Car-Company-Collapse: The Mother of Invention?

One of the themes that we have worked on over the last several month is the astonishing number of green startups, ingenious cars and vehicles, and innovative approaches to R&D that are happening as a result of the impending demise of the US (or world) big car companies, which seem at least a decade behind in greentech, and possibly more than a decade in understanding car buyers. 

Why are we interested?  The startups discussed below and in preview articles in SmallCapWorld are backed in large part by philanthropic organizations, VC investors, cross-over combinations like Quercus Energy Trust, or by friends & family.  Logic would have it that some of those folks will want to get liquid whenever the famous “IPO window” opens again, and that it is worth keeping an eye on them meantime.

MIT Solar Race Car

MIT Solar Race Car

It is easily apparent that there are new ideas around, as reported by Chuck Squatriglia on a Wired blog (http://blog.wired.com/cars/2009/02/hot-wheels—mi.html) .  Although it is a one-off and designed and built by students, this 3-wheeler solar race car is capable of 90 mph, and will attempt to prove itself in the tenth World Solar Challenge, a seven-day, 3000-km race in Australia ending on Halloween 2009 (http://www.wsc.org.au/welcome.html).   We also invite you to look again at Vista, CA-based Aptera’s nifty 100-mpg 3-wheeler, which we have written about before (http://www.aptera.com/).

But it doesn’t have to look futuristic in order to be green.  In fact, it doesn’t have to be exotic at all, and you may be able to buy a zero-emission vehicle this spring at Best Buy.  Really.  The Brammo Enertia,  a pure plug-in electric vehicle made by Ashland, OR-based privately held Brammo Inc (http://www.brammo.com/), looks for all the world like a “normal” motorcycle.  It will be sold at 5 selected Best Buy stores on the west coast starting in May — and then potentially at  Best Buy locations around the world.  The Brammo story was reported by AutoBlogGreen (http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/02/27/brammo-enertia-to-be-sold-at-select-best-buy-locations-in-may)

Enertia Motorcycle, photo courtesy Brammo Inc

Enertia Motorcycle, photo courtesy Brammo Inc

Not to be outdone, Santa Cruz, CA-based Zero Motorcycles (http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/) will be hosting a full 24 hours of Electricross (get it? like Motocross) in San Jose on April 4 at the 408MX Motocross Track.  http://www.autobloggreen.com/tag/zero+motorcycles

Zero X Motorcycle, photo courtesy of Zero

Zero X Motorcycle, photo courtesy of Zero

The working assumption of most investors and most car companies is that new electric vehicles, which range from amusing to hard-working, will be powered by lithium-ion batteries.  In fact, maintenance to Brammo bikes will be done by The Geek Squad, who were founded to take care of computer networks. 

But at least one company, Anderson, IN-based Bright Automotive, a spinout from egghead think tank, The Rocky Mountain Institute, seems to have a broader view.  We have written about Bright in the past, and invite you to look in our archive, as well as to have a look at http://www.brightautomotive.com/.  Bright is quietly assembling batterypacks of several different types of batteries, including the new advanced lead-acid batteries that include nanocarbon anodes that lengthen life, quicken recharging, and can be made on standard lead-acid manufacturing lines.  Have a look at New Castle, PA-based Axion Power International Inc (EBB: AXPW, http://www.axionpower.com) , clearly the front-runner in that game, with substantial IP on its PbC(tm) batteries.

For lithium-ion US-based innovators, see NYC-based Ener1 Inc (Nasdaq: HEV, http://www.ener1.com) or Watertown, MA-based privately held A123 Systems Inc (http://www.a123systems.com/company).

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