Electric Vehicles in Depth, Part II: NmG, An EV for the Rest of Us

(Read part one of this article here)

George Clooney recently bought an electric vehicle for $108K. The vehicle, a Tango, is good for freeway speeds and stout 0-60 times. But what about the rest of us who dine at restaurants with signs that tout "4 billion served" rather than 4 stars? Can we only dream about owning an EV with that kind of performance? Take heart, prospective electric vehicle owners. Myers Motors of Tallmadge, Ohio has turned that dream into an EV you can afford.

The Myers Motors answer to an EV enthusiast's prayer is the NmG (No More Gas). This high-tech marvel whizzes along on three wheels, 500+ lbs. of batteries, and a torquey electric motor. Unlike the seemingly endless parade of tempting prototype electric vehicles powered by fuel cells, this little EV is being produced right now - not 5 years from now. You can pick up the phone and order one today, not mañana. Best of all, it doesn't cost $108K. I saw it, touched it, smelled it and heard it - a pleasant, space age, whiny sort of hum. Eerie. Heck, I even drove it and talked face-to-face with the president of the company.

After I concluded my interview with Dana Myers, CEO of Myers Motors, he asked me rather off-handedly if I'd like to drive one. I feigned mild interest. What I really wanted to say was "Geez, are you kidding. Here, take my first-born. Just chuck me the keys!" One minute into the test drive, I realize this ain't no golf cart. The NmG I drove that day may be titled, licensed, and insured as a motorcycle, but it accelerates like a muscle car. Or maybe it just feels that way because you're so close to ground. Regardless, it's one fun ride. Maneuverability and handling are off the charts. Parking? You could park it on your front porch if you could get up the steps. Promotional potential? Slap your company logo on an NmG and your whole town will be talking about your business. But I'm getting ahead of myself. How in the name of Alessandro Volta did a California-designed EV make its way to Akron, Ohio?

Take These Bankrupt Wings and Learn to Fly

Savvy readers may recognize the NmG as a remake of the late, lamented Corbin Motors Sparrow EV (more on that below). "Lamented" because a variety of electronic and mechanical ills in early Sparrow EVs plus financial woes forced Corbin Motors into bankruptcy in 2003 after 285 vehicles were produced. This orphaned an active, dedicated, and vocal group of Sparrow owners. Enter Dana Myers, kind of an EV version of Lee Iacocca, the guy who turned around Chrysler when it was teetering on the edge of the abyss in pre-DaimlerChrysler days. Myers saw potential in the broken and battered reputation of the little EV and resolved to buy up the remaining inventory and assets of Corbin Motors and nurse the Sparrow back into the air. The sale was completed in 2004. Myers saw his mission as not merely to resurrect the Sparrow, but to remodel it. He sagely asserted, "It's easier and cheaper to improve upon an existing design, than to start from scratch."

Unlike most movie sequels, this remake of the Sparrow is WAY better than the original. As Myers tells the story from the vantage point of May 2006, "We sold a couple of vehicles, then we needed to bring them back because we discovered things that still weren't proper. We decided to go over the vehicle from top to bottom and get it right. It took us 18 months to do it, but the NmGs we've sold since then are doing beautifully." Here's a partial list of Myers Motors' re-engineering efforts:
  • Eliminated radio interference
  • Modified the motor
  • Switched to a "Zilla" controller (the most respected name in the industry)
  • Improved the fit and finish overall, especially around doors and windshield
  • Optimized the charging algorithm of Zivan charger to prevent overheating batteries
  • Included a "pulse charge" at end of charge cycle to reduce sulfation of batteries
  • Included a 25 mile battery break-in before leaving the factory
  • Had batteries checked for equal charge to eliminate weak cells that would reduce battery life
  • Limited amp draw on the road to 300 amps to improve longevity of batteries.

The NmG Prequel - Development of the Sparrow

The original concept of the Corbin Sparrow EV, the NmGs predecessor, was solid: reduce body mass, reduce rolling resistance and pare aerodynamic drag down to a bare minimum without compromising safety. Working as a team, these measures give an electric drive train a fighting chance at good performance. It's simple physics: less mass and wind resistance = quicker acceleration and better range.

