Daimler’s Smart brand discussed its electric vehicles with a U.S. audience at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) here in Detroit yesterday.
Smart has launched a 100-vehicle pilot EV program in the United Kingdom that calls for customers to drive 750-kg battery-powered cars for several years under everyday conditions. The program attempts to prove that a prescribed swath of the car-buying public can be happy with pure, battery-powered vehicles.
“It shows that some people don’t need 200 kilometers per day,” said Heiko Bornhoft, head of product marketing for Smart.
Smart’s EVs use a 130-kg (286-lb) Zebra nickel sodium chloride battery, which gives the vehicle a range of about 100 km (62 miles) while carrying two adults. Smart engineers believe that car buyers will embrace the technology because most people need to drive less than 40-50 km per day to work and back. The technology could also provide financial benefits, especially in France, where owners of so-called “zero emission vehicles” reportedly earn a government payment of 5,000 Euros, which can be applied toward the vehicle purchase. They also said electrical energy in Europe costs about one-third as much per km as gasoline.
Smart engineers at the show said that their EV’s Zebra nickel sodium chloride battery, created by MES-DEA of Switzerland, differentiates their vehicle from common hybrids, which often use nickel-metal hydride, and from other EVs, which are now leaning toward lithium-ion. Nickel sodium chloride, they said, is designed for battery-powered cars, whereas nickel-metal hydride is better suited to hybrids, which must be charged with a more electrical energy in a shorter period of time. For pure EVs, the Zebra nickel sodium chloride battery also offers an advantage over lithium-ion for safety reasons, the company said.
“The Zebra battery is comparable to lithium-ion in terms of cost,” said Klaus Badenhausen, chief engineer of Smart. “But it’s much safer than lithium-ion.”
The company plans to lease its electric vehicles to users in the U.K for four years and then perform a detailed examination of the results of the pilot program.