Exxon, Electrovaya Roll Out Electric Car Sharing…Slowly

Oil and gas behemoth ExxonMobil has thrown its weight behind a project that combines two gas-saving initiatives: electric vehicle technology and car sharing. Before you celebrate this as a new push to cut reliance on fossil fuels, we should be more exact: If you think of Exxon as a 300-pound linebacker, it has just thrown the weight of its little finger behind the small electric car-sharing program called AltCar launched today in Baltimore with low-speed electric vehicle maker Electrovaya. It’s making a larger push for vehicle technology in general — outside of its deal with Electrovaya — working on synthetic blends and lightweight plastics to help improve fuel efficiency. As the Wall Street Journal put it this afternoon, “The Texas oil giant also wants to make sure that if you ever go electric, there will be a Tiger in your tank (or in the battery that powers your power train.)”

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In a release today, ExxonMobil, which has a market cap of more $326 billion, touted investing some $500,000 for the car-sharing program and an accompanying exhibit. The program will for the first month have just two to three of Electrovaya’s electric Maya 300 four-seaters (introduced last year with a separator film developed by Exxon in its lithium-ion polymer battery pack), although the fleet will increase to 10 vehicles after August 1, an Electrovaya spokesperson told us today.

Aside from Exxon’s involvement, what’s interesting about the fleet is that it’s one of the first opportunities for regular consumers to drive the low-speed electric Maya 300, which is slated to launch commercially in 2011. It has a base price of $25,000, max speed of 25-35 MPH, and range of 60 miles. For an extra $10,000, the company plans to offer a model with a 120-mile range. The idea, as explained to Greentech Media last year by Electrovaya research scientist Edmond Lam, is to target the fleet market as well as mainstream city drivers looking for a second or third car.

In a time when a slew of highway-capable electric vehicles priced for the mass market are on track to launch in the next few years, Electrovaya is taking a different route by focusing on the more established but decidedly niche market of low-speed vehicles for public and private fleets.

As far as car sharing and electric demo fleets go, today’s launch is a modest trial (by comparison, the electric Mini E Field Trial is set to include up to 500 vehicles). Electrovaya says its goal is to “accelerate clean transportation as a commercial reality.” The company has won a  C$16.7 million (about $13.8 million) grant from the Ontario government to do that through development of its battery technology.

When it comes to marketing the the vehicle itself, however, Electrovaya may have to hit the throttle in order to keep up with the new fleet of companies funding up with multimillion- and billion-dollar loans from the DOE to start delivering plug-in vehicles for the mass market within the next several years, and with the China-based automakers like BYD Auto racing to sell plug-in vehicles for well below the Maya 300’s initial price range.

Maya 300 photo credit Electrovaya

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