Let’s face it. We haven’t been particularly nice about the Automotive X-Prize. While the multi-million dollar competition was originally designed to seek out new engineering talent and encourage automakers to go green, the event became a holding pen for the misfits of the automotive world.
But while we’ve nitpicked about some vehicle performances in the handling stages, sniggered at the outlandish designs and wondered just who would buy a car that looks like an aeroplane without wings, one company has continued to impress us.
Enter the E-Tracer. Part car, part motorbike, it occupies the strange category of fully-enclosed feet-first motorcycle. Original versions of this strange vehicle, called the MonoTracer, were powered by a BMW gasoline engine, capable of pushing the bike-come-car to an exhilarating 160 mph.
But Peraves, the company responsible for the ultra-aerodynamic vehicle which was designed over 25 years ago decided to go electric for the X-Prize.
And it worked. With a combination of Peraves low drag vehicle and AC propulsion’s all-electric drive system, the E-Tracer romped home with a win in the Alternative Class (Tandem) category of the Auto X-Prize. With good reason. The AC propulsion system is found in BMW's Mini E, the Wrightspeed X-1, and many other prototype EVs around the world.
Just weeks after the award ceremony, AC Propulsion’s CEO, Tom Gage, has announced that AC propulsion has signed a letter of intent to supply its world-famous drivetrain systems to Peraves to fabricate a market-ready version of the E-Tracer.
What’s more, both companies are confident that 100 units of the E-Tracer will be assembled at AC Propulsion headquarters in San Dimas, California for sale as early as 2011.
Peraves E-Tracer, winner of Progressive Automotive X-Prize. Photo: Stefano Paris.
So just who will buy the vehicle?
It’s not going to appeal to wind-in-your-hair bikers, since its fully enclosed design cocoons occupants in car-like luxury. And with its motorcycle-like handlebars and handling characteristics which see the E-Tracer lean into corner like a motorbike it may put off conventional car drivers.
But for a small band of enthusiasts keen to experience the exhilaration of riding a motorbike without suffering the elements or a lack of a roll cage, the E-Tracer offers a unique opportunity to be a little rebellious while staying completely safe and dry.
The E-Tracer is a love-it or hate-it kind of vehicle. But see one pull out of a intersection, its side-wheels popping back into its body like training wheels on a spaceship before accelerating away with a whine and one thing is obvious.
Do we want to have a go? Most definitely. The vehicle is growing on us, if only due to its unusual design and quirky nature.
If you have the cash and like standing out from the crowd, the E-Tracer could be for you. But if you prefer to be slightly less conspicuous, choose a Tesla Roadster.