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3 juin 2010 4 03 /06 /juin /2010 07:32

DETROIT—Limited numbers of battery-powered cars are expected to hit American roads over the next 12 months, but a test of one electric vehicle is raising questions about how far drivers will be able to go before needing a recharge    (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ battery).

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Bloomberg News

A Mini E electric vehicle is driven during a media preview of the New York International Auto Show  (Sony VGP-BPS8 battery).

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For the past year, BMW AG has leased about 300 electric Mini Cooper compacts to regular consumers in the New York metro area, New Jersey and Southern California. In a survey by BMW and in interviews, participants said they have been getting about 100 miles, or 161 kilometers, per charge—about a third fewer than BMW had expected      (Sony VGP-BPL9 battery).

"The Mini E was supposed to have a 156-mile range," said Tom Moloughney, a Montclair, N.J., restaurateur who leased a Mini E. "But that only translated into a real-world range of 100 to 110 miles   (Sony VGP-BPL11 battery)."

The Mini E's range estimate was based on a driving test used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for generating fuel-economy ratings. The test didn't reflect real-world conditions, said Dave Buchko, a BMW spokesman, who said that drivers found the range they got from the Mini to be enough for almost all of their needs. The EPA hasn't signed off on using the test for electric vehicles and is working on a new methodology for them, said Cathy Milbourn, an EPA spokeswoman   (Sony VGP-BPL15 battery).

How far electric cars can go before their batteries give out is seen as a key factor in whether sales take off. Many U.S. consumers say they would like to drive electric cars but fear running out of power on the road  (ASUS A3000 Battery).

Later this year Nissan Motor Co. is supposed to launch an electric car, called the Leaf, that the company says will go about 100 miles before needing a charge. That range was predicated on the same EPA driving test, Nissan said. The Leaf is part of an ambitious, $5 billion plan by Nissan and its alliance partner Renault SA to jump ahead in the electric car race. Nissan is building a battery plant and retrofitting an assembly plant to produce the Leaf in Tennessee in hopes of selling 150,000 a year starting in 2013 in the U.S     (ASUS Eee PC 1000HE Battery).

Mark Perry, who leads Nissan's product planning in North America, stands by the 100-mile estimate while acknowledging the actual range will vary depending on how people drive and other factors, such as the weather. Heavy use of the car's heater or air conditioner will also reduce the range       (Dell Inspiron 6400 battery).

"You are going to see people who get more than 100 miles and people who get less than 100 miles," Mr. Perry said. "The most impact on range really is how hot and cold you have set your interior cabin        (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ4000 Battery)."

Nissan's Leaf will have a less powerful battery pack than the Mini E. The Leaf is slated to get a 24-kilowatt pack, compared to the Mini E's 35-kilowatt unit      (Dell Inspiron 6000 battery).

General Motors Co. is planning on launching its Chevrolet Volt this year. It is supposed to get 40 miles before its power runs run down, but it has a gasoline-powered generator on board to recharge the batteries on the go. Other electric models from Ford MotorCo., Chrysler Group LLC and other manufacturers are expected to follow         (HP PAVILION DV2000 Battery).

The Mini experience suggests that pinpointing the range of electric cars in real-world driving is a tricky matter. The best any driver reported was a range of 127 miles on a charge, according to BMW. Most others got 100 miles, and some less   (HP PAVILION DV3000 Battery).

"The most I've ever gotten was about 104 miles," said Greg Boyer, a 52-year-old attorney who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., and leased the Mini E  (IBM ThinkPad T40 Battery).

BMW is planning to come out with another test fleet electric vehicle called the ActiveE, based on a BMW 1-series, beginning next year that is expected to have a 100-mile range. For 2013, it plans to offer a full-production model of an electric car called the Megacity Vehicle that will use carbon-fiber body panels, which will make it lighter and require a smaller battery (IBM THINKPAD R50 Battery).

Several Mini drivers interviewed reported the car did well in stop-and-go city driving. But extended highway driving at speeds of more than 70 miles, or 113 kilometers, per hour—which requires constant, high output from the battery pack—cut the range. "If you were going 70 [mph] the whole time, you'd probably get a range of 60 or 70 miles," Mr. Boyer said    (ACER Travelmate 2300 Battery).

Some potential customers are concerned. "I'm hoping the Leaf is closer to 100 than 60, and maybe the car is a little bit lighter and the battery technology has improved from what Mini had done," Mr. Boyer said. He also paid a $99 deposit to buy a Leaf when the car is available   (ACER Aspire 3000 Battery).

Mr. Moloughney has also put down $99 to reserve a Leaf. "I really hope they haven't oversold the range," Mr. Moloughney said. "If they start selling these cars and they run out of charge at 60 miles, Nissan is going to have a huge black eye, and it's going to set them back as well as the whole EV [electric vehicle] industry       (Dell INSPIRON 1420 Battery)."

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