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SA's electric car stunner

2008-10-02 07:30
This is South Africa’s home-grown electric car, th

This is South Africa’s home-grown electric car, the Joule. Looks good doesn’t it? With a 200km range and overnight charging capability it makes a lot of sense too. We say damn well done to Optimal Energy.

Meet South Africa’s electric car contender, the Joule.

Brainchild of the Optimal Energy company based in Cape Town, the Joule is a six-seater MPV offering zero emission urban transport.

With exterior design by Calvinia-born styling genius Keith Helfet – can you say Jaguar XJ-220 and F-Type – the Joule will hardly embarrass itself aesthetically when shown at the Paris Motor Show on Thursday.

The originally named Joule employs a modular, large-cell lithium-ion battery pack enabling 200km range; though the design can accommodate a secondary battery enabling a range of 400km in an urban environment.

Clever construction

A flat wafer chassis enables suspension attachment points and the battery bays to be accommodated whilst still rendering enough interior space for six occupants.

Suspension is a traditional McPherson strut front arrangement, whilst the rear employs a semi-independent trailing twist beam (torsion bar) system.

Ensuring overall mass was kept to minimum - to aid efficiency - the body is a steel space frame, complimented with glass and carbon composite as well as plastic body panels. Side impact beams are integrated in the doors for safety.

As with most contemporary alternative propulsion vehicles the Joule harnesses as much vehicle momentum to recharge the batteries as possible. The all-round ventilated, ABS enabled disc brakes feature brake regeneration capability to charge the batteries.

Overnight charger

Controlling the Joule’s drive systems is an integrated computer system which continuously monitors each battery cell to ensure optimal performance and reliability.

The onboard charger ensures a seamless interface with your home, requiring no complex exterior charging infrastructure. Optimal Energy says it should take you no more than seven hours to charge up to 200km range. Just plug in and leave overnight.
Depending on requirements – or how sharp a turn-in response you require – the Joule can be quipped with either an asynchronous permanent magnet motor driving the front wheels through an 8:1 reduction gearbox, or asynchronous permanent magnet motors located in the wheels, for rear or all-wheel drive.  

Exact acceleration figures are unavailable, but with electric motors producing maximum torque from start-up, acceleration in an urban environment should be brisk. Optimal Energy claims a 130km/h topspeed.

All things considered the Optimal Energy team has created what appears to be an entirely credible, surprisingly attractive real world urban electric car solution. The fact that it’s South African is even more heartening.

Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring says the car should be ready for local buyers towards the end of 2010.

Production capacity now remains the key question. Meiring is a proven technology manager though, having recovered from his position headlining the prohibitively expensive Rooivalk helicopter programme to lead the world renowned Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) project.

We hope for the best. The Joule has the potential to be an unmitigated success.

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