The Sparrow was the brainchild of Mike Corbin, a longtime motorcycle fanatic, inventor, and designer. In 1974, Mike set a land speed record of 165.367 mph on a custom built electric motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It is a speed record in that class that stands to this day. Corbin is a household word to anyone who owns a hog - as in Harley. The company is closely associated with Harley Davidson motorcycles, and Corbin is the largest aftermarket motorcycle seat manufacturer in the world. Corbin sponsors a program on the Speed channel, "Corbin's Ride On", and even has published a biography (for sale on the Corbin website). The first Sparrow built, a yellow Alpha Sparrow, was unveiled at the San Francisco Auto Show on April 1, 1996. It was a huge hit and orders started to come in even though production had yet to begin.

I first heard about the Corbin Sparrow in a February 1997 issue of "Current Events" (catchy title), the newsletter of the Electric Auto Association. Mike Corbin was quoted in that issue as saying, "The Sparrow is a niche vehicle designed for commuters. We're not trying to replace the family car". At that time, I owned an electric vehicle. No, not that swoopy, EV1 from General Motors (now the E85 people). I drove a (wait for it) Lectric Leopard. How geek squad can you get? That's a story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, it was a Renault "LeCar" (an "R5" in Europe) that had its internal combustion engine guts unceremoniously yanked out and replaced with a Baldor electric motor and Exide batteries. With 1980's electronics, it performed like a 1920's model T. I measured 0-60 times in minutes rather than seconds. I never got a speeding ticket although I did get a ticket for ignoring a stop sign once. The performance specs of the Sparrow were Ferrari-like in comparison. I lusted in my heart for one so I sent in my $1,000 deposit for vehicle number 25 of the yet-to-be-manufactured Sparrow's first production run. I have the VISA receipt to prove I ain't just blowing smoke up your electrode. I talked several times with Mike's son, Tom, while patiently waiting for my Sparrow to arrive. After waiting patiently for a year and wading patiently through a string of broken promises (e.g. "They'll be rolling out next month."), I got my deposit back. The first Sparrows touched down about a year after that. Talk about a long gestation period. If you're interested, there is a private website, CorbinSparrow, (not affiliated or sanctioned by the company) with more details about the history of the Sparrow.

Fast Forward to Myers Motors

So the NmG (No More Gas) is a much-improved Sparrow. I guess the NmG moniker had more appeal than BTS (Better Than Sparrow). The Myers Motors product benefits from all the Corbin research and development plus real road experience gained by owners of the Sparrow EV. Corbin reputedly spent $10-$15 million on development. Myers Motors has certainly upped the ante by several million more. In the end, it's the NmG owner who reaps the benefits. The NmG is a mature and well-developed electric vehicle since this is essentially the fourth year of production. I won't bore you with too much detail, but here are a few key points:

• All-weather driving, fully enclosed and heated interior • heater, power windows, CD player • Single passenger • 3 wheels • disc brakes • 30 mile range • Built-in charger for pack of 13 Optima Blue Top batteries • 6 cubic feet of luggage space (about 1 grocery cart's worth) • 112 inches long, 52 inches wide, 57 inches high • 70-75 mph top speed • 0-30 in less than 3.5 seconds • weighs 1,400 lbs. • cost $24,900

Here is the most interesting specification. A gasoline vehicle that gets 40 mpg (think Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic Hybrid) costs 7.5 cents per mile in fuel when gas is $3 a gallon. The NmGs charging costs are an unbelievable penny per mile at typical utility rates (6 cents per kilowatt hour)! Take that, hybrid hypesters. Even a so-called plug-in hybrid getting an effective 120 mpg would still be more than twice as costly as the NmG to fuel. Impressive.

How About You?

Would you be happy with an NmG? If you want to: promote your business, stick it to the evil petroleum empire, like the convenience of home "refueling", need to commute about 20 miles or less to work (and you have access to a 110V outlet at work to recharge), want to use the HOV lane on the freeway, already own a second car suitable for long trips or heavy hauling, value the environmental benefits of a zero-emissions vehicle, travel alone for most of your local driving, would enjoy the fun and adventure of a unique niche vehicle, then the NmG from Myers Motors is your electronic ticket. Plug-and-play, baby. It will put a smile on your face, a patriotic flag in your hand and breathing room in your fuel budget.

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