• Jul 5, 2010
Amp Equinox – Click above for high-res image gallery

"We think it's going to be a Leaf-beater."

The "it" here is the converted Chevrolet Equinox that Amp Electric Vehicles is turning into an electric vehicle (EV) and will begin selling later this year. The speaker is Amp president Steve Burns, who is obviously confident in the product his team is working on in Ohio. Of course, Burns was quick to clarify that he didn't mean the Amp'd Equinox would beat the Nissan Leaf in number of units sold, but in performance. Burns said the Equinox will be able to go further – it has an estimated range of 150 miles – and that it's quicker off the line. It's bigger, too. There's one more way the Equinox "beats" the Leaf: price. The Leaf costs $25,280 after tax incentives, but the Equinox will run you about $50,000 (after taxes). Read on after the jump to see if you agree with the ambitious start-up team that they've got what it takes to compete in today's EV world.



Live photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

The drive

We got to drive the Equinox during the Knockout Stage of the Automotive X-Prize at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn, MI while most of the Amp team was busy near the track getting the Amp'd Sky (a converted Saturn Sky) ready for its trials (it passed). The Equinox uses the same powertrain as the Sky, which we got to drive back in January (we also got a miniride in the Equinox at the New York Auto Show). Some of the same problems we experienced in that car are present in the Equinox, namely the excessive noise and a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time feel to the driving experience. We drove the current version of the Amp Equinox, the one that is as close as possible to the one that will be commercially available – the air conditioner, for example, was missing – but it's still not totally right. We were told the car is about 90 percent of the way to finished, and that the Amp team is making constant improvements. Turns out, this is more than just a good way to build an EV. It's vitally important in the Amp Equinox.

Our drive was delayed because Amp was having trouble with the car that morning. We don't know what the problem was, because they didn't know what the problem was. The engineers didn't have a lift or the computers and diagnostic equipment required to figure out the problem, but they believed it was an issue with the electrical system (specifically, the motor controllers), maybe caused by the new helical planetary gear set. There is a lot of software in the Equinox, and it's been giving the engineers some grief. After some time, the team was confident enough to hand over the keys with the instructions to really push the CUV and find out what it can do.



Our first real acceleration caused a slight wiggle in the steering wheel. The gears and the motor were quite audible, due to the fact that the vehicle we drove did not have any sound insulation in place as it was just put together a week earlier. We understand that electric cars don't have a combustion engine along for the ride to drown out the noises a moving vehicle makes, but the Amp Equinox still makes too much rattle for our tastes. Then, after just a few minutes, we lost the speedometer and tachometer. This convinced us to get off the public roads and back onto the secured area on the MIS grounds. Once the dashboard stopped working, the shaking went away, but whether that was coincidence or causation we can't tell.

The Equinox reminds us that different EVs different levels of regenerative braking. In this case, the brakes grab softly, so one-foot driving isn't as responsive as it is in a car like the Tesla Roadster or Mini E. It's kind of possible to drive one-footed if you look far enough ahead, but you'll appreciate the left pedal often. Amp is thinking about adding a driver-selectable regenerative setting to the Equinox, but that's not implemented yet.

Once we got back on the MIS, we had another problem, this one probably caused by our driving. We were roaring through the parking lots and were quite impressed by the zip (read: very good acceleration) this big, zero-emission CUV offered. The Equinox uses two motors, each independently driven by separate controllers. This gives the Equinox a lot of oomph, but it also gave us a little too much confidence. We were told the Amp'd Equinox doesn't ride much lower than the standard version, so we must have been going too fast through the minor inclines and declines of the lot when we accidentally bottomed out on a dip we didn't expect to be as deep as it was. Hey, they told us to push the car hard, but we still feel bad for scraping whatever we did against the asphalt. Still, the car survived and everything seemed in good order when we gave the keys back, which was a good sign.




