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Lotus Set to Crank Out Range Extender Engines for Plug-in Cars

British sports car maker Lotus is about to crank out a range-extending engine for plug-in vehicles. To develop the technology, Lotus Engineering, the automotive consultant arm of Lotus Cars (which supplies the chassis for Tesla Motors’ Roadster), has joined with Spanish auto components maker Fagor Ederlan.

First unveiled at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show and designed specifically for series hybrids, or extended-range electric vehicles, the three-cylinder, 1.2 liter Lotus Range Extender Engine is meant to help automakers speed these models to market at lower cost than if they had to develop the dedicated engine in-house. Under today’s agreement, Fabor Ederlan will produce and sell the engines.

In extended-range electric models like the Chevy Volt, which General Motors (s GM) plans to launch later this year, a small gas engine kicks in once the battery charge drops to a set threshold. The engine then generates energy to power the car for up to hundreds of miles further without plugging in to juice up.

As Green Car Reports has explained, engines designed for this purpose (rather than for powering the vehicle mechanically) can be “optimized to run most efficiently to power the generator,” enabling a smaller, more fuel efficient engine than what’s needed for a conventional gas car.

For the first generation Volt, GM is using a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine, but the automaker has said later generations of the vehicle may use a rotary, diesel or two-cylinder gas engine.

Today’s deal is part of a larger push by Lotus into the green car space. Back in March, the company unveiled a concept car called the Evora 414E Hybrid (a plug-in hybrid version of its existing Evora model), built with motors and generator technology from 3-year-old startup EVO Electric.

Jeremy Walker, a cleantech startup strategist and an advisor to EVO, told us at the time that if Lotus decides to commercialize a range-extended electric vehicle with the startup’s tech it could, “make the rest of the hybrid powertrain engineering world sit up and take notice.” Despite strong focus on advancing battery technology for plug-in vehicles, Walker said, “drive systems are almost as big a market” and haven’t been getting the same attention.

Image courtesy of Lotus

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