The most important thing about the Electric RaceAbout is not the Electric RaceAbout. That may sound silly, but Sami Ruotsalainen, a senior lecturer at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Science who helped lead the student team that built the car, makes a good case that it's true. He told AutoblogGreen, "Our main product is highly qualified and well-educated engineers. I am fully aware that [the auto industry] can do all this," he indicates the car we were driving fast in at the time, "and so I'm very humble in that way. I'm not expecting them to come to us and say, 'Hey, this is great we want to buy this.' But, if we can support them with the best engineers and and information, that's already a lot."
This doesn't mean that the ERA isn't a fun car to drive – it totally is, especially on a closed course where you can get some speed going, the way we did at the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Berlin last week – it's just that sometimes, a car is more about education than the end result. Continue reading...
Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2011 AOL
Of course, Ruotsalainen and his students did think through their EV project and tried to make the best car possible. The ERA has no creep, for example, because, he said, "My idea of electric vehicles is that there is no creep. There is also no artificial engine braking. I normally drive it as a glider; it is a little more efficient and I like it this way." Given the fact that ERA is sort of a classroom on wheels, Ruotsalainen was able to fiddle with knobs to adjust the brake regen levels as I drove. We both agreed that EVs feel more fun when they are able to coast. The real fun is, of course, was trying to hit the ERA's 220 km/h (136 mph) top speed. We didn't even come close, thanks to barriers on the Tempelhof runway and because Routsalainen had limited the car's top torque to about 70 percent of the car's capability for journalists. Oh, well.
Even with that limit imposed, we enjoyed the drive. Each of the ERA's wheels has its own motor, and each motor is connected directly (i.e., without a reduction gear) to the wheel.
The direct drive means that the ERA isn't ultra-quick off the line, but it does offer better performance at highway speeds. The motor controller has difficulties driving the motor from 0 rpm, Ruotsalainen said, "but, when you are up to 50 or 60 [km/h], it pulls like crazy." You can tell that the student team focused on the driveability, since the feel of the motor, the smoothness and the acceleration all belie the rough, DIY interior. You select gears with a much-delayed dial (turn, wait, wait, shift, repeat). Other unidentified dials and buttons are used for window heating (the most efficient way to defrost the windshield, Ruotsalainen noted), setting the parking brake and audio controls. This is a car where you need to know what's going to if you want to make it do certain things. After all, this is what the dashboard-mounted info screen looks like:
The ERA has a 33 kWh lithium-titanate battery pack, which Ruotsalainen said, "is very good for efficiency, cycle life and operating temperature."Li-titanate also allows for fast charging, and the car can charge in about 10 minutes using a special AeroVironment DC fast charging station. The ERA does have an on-board charger, which can handle standard European 220-volt current. In short, this is a great project for young engineers to hone their chops with, even if not everything has gone their way. When we mentioned the ERA's participation in the Automotive X Prize, all Ruotsalainen said was, "I don't know if I want to talk about that." (The ERA made it to the end of the competition, but did not win.) We understand. He has better things to work on, like training students to build the cars of tomorrow.
Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by Michelin.