The wallet-lightening Lightning

2 September 2007

Yesterday’s Telegraph included a fine article on Britain’s answer to Californian electric car company Tesla: the Lightning Car Company.

The two firms are not quite aiming for the same outcome – Tesla’s roadster is due to set owners back about £50,000, while the British company is asking for the same sum just as a deposit. When the Lightning eventually turns a wheel under a paying customer, it will have lightened their wallet to the tune of £150,000.

The Lightning’s aluminium honeycomb and carbon composite monocoque looks attractive – albeit in a kind of stuck-in-the-60s fashion – and the chassis will be four-wheel drive via hub-mounted motors. It’s a shame, then, that the car must suffer from such a long nose, which puts the driver’s bum a long way rearward within the wheelbase. This is not great for driving feel, nor vision at junctions, and is flatly nonsensical in a car that won’t have an engine under the bonnet.

The wheel motors that will stand in for a rumbing V8 will be supplied by a small UK company called PML Flightlink, which developed them with automotive intentions prior to the Lightning link-up. In August last year PML showed off a proof-of-concept electric vehicle based on a BMW Mini to demonstrate its technology. The deal with Lightning is not exclusive – so we can expect to hear more from PML and its “Hi-Pa Drive” motors.

The batteries will be supplied by Altair Nano of Nevada, and are reportedly top-notch, cutting-edge stuff in the world of cramming electrons into small spaces. However, the Telegraph blindly passes on the incredible claim that a 10 minute charge will yield 90 percent capacity and a 200-mile range - in a sports car designed to go haring around at high speed.

The paper neglects to mention what this might involve, but to its credit the Lightning company does explain a little more fully in the Q&A section of its web site: “Standard single-phase home-type power source can be used to charge overnight... For a fast charge a 3-phase power supply is required.”

So yes, for a fast charge owners will be mucking about with 415-volt industrial power cables. Which can be a bit on the dangerous side. We advise potential owners not to try unplugging the car in the rain, unless they wish to witness real lightning at close quarters.

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