AMP Electric Thinks Soccer Moms Want Electric Equinoxes; Do They?

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AMP Electric converted Chevrolet Equinox electric crossover, Detroit, October 2010

AMP Electric converted Chevrolet Equinox electric crossover, Detroit, October 2010

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Attending a conference in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, we had the chance to drive a converted "Amp'd Chevrolet Equinox" crossover, offered by AMP Electric Vehicles.

Based in Cleveland, the company hopes to sell electric conversions of "best of class" vehicles in several segments to early adopting consumers who are willing to pay for all-electric vehicles.

AMP has gotten a fair bit of media attention, including a lot of love from Detroit outlets, so we were eager to chat with executives and curious to understand where they see themselves in the expanding universe of electric-car providers.

Parking lot slalom drive

We also wanted to drive their electric Equinox, which we were able to do on a slalom track set up in a large parking lot next to the Detroit River. Top speeds were about 40 or 45 miles per hour, so we don't have a sense for how it would behave on a freeway.

Our overall impression was that the vehicle needs more development work. Other journalists have noticed the same thing, including a number who cited software glitches yet to be resolved.

Nonetheless, it's possible that the vehicle may appeal to the small number of families willing to pay roughly $45,000--or double the price of a gasoline Equinox--for a crossover with zero emissions and up to 150 miles of range.

Ambitious goals

In the short term, AMP hopes to sign deals with multiple automakers to buy small numbers of "gliders," or new vehicles built without conventional gasoline powertrains.

AMP plans to use them as the basic for electric conversions, which they will sell through selected dealers. The company plans to start production of the AMP'd Equinox later this year, with hopes of selling up to 100 per month.

Only electric crossover?

The company chose the Equinox both because crossovers are fully 20 percent of the U.S. vehicles sold, said CEO Steve Burns, and because no automaker appears to be planning an all-electric crossover in the next several years.

That's true only if you discount the Toyota RAV4 converted by Tesla to all-electric operation, which Toyota plans to unveil at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show in two weeks.

logos for AMP Electric Vehicles and Remy, used on Amp'd Equinox electric conversion

logos for AMP Electric Vehicles and Remy, used on Amp'd Equinox electric conversion

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Over the next three years, says Burns, AMP would like to offer as many as 10 different vehicle conversions, from multiple carmakers. A second SUV from a different maker is next, he says.

Long-term, he envisions building a premium brand positioned around the longer range of AMP's conversions, so that customers will understand that "This vehicle's been AMP'd!" means better performance than any competing electric vehicle in its class.

The company has many auto-industry veterans as executives and board members. The latest is James E. Taylor, most recently CEO of HUMMER during its unsuccessfully divestiture by GM and ultimate shutdown. He was also general manager of Cadillac.

100% electric Equinox

The converted crossover is powered by a pair of 67-kilowatt electric motor driving the rear wheels, which also provide regenerative braking. They are the same Remy motors used in GM's Two-Mode Hybrid system for full-size SUVs and pickup trucks.

Energy is supplied by a battery pack of 37 kilowatt-hours split between locations under the front hood and beneath the rear load deck. The lithium-iron-phosphate cells are sourced in China.

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