Amp vehicles on the market

Amp is ready to sell cars now. As a new company, it is doing things a little bit differently. Amp won't have any model year designations the way a typical automaker does. Instead, they will keep making improvements to the small batches they will produce. So, the idea is to build 10, sell them, get feedback and then see if the next batch of ten needs to be changed in any way. The same thing is happening to the prototypes. The current powertrain uses Amp's fifth-generation battery pack, and the company is constantly improving the performance. Most likely, every Amp powertrain built in the near future will use the Remy electric motors, but the gearing could change, depending on performance. For example, if Amp's engineers can't shield the noise to what's acceptable with insulation or sound dampening devices, then they might consider something different.

Amp knows – like most of us – that the first generation of plug-in vehicle drivers are, most likely, willing to accept vehicles that might not be as slick or as refined as any other vehicle. Does Amp think buyers expect EVs to be perform just like ICE vehicles for the next few years? No. But this early adopter pool won't last forever, and Amp will need to refine its products before it dries up. With a lot of EVs coming to market this year and next, people are about to get real options. Having the only all-electric CUV is something that will make Amp stand out ... in 2010 and maybe 2011. Who know what the score will be after that.

Let's finish by comparing the numbers once again (data taken from Amp and Nissan):

Amp Equinox

Nissan Leaf

Top Speed

90 miles per hour

Over 90 mph

0-60 time

Under 8 seconds

Unknown, but maybe 7.5 seconds

Range

"Up to 150 miles per charge (based on usage)"

100 miles (US LA4 mode)

Charge time

220V charging rate of 4 hours (fully discharged), 110V charging rate of 14 Hours (fully discharged)

"quick charger DC 50kW (0 to 80%): less than 30 min; home-use AC200V charger: less than 8 hrs"

Seats

5

5

Cost

$50,000 (after government incentives)

$25,280 (after government incentives)


So, on the face of it, these two vehicles have a lot in common, but that price difference cannot be ignored (to say nothing of the brand recognition differences). Amp is currently selling the all-electric Sky; it has delivered one and is building a second. The Equinox goes on sale at the end of July, and Amp plans to build 10 for customers by the end of the year. A lot of the lessons learned from the Sky project have been put into the Equinox (the Equinox has power steering, for example), but more needs to be done to make it worth it to hand over $50,000 for this CUV. Customers need to know that the sort of problems we experienced during out quick drive at MIS won't happen to them, and that's not guaranteed just yet. We're glad we've got an electric CUV coming to the market, but if the Amp Equinox is a "Leaf beater," we'll be truly surprised.

Speaking of surprises, Burns told us that Amp will race a Sky against a Tesla Roadster soon. Keep an eye out for that video in the near future.



Live photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 20 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      The 150 mile range is the saving grace of the AMP Equinox. This puts it into a niche market as a delivery vehicle or fleet vehicle.

      I just can't see very many commuters buying one at this price.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Whats the point of an electric SUV? Even a small SUV is much heavier than a compact or subcompact car. The electric drivetrain reduces cargo and towing capacity significantly, negating any reason to have an SUV in the first place. What can you use it for? It would make more sense to start with a car thats as light and inexpensive as possible, and then convert it to electric drive. How much farther and faster would this drivetrain go in an Accent or Aveo?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I generally agree that companies like AMP are going to have a hard time, but I've some concerns with this article.

      Why are we comparing a pre-tax, post rebate price to a post tax, non-rebate price?

      Why are both vehicles considered the same because they both seat five? The Equinox is considerably larger.

      Can we stop quoting 80% charging, battery beating, charge times based on a commercial grade charger? The only apples to apples part of that section has the Amp Equinox doing in 4 hours, what the Leaf takes 8 hours.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Their effort deserves some praise, but I don't see a future for these conversion shops.
      They will just die out as the OEMs move into the electric car market, unless they have a good plan, or find some niche like vintage car conversions.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't see a future for them either. Affordable, mass produced cars will take over, for sure.

        I however, could see sales potential ( and i would also be interested in... ) in do-it-yourself conversion kits for cars that are cheap to acquire.

