Urbee could power future of eco-car production here

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A Winnipeg engineering group is chasing an unlikely dream -- design a "car of the future" and manufacture it right here in Manitoba.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2010 (4483 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg engineering group is chasing an unlikely dream — design a “car of the future” and manufacture it right here in Manitoba.

For the last 10 years, design engineers at Kor EcoLogic Inc. have been developing a low-energy street car that runs on electricity and ethanol, rather than fossil fuels.

Called an Urbee, Kor hopes to have the first prototype completed by next March and to be production- ready two to three years after that.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jim Kor with the finished model and partially finished prototype two-seat, three-wheeled car called the Urbee.

Company president Jim Kor admitted in an interview Thursday a lot of hurdles have to be cleared before then. That includes raising another $1 million to build a second prototype — they’ve spent about $750,000 to date — and $2 million to $3 million to build 10 “pilot units” and put them through their paces to ensure the vehicle is road-ready.

But he firmly believes those hurdles can be overcome.

“We have people who are interested (in providing funding),” he said, noting Kor attracted international attention and a whack of new sponsors last year when it finished in the Top 30 in a field of 111 entries in an international competition to design and build a super-efficient car that consumers would want to buy.

And next week, its nearly completed first prototype will be on display in Las Vegas at SEMA 2010, the world’s premier automotive aftermarket trade show.

“We’re going to get publicized like crazy,” Kor said, which should help attract more sponsors and/or investors. Kor said he and his dozen or so design partners would prefer to either set up their own production factory here, or find a local manufacturer to produce their two-passenger, three-wheeled vehicle.

Manitoba’s non-profit Vehicle Technology Centre, which has been providing funding for the Urbee project, would also love to see that happen.

Executive director Nestor Dudych said having a super energy-efficient car that’s designed, built and manufactured locally would “put Manitoba on the map” and create new jobs and other economic benefits for the province.

“So we would very much like to have this product produced here,” he said.

Dudych and Kor said there are a number of local firms that manufacture things like buses and tractors that could also turn out Urbees. But because they’re still several years away from being production-ready, no one has approached them yet to see if they’d be interested.

If the vehicles can’t be produced here, another option would be to try to sell the design to an automaker, Kor said.

Although there are dozens of other energy-efficient vehicles being developed around the world, Kor has tried to differentiate the Urbee from the rest of the pack by making it the most aerodynamic and energy-efficient. Kor said the Urbee is equipped with four batteries, which can be recharged by plugging it into an ordinary electrical outlet, and a seven-horsepower engine that runs on ethanol.

He said that in Manitoba, the Urbee will cost just two cents a mile to operate when driving on just electricity. That compares to about seven cents a mile for a Toyota Prius (hybrid) car, about 14 cents for a Honda Civic (gas-powered) and about 28 cents for a sport utility vehicle, van or truck, he said. Kor said the Urbee is designed to run on electricity for speeds of up to 64 km/h, which makes it ideal for city driving. After that, it switches over to the ethanol-burning engine, which produces enough power to reach speeds of up to 112 km/h.

While it lacks a trunk, the Urbee has a shelf behind the seats to stow groceries and such.

Kor said a realistic target to begin with would be to produce 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles a year. With that kind of limited production, he estimates the vehicle would have to retail for between $30,000 and $50,000.

However, if it ever becomes mass-produced, that price could drop to as low as $10,000 to $12,000, he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

 

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