Wrightspeed cruises off with $5M

Faith Merino · November 5, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/1365

The electric car manufacturer will use the funds to develop fuel efficient trucks and sports cars

Electric vehicles sound great in theory, but talk to someone about buying one and the same concern inevitably rears its head: they’re so slow…  It’s a response that’s as predictable as knowing that the creepy guy at the grocery store is going to find a way to stand way, way too close to you in the check-out line.  One clean tech startup is looking to change that (the speed of electric vehicles, not the creepy guy at the grocery store, although that would be nice too).  Wrightspeed, based out of San Jose, California, has developed the world’s fastest street-legal electric vehicle, and the company announced Thursday afternoon the close of a $5 million Series A round led by a private investor.

The funding will be used to develop Wrightspeed’s Digital DriveSystem, an extended range hybrid electric drive system aimed at vehicles known colloquially as gas guzzlers.  These might be vehicles that drive long distances, medium-duty trucks, family cars, delivery vans, or high-performance sports cars.  Wrightspeed is so confident in its technology that the company boldly claims that with the amount of money saved on gas, the vehicle will ultimately pay for itself within three years.

 "Our technology will displace at least 3,000 gallons of fuel per year per high-usage vehicle," said Wrightspeed founder and CEO, Ian Wright, in the company’s announcement.

The announcement comes on the heels of the  2011 Fuel Economy Guide, released November 3 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), which, for the first time, will include medium-duty passenger vehicles, such as large sport utility vehicles and passenger vans.  Previously, SUVs and passenger vans were not subject to fuel economy measurement and labeling requirements.

"Wrightspeed's technology provides significant improvements in fuel savings and therefore in payback time for fleet operators," said David Welch, Ph.D., co-founder, executive VP, and Chief Strategy Officer of Infinera, in a prepared statement.  Along with the Series A funding, Wrightspeed also announced that David Welch will be joining the company’s board of directors.

Wrightspeed is known for having developed the world’s fastest electric vehicle, the X1 prototype, which goes from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has an energy equivalent to 170 mpg.  The company, however, insists that the X1 prototype is only a concept car and will never be mass manufactured.  Rather, it was designed to prove that electric vehicles can deliver extreme performance without sacrificing fuel efficiency.

Founded in 2005, Wrightspeed was the brainchild of Ian Wright, co-founder of Tesla, who helped raise capital for and build the first prototype, the Tesla Roadster.  He left Tesla and created Wrightspeed in January 2005 to design and manufacture advanced technology electric drive systems for high fuel consumption vehicles. 

The company could not be reached for comment.

Image source: wrightspeed.com

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At the dawn of the energy age, there is increasing interest in minimizing the amount of oil used for personal transportation. With recent and ongoing advances in battery technology, the electric car is making a comeback. With 3 times the energy efficiency of the best hybrids (4 times better than fuel-cell vehicles), and the ability to use energy from any source via the existing grid, electric cars probably are the long-term solution. But oil is still relatively cheap, and batteries are still expensive. When the rising curve of oil price crosses the falling curve of battery price, there will be a mass market for electric vehicles. In advance of that market, we at Wrightspeed are developing advanced electric drivesystem technology, and making use of an interesting property of electric drivesystems: there’s no tradeoff between performance and efficiency. Internal combustion engine (ICE) cars have an intrinsic conflict: if they are built for performance, they are thirsty; if they are built for efficiency, they are slow. This is not the case for electric cars. Our Wrightspeed X1 prototype is faster than anything available except the Bugatti Veyron, yet it returns 170mpg equivalent in city driving. If we reduced the power to one quarter of the current power, the car would be correspondingly slower – but it would be no more efficient. This means we can design and build and sell very interesting cars – extremely fast cars – without compromising energy efficiency. The drivesystem technology we develop can be applied to other vehicles in the future, as economics permit. If reduction in fuel consumption is the goal, it would be better to replace 10mpg cars with 20mpg cars, than to replace 50 mpg cars with 100mpg cars. 5 times better. Counter-intuitive? Here’s the arithmetic. The 10mpg car uses 10 gallons to go 100 miles. The 20 mpg car uses 5: a saving of 5 gallons. The 50 mpg car uses only 2 gallons for 100 miles, so replacing it with a 100mpg car only saves one gallon. The fuel consumption problem is not that the current hybrid cars only get 50 mpg. That’s not where the fuel is going. Look around you on the freeway, and count the 10-15mpg cars. That’s where the fuel is going. If we can replace a 10mpg car with an electric car, at roughly 100mpg well-wheels equivalent, we save 9 times as much fuel per mile than if we replace the 50mpg hybrid commuter car. At Wrightspeed, we will do exactly that, starting with extreme performance supercars. And the improvements we are making in electric drivesystems raise the performance driving experience to a new level. Faster, more fun, and safer. We expect that some of these enhancements will eventually find their way into all cars.
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