The University Record, September 10, 1996

Electric car is now part of U-M fleet of vehicles

Jim Hadley of Transportation Services points out the inner workings of the electric car he helped design. The new member of the University's fleet of vehicles is capable of zipping along at a top speed of 85 miles per hour. After a 10-hour charge, the Neon's 30 batteries will last for approximately 55 miles of city driving.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach


 

By Jared Blank

 

Transportation Services has recently started using a little bit less gasoline.

A fully electric Plymouth Neon is now part of Transportation Services' fleet of cars---and available to members of the University community.

Jim Hadley of Transportation Services, in conjunction with students in the College of Engineering, has been working for the past year to convert a 1995 Neon into a fully electric vehicle. Thirty nickel-cadmium batteries provide enough power to drive 55 city miles or 70 highway miles at a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour. The batteries, 15 of which are located in the trunk and 15 under the rear seat, require 10 hours of charge time.

"We have the ideal fleet for this experiment," says Pat Cunningham, manager of Transportation Services. "More than 90 percent of our vehicles travel less than 50 miles in a day."

The Neon is equipped like a normal car, with a fully functioning radio, heater and lights. There is no air conditioning due to weight considerations---the car is already extremely heavy because of the weight of 30 batteries. The vehicle's manual transmission is set at second gear, so there's no need to know how to drive a stick shift to operate the car.

Of course, this all begs the question: "How does it drive?"

The car was lent to staff members at News and Information Services and there was one unanimous reaction: It drives better than most people think it will.

The car is extremely quiet. While standing at a light, it's possible to forget that it's on. Acceleration, or lack of it, is probably the car's biggest drawback. It travels 0-60 miles per hour eventually---in the 20 second range. It moves at a crawl until about 20 miles per hour, then it picks up to a more car-like acceleration. One staff member was warned by a friend in the automotive industry, "Don't pull out in front of any traffic."

The car is fun to drive, though, once you get used to it. The engine's purr evokes the Starship Enterprise no matter how slowly it is driven. John Woodford, executive editor of Michigan Today, said, "the most satisfying feature was that it whined like a jet plane. You get the same charge at speeds of five miles per hour."

Computer Consultant Scott Tyrrell saw the electric Neon as a viable alternative to gas-consuming fleet vehicles. "Sure, at lower speeds the acceleration could use some improvement, but once you get moving it cruises right along," he said. "For use in town, it's not a bad alternative. It's just as easy to drive around in the electric car as any other small car---and other people aren't breathing your fumes."

Information Officer Joanne Nesbit, a backseat passenger during the test drive, noted that the 15 batteries under the seat caused a severe lack of headroom, even for a person of normal height. "I had to lean sideways so I wouldn't hit my head on the roof---and I'm not that tall," she said.

For more information on the car, call Transportation Services, 764-3427.