EVO Electric: Electric Car Motor Maker Links with Lotus

EVO Electric, a U.K.-based startup developing a more efficient electric motor for hybrid and electric cars, will be getting a whole lotta attention in Geneva on Tuesday due to a major new partnership. The 3-year-old company has scored a deal with Lotus Engineering, and EVO’s motors are being featured in a plug-in hybrid concept sports car — the Evora hybrid — expected to be unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show on Tuesday.

The Evora hybrid is expected to look like this regular Evora sports car, which came out in September.

The Evora 414E Hybrid concept car is a plug-in hybrid version of Lotus’ currently available Evora (pictured above), which represented Lotus’ first new vehicle since 1995 when itstarted rolling out in Europe in September. The hybrid concept includes two EVOdrive motors, each providing 204 horsepower and 295 pounds of torque per foot, as well as EVO’s electric generator technology to help run a 35kW range extender system.

Jeremy Walker, a cleantech startup strategist and an advisor to EVO, called the deal “exceptionally important” for the startup. The deal could potentially lead to a commercial partnership if Lotus decides to commercialize a range-extended electric vehicle like the Evora hybrid, he said. “More importantly, it will make the rest of the hybrid powertrain engineering world sit up and take notice. Lotus has a global reputation for being some of the finest automotive engineers on the planet, so their decisions on what technologies they include are watched closely. Other people follow where Lotus leads.”

EVO is a spinoff from Imperial College London, where Chief Technology Officer Michael Lamperth works as a lecturer in mechanical engineering. The startup is developing what’s called an axial flux motor, or a disc-based motor. Instead of the usual cylinder rotating in another cylinder, these motors consist of a disc rotating facing another disc. “It’s the best usage of space,” Lamperth said.
While the concept of an axial flux motor isn’t new, the technology previously hasn’t succeeded because it’s so powerful that past iterations have fallen apart, Walker said. New materials, a new design and different manufacturing processes fix that problem, Lamperth added. The result is a motor that EVO claims is smaller, lighter, more powerful and more cost-efficient than current electric motors.
The motor can essentially get more performance out of the batteries, a major advantage as batteries – including the limited electric range they enable and their high price – have been a major sticking point for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. “There has been a lot of focus on batteries, but drive systems are almost as big a market” and haven’t been getting the same attention, Walker said.
A vehicle that can travel 80 miles on a single charge today would be able to drive 100 miles with EVO motors, Lamperth claims. And that’s for a cost expected to be at least 40 percent lower than current motors, in mass production, because the motors use at least 40 percent less material, he added. Price has been a critical challenge for plug-in hybrid and electric cars, which is why the first such vehicles have been high-end sports cars, such as the Tesla Roadster.
Aside from plug-in hybrids, EVO plans to target electric vehicles and regular hybrids. But the company expects to start with plug-in hybrids, which it expects will hit the market in about two years, because – considering the long development cycle for vehicles – manufacturers are evaluating motor providers for those vehicles now, Lamperth said.
EVO is in small-volume manufacturing now, making motors on its own in “fives and tens,” and already is seeing revenues from demonstration and beta vehicles and from the retrofit market, Lamperth said. It plans to partner with automotive suppliers for mass production and already is in talks with other potential partners, he added.
The company, which already has raised $5 million from Imperial Innovations, the venture arm of Imperial College, and angel investors, is now seeking a second round of about $10 million. While it has commitments from existing investors, it really hopes to attract a U.S. venture capitalist to help it target the U.S. market as well, Lamperth said, adding EVO plans to close its funding by summer.
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