Sometimes we avoid covering certain cars, for good reasons or not. One of those cars is the 2011 Wheego LiFe, a derivative of the 2009 Wheego Whip.

Never heard of it? Not surprising.

Wheego Electric Cars is a startup electric-car company, in this case selling an electric conversion of a Chinese-made minicar that's pretty clearly a knockoff of a Smart ForTwo.

While the Wheego's all-steel body is a foot longer than the diminutive Smart, 4 inches wider, and slightly higher, it's still a small two-seater--and it still resembles a Smart to most people. That may be something of a problem, given that company's launch of its 2011 Smart Electric Drive model this fall.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

Deliveries start next month

Today, our attention was drawn to a short piece in industry trade journal Automotive News that included claims by Wheego CEO Mike McQuary that the company has "dealers standing by"--25 so far, the company says, with hopes of 75 by the end of the year--and would deliver its first 100 electric cars next month.

That is, to be clear, a few weeks before the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt roll off production lines in Oppama, Japan, and Detroit, Michigan, respectively. The start of Volt production even has a date: November 11, 2010.

Why is it so important? Because President Barack Obama pledged in March to "purchase the first 100 plug-in electric vehicles to roll off American assembly lines" before the end of 2011. We tend to agree with McQuary's notion that the president was imagining Chevrolet Volts, since the Leaf is not (yet) built in the U.S.

Wheego said it has delivered about 300 of the low-speed Whip so far, and it has its first three vehicles being assembled in its plant in Ontario, California.

Like the 2011 Coda Sedan and the 2010 Tesla Roadster, the Wheego is actually deemed to be "built in America" since its powertrain is added into the rolling "glider" in a California plant.

More Wheegos are "on the water," said Wheego's Susan Nicholson, and the company expects to build its first 100 cars within three or four weeks.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

From low-speed to ... less low-speed

More than a year ago, we tested the Wheego Whip, the low-speed neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) model from Atlanta-based Wheego. Even then, the company planned to expand beyond NEVs into highway-speed models, which must comply with far more onerous crash-testing regulations.

The 2011 Wheego Whip LiFe is the higher-speed version of the Whip. Both cars are built in China by the Shuanghuan Automobile Company, which sells them with four-cylinder gasoline engines and five-speed transmissions under the Noble name.

Upgrades for the LiFe include a 30 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack from Flux Power that uses iron phosphate cells (hence the name, based on periodic-table symbols: Li for lithium, Fe for iron).

The electric motor powering the front wheels, from High Performance Automotive, has a nominal power of 15 kilowatts (20 hp), with peak power of 45 kW (60 hp).

WheeGo Whip NEV Interior Photo by Rex Roy

WheeGo Whip NEV Interior Photo by Rex Roy

Up to 100 miles

Projected range is up to 100 miles, with a maximum stated speed of 65 miles per hour. We think that is barely worthy of the name "highway capable," although buyers will most likely use a Wheego as a second or third car for shorter around-town trips rather than extended family road trips.

Our reviewer last year said the Wheego felt "like a real car," with little wind noise and a pleasant if basic interior. At that point, the suspension was still bouncy and underdamped; we haven't yet driven a production version.

Standard equipment includes power windows, locks, and mirrors, and an AM/FM/CD player stereo with MP3 capability and a USB port. The driver's seat is manually adjustable, and safety equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a tire-pressure warning system, and two airbags, one each for the driver and passenger.

The Whip LiFe can be charged using either 120-Volt or 240-Volt power, and a 120-Volt charging cord with the industry-standard J-1772 connector is standard.

The 2011 Wheego LiFe is priced at $32,995, with just a single option offered: air conditioning at $1,995. With $1,000 of freight and handling added, the base model is $33,995, and buyers are eligible for a $7,500 Federal tax credit once they file their taxes for the year of purchase.

The company is now accepting deposits of $100 per car, but declined to say how many reservations it had received to date for the Wheego Whip LiFe.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

Calling the White House

To anticipate the punchline, when McQuary called the White House, no one there had ever heard of Wheego.

But then, had you?

We're generally skeptical that a startup like Wheego has the resources for the long haul. But if Wheego does in fact beat the Leaf and the Volt onto the market with fully Federalized electric cars for sale--even if only by a few weeks--it will have achieved a small but notable first.

The question remains, though: WIll anyone notice?

[Automotive News (subscription required)]