Amp Electric Vehicles leads plug-in conversion pack with Equinox EV

This is a big week for Amp Electric Vehicles, because the fledgling electric vehicle (EV) conversion company is finally delivering its first Amp'd Equinox to a fleet customer. Amp president Steve Burns told AutoblogGreen that the converted Chevrolet Equinox has been much, much improved since we drove it earlier this year at the New York Auto Show and then again during the Automotive X-Prize. We were able to get behind the wheel in a parking lot course set up at the 2010 Business of Plugging In conference in Detroit last week and we can confirm Burns' words. The vehicle accelerates without any hiccups. There is no "clump" sound like we heard before, and acceleration is so well mapped that if feels like you're in a vehicle half the size of an Equinox. It almost feels like a totally different vehicle from the ones we've driven before, and the changes are all positive.

Burns said the Equinox team made a breakthrough in mid-July, finding the balance where all the tweaking finally provided the ride comfort and performance that drivers will expect. The SUV also has stiffer springs than it used to and is one heck of a lot quieter. The team made refinements to the heating and air conditioning systems, too. There is a little more left to do, but what we have here is a product that's ready for the marketplace.

None too soon, too. Burns said that Amp is busy converting an SUV for a secret OEM partner, about which we have lots more after the jump.

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amp electric technical specifications Amp's methodology is to stand on the shoulder of giants: take vehicles designed by other companies and make them electric. Turns out you can also take executives minted by others and use them for your own ends. As an example, the former CEO of Hummer and Cadillac, James Taylor, recently joined Amp's board. Burns said:
We've been kind of non-automotive. What we've been doing is layering in a lot of automotive executives. A lot of 30-year executives have been coming in because they're available. There was a lot of brain drain.
Working outside of the OEMs, though, comes with its own problems. Burns said that Amp converted the Equinox without GM's help, which meant Amp needed to buy the vehicles and learn all of the computer codes to figure out how to get everything working (at least they get to sell the brand-new engines to recoup some of the costs). The goal going forward, though, is to work with OEMs on conversion projects. Burns said this takes development time from three years to three months. How does he know? Because Amp announced in September it had signed an agreement with a major OEM to electrify one of its SUVs. With the OEM providing the computers codes and the SUV useing the same drivetrain that's in the Equinox, the project is moving very fast.

Recent rumors suggested the SUV in question is a Mercedes Benz ML-350 – but Burns would not confirm anything. He did say that:
I can tell you it's a large one, what most people consider the gold standard of automobile engineering. If we get their stamp of approval, and they put their name on it, it's a big deal. As a result, they don't want to tell anybody until they're sure.
The companies are working together on the development deal and – even if the OEM doesn't approve of what Amp does with the vehicle – Burns said, "We will still announce it and sell that as our next conversion, but we hope to announce it with them and buy gliders from them." Burns said the OEM came to Amp after seeing what it had done with the Equinox and is now waiting to see what the engineers can do with the OEM's SUV, which is a tad bit bigger than the Equinox. One Amp representative described the mood in the company as "giddy" about the progress that the company is doing on the conversion. Burns also praised the Remy motors for running "cool as a cucumber," even in the secret project's larger SUV, which will have a slightly larger battery ("in the 40s" [kWh]) to match the Equinox's 150-mile range.

Burns said the OEM is working with other outside firms and is also working on its own plug-in vehicle project, but that all those projects are with little vehicles. Amp's unique experience is with larger vehicles, and that's what makes it a potential partner for the mysterious company. The SUV should be back to the OEM's hands in "short order," and we await some sort of announcement in the very near future.

As some readers may know, CalCars' Felix Kramer has been promoting the idea of plug-in vehicle conversions for a while, and noted that both veteran automotive journalist Paul Eisenstein and Jim Motavalli enjoyed their recent Amp Equinox test drives. Kramer also pointed out this round-up of conversion companies, proving that a this might be an idea whose time has come.

Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
[Source: Amp, CalCars]

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