        If these kits were easy enough for joe mechanic to put together & don't require an electrical engineering degree, hell.. i'd buy one.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The authors seem unaware even that the acceleration of the Leaf 0-60 is more like 11 seconds than 7.5.
      They also seem to have problems driving cars, as in any car hitting a dip at excessive speed causes it to bottom.
      Where do they get these motoring journalists from?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would love to see GM make a BEV or even a EREV Equinox. It's a great looking small SUV. They could be the first major auto manufacturer to bring an electric SUV to market and I think it would sell well if they could manage to keep it at around 40K before incentives.
      • 4 Years Ago
      There is a chance that Amp could make it. I would point to the somewhat limited success of the OEM Saleen, Incorporated. They no longer exist, but perhaps an EV OEM could make a go of it, at least for a while.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Heh. Good luck with that...

      I think there is some market potential in making conversion kits for cars that aren't brand new; bringing the total cost of investment down drastically. Adding $20,000 to the price of a $10,000 used car would make a hell of a lot more sense.

      For example, Dodge Intrepids/Stratus/etc with the chronic failure 2.7 motor would be a fine conversion target since the cars are worth nil. Same goes for some late 2000's Toyotas, some GM vehicles, etc.

      I mean, imagine picking up a car for $500-$3000 and adding $20,000 worth of electric parts/labor into it. Suddenly you've got a nice EV, only downside is that the body style would be dated, and the car wouldn't be as aerodynamic.
        • 4 Years Ago
        • 4 Years Ago
        As Lamanna points out - the weight of a car that is meant for a gas engine would be problematic for the range of an electric car - however, what a cool idea!

        Buying a Nissan Leaf for $9 billion (it may as well be), or taking a car that, as you put it, is virtually worthless, converting it over, then driving that - Even if it cost $20,000 - the end result is something a person might enjoy, for a cheaper price. Also, I suspect many of the components would be interchangeable (due to torque of the motor), so to counter Lamaana's argument, the people marketing the 'kit' could say that converting these vehicles would get you this range:

        Excursion - 5 miles
        Explorer - 25 miles
        Fusion - 75 miles
        Focus - 90 miles
        Fiesta (god I hate these F names) - 110 miles
        Ka (if sold here) - 150 miles.

        This would allow people to realistically choose what they want for the needs they have.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "That strategy probably works better with vintage cars."

        I've been thinking this for a while.

        Make a kit consisting of an electric motor coupled to a solid rear axle / diff.

        Most of the batteries can go up front in place of the heavy cast iron V8 and (also heavy) automatic trans.

        And the cars are mostly used for cruising, so limited range may not be a serious factor.
        • 4 Years Ago
        That would be even easier, but i think the problem is that they are in short supply, IE good luck finding one that isn't a rust bucket. Even still, suspension and steering components are probably shot, all the rubber is probably gone, you end up paying quite a bit more to fix one of those up, versus a late 90's / early 2000's car.

        Unless electric rat rod is what you're going for :P
        • 4 Years Ago
        That strategy probably works better with vintage cars.

        People like the styling of old cars, and it`s generally easy to find cheap base models with a shot engine.
      • 4 Years Ago
      At that price shouldn't the comparison be to a Tesla Model S ?
        • 4 Years Ago
        a car that does not exist and probably will never be made or sold at the announced price.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The problem is that "most" of us don't want vintage electric cars. We want modern electric cars. To me what AMP is doing is similar to what CODA is trying to do. Taking a new ICE car as a glider and adding an electric drive unit. If they could work our a deal with GM to supply the gliders at some kind of attractive price they might have a shot at it and if it took off GM could buy them up and make them their electric car division.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "the first generation of plug-in vehicle drivers"
      That would be the late 90s, when the Toyota RAV 4 EV, GM EV1, Ford Ranger, and a few others were available, all with comparable levels of fit and finish to this car.

      "The Equinox uses two motors, each independently driven by separate controllers."
      Front and rear? That would then make it the first all-wheel drive EV as well as first EV CUV.
      • 4 Years Ago
      thinking man's drivetrain in a thoughtless man's vehicle. it's a curious juxtaposition but I suppose there will be quite a few people who will hold on to the ignorance of the SUV while easing their minds with electric drive. that will cost them thought but if they feel like paying then I'm ok with it. certainly not an optimal EV though
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