New electric vehicle charging station in place. [photo]
University of Michigan engineering professor Ann Marie Sastry – CEO and co-founder of a hot, new automotive battery development company – sits shivering in her overcoat in the cold Cobo basement at the Detroit auto show.
But Sastry and her company, Ann Arbor-based Sakti3, is far from “out in the cold.” They are in the auto business for the long haul and do not plan on being relegated to a basement booth forever. Eventually, if all goes well, her company’s battery technology will be powering the cars upstairs on the main show floor’s Electric Avenue.
What is it about the “Eureka moment” in her UM lab that prompted her to help found a company two years ago? What is it that turned the heads and opened the wallets of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and cleantech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who chipped in $2 million out the gate? What exactly is her company’s battery technology?
One thing is certain in the automobile business. When you start peeling back the onion on the performance claims and quality ratings made by and for all of the automobile manufacturers, you better have a bottle of ibuprofen at the ready. General Motors’ recent announcement that the Chevrolet Volt will get 230 miles per gallon (mpg) certainly is no exception.
First, some disclosure for your reference. I have been a big fan of GM’s efforts to create its hybrid electric vehicle and felt for some time that the car could be a positive step forward for transportation in general. I’ve been a strong supporter of GM’s many efforts in alternative transportation, from hydrogen to ethanol, as well. There are plenty of detractors around these programs – and some of the criticism is warranted. But for a company so maligned by the public as being out of date, I’ve always felt GM got a bad rap seeing how they are doing at least as much as any other car company to find solutions that take petroleum out of the transportation equation.
With that said, I found myself scratching my head trying to absorb this latest news out from GM. In principle at least, it seemed as if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had just given the Volt a 230 mpg fuel economy rating, more than 10 times the average fuel economy of other cars on the road. Fantastic or fantastical?
“We need more data, let’s go launch something!” George Albercook of Rocks and Robots was talking about a reconfigured trebuchet beam. He and his colleague Katie Tilton had reinforced a PVC pipe with Kevlar thread, after a failed first attempt at the A2 Mech Shop open house Saturday afternoon.
But Albercook’s enthusiasm for the empirical applies equally well to any number of the enterprises grouped under the umbrella of A2 Mech Shop, LLC, which is housed in around 3,500 square feet of space on Parkland Plaza, just south of Jackson Road. They’ve had the keys since November 2008, and set up in January.
One example of an A2 Mech Shop enterprise is REVolution Electric Vehicles, a subsidiary of Electric Vehicle Manufacturing, which expects to begin producing electric maxi-scooters as soon as July 2009 at a not-yet-finalized Scio Township location. That location will also serve as a retail storefront, explained EVM’s chief engineer, Erik Kauppi, while the A2 Mech Shop space will continue to serve as a research and development facility.
The A2 Mech Shop can be loosely described as a co-working space with shop tools. It encompasses more than just research and development on electric scooters, but that’s where we’ll start.
If you’re one of the many Prius owners in Ann Arbor and enjoy lording your environmental sensitivity over other drivers on the road, look in the rear-view mirror. The Big Three are unveiling new concepts and new plans to put some of the most environmentally sensitive vehicles out to market, meaning Prius owners may have to trade in for a Chevy, Ford or a Chrysler if they want to continue to hold the automotive moral high ground.
New model announcements made at this year’s Detroit Auto Show (also known as the North American International Auto Show in deference no doubt to the NAFTA agreement so loved by the UAW) were prolific, despite a pall created in the wake of December’s brutal and sometimes embarrassing executive testimony in Washington D.C. Most of the green news generated came out of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, who all tried their best to put on a positive face as U.S. auto sales continue their free-fall.