (despite its name), and very expensive gasoline - all qualities that might make an AMP electric vehicle a good choice. But Iceland has an additional characteristic that makes it a particularly apt market: during its boom years, which ended abruptly in 2008 with its financial meltdown, Icelanders developed quite an infatuation with gas-guzzling SUVs. This despite, or perhaps even partly because of, the sky-high rates the island has to pay for imported gasoline; a symbol of affluence, perhaps. Or narcissism. But with AMP's electric SUVs, Icelanders can continue driving the beefcake rides that represent the good times without bankrupting themselves to fill up the tanks.
Some have wondered if AMP would find a consumer market given that the early adopters of technological wonders tend to be more attracted to products that clearly display their newness and provide many manifest ways of experiencing it - the distinct looks, the digitized whistles, the LCD bells. Yet AMP is starting to look like it will appeal to buyer who'd rather stay under the radar, stick with the tried and true design sensibilities of a Jeep or Mercedes SUV and get their new-tech, environmentally-lovely kicks from under the hood, a cool idea that really works.