With the focus naturally going towards some of the big electric car launches we've had this year or established players like Tesla Motors, it's all too easy to forget that there are a wealth of smaller companies out there producing their own, unique take on electric transport.

One such company is Green Vehicles of Salinas, California. Their creation, the Triac, is a slimline three-wheeled vehicle which company president Mike Ryan says has an honest 100-mile range.

Why an 'honest' range? "There has been a tendency in some cases for folks to overestimate their range by calculating it in an advantageous situation, say, 30 mph on a flat surface with no stops," reasons Ryan. "'Honest' means this is what drivers will actually experience driving it around." The batteries themselves are of the lithium-ion type, and are made by Leyden Energy in Fremont. Leyden claim the battery can operate at up to 140 degrees Farenheit without degradation of the cells. Additional cooling is therefore not required, helping to keep complexity and weight down.

We always like to advise our readers that a manufacturer's quoted range is more often than not a best-case scenario rather than the norm, so it's refreshing to see a genuinely attainable figure. This is no doubt testament to the light weight (only 2,000 pounds) and relatively slim stature of the vehicle. There's little word on performance, though the Triac has a 20 kilowatt electric motor and can apparently hit 80mph on the freeway, so it's certainly not a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV). There's even a "288 volt performance package" available for $3,800, with a 30 kW motor for even more performance.

The range isn't the only genuinely attainable aspect. $25,000 still seems a lot by the standards of regular production cars, but compared to other electric vehicles it's fairly inexpensive, and sold in its local California the Triac might even be eligible for the potential $5,000 rebate towards EVs, as well as up to $7,500 in federal tax credits. If you qualify, a Triac could be yours for as little as $12,500, or about the price of a Chevy Aveo, or a base-spec smart fortwo.

You shouldn't expect to be able to match the features of those vehicles though. Mike Ryan admits the Triac is designed as a less costly vehicle for an environmentally conscious lifestyle. It's not out to win awards for its styling or performance, but as one of the cheapest ways into EV ownership without treading the minefield of home-conversions it's a good start.

There's no word yet on how the Triac is being classified, but as a small three-wheeler it's likely to be registered as a motorcycle. That said, Green Vehicles say the Triac meets all Federally Mandated Vehicle Safety Standards. The vehicle also has a relatively low center of gravity, so usual three-wheel stability issues should be kept to a minimum.

What the Triac will have in common with more expensive regular EVs though is a system of connecting your digital devices with the car. Drivers will be able to plug their device into a special slot and control their itinerary, listen to a business briefing or even just listen to podcasts on the way to work. Green Vehicles is also constructing a website that tracks the company's greenhouse gas emissions and waste, giving customers a holistic view of the company and their green credentials.

The car will also include a Vehicle Efficiency Data Assistant, which records the owner's driving habit and commute patterns, allowing accurate range predictions to be displayed to the driver.
As ever, we'd like to stress that vehicles like the Triac shouldn't really be compared with more expensive production models, as in some areas they can't stack up to products produced through millions of dollars of research and development. However, Paul Scott from Plug In America reckons that "the market is quite robust" for lightweight commuter EVs like the Triac. The efficiency and low cost of the Triac should work strongly in its favour against rivals such as Think's City EV, which offers similar figures but at a higher cost.

There's no set date for sales as yet, but Green Vehicles expect to begin production at the end of 2011, at a rate of 2,000 vehicles per year.

[Mercury News Automotive]