Published November 8, 2012
By Philippe Crowe
Is the U.S. ready for low-speed electric vehicles limited to a maximum speed of 25 mph? A newly created brand of dealerships known as EcoCentre believes so.
Spearheaded by Bob Fisher and Ramon Alvarez, the newly formed company has started offering low-speed vehicles built by Chinese automotive company Wuling.
Wuling is partnered with GM in the SAIC-General Motors-Wuling joint venture started in 2001. The current result of this venture are minivans and a mini car sold under the SGMW brand as well as Baojun cars.
The Wuling part of the joint venture is linked to a company called Liuzhou Wuling. This separate company produces various vehicles and is where Fisher is sourcing the low-speed EVs to be sold in the U.S. under the EcoCentre brand.
The products currently offered in the U.S. are the EcoVan, the EcoTruck, and the EcoE mini-car. Prices range from $9,995 for the EcoE to $17,995 for the EcoVan.
The EcoE is powered by a 3.1-kw motor linked to a 48 volt, absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery. Speed is regulated to a maximum of 25 mph and the range is between 30 and 40 miles.
Second in the lineup is the $16,995 EcoTruck which is powered by a 6-kw nominal to 13-kw peak motor linked to a 96-volt, AGM battery.
Speed with this one is also regulated to 25 mph; range varies between 25 and 40 miles according to EcoCentre, which also says the battery will last through 700-plus cycles.
Interestingly, this pickup has a cargo capacity of over 1,000 pounds.
Third in the lineup is the EcoVan which is powered by the same motor and battery combo found in the truck. It starts at $17,995 and comes with bucket seats in front and one or two bench seats in the back.
Specs of these vehicles can be seen in this pdf.
Automotive business journalist and EV specialist Alysha Webb wrote a very interesting article on her blog on the arrival of Wuling’s vehicles in the U.S.
As we write this, one dealership has opened in Irvine, Calif. Dealer principle Denice Fladeboe Mock is not new to electric vehicles as she is also involved in distributing Coda vehicles.
Alvarez and Fisher both believe universities, corporate campuses and fleets are the customers who will see the need and the fit of these low-speed EVs first, with the general public slowly coming on-board thereafter.
They expect sales to grow with small businesses, including food deliveries, bakeries, repair shops, parts stores, landscaping and other businesses that would benefit from the ability to make short, and very inexpensive, trips several times per day. Other retail sales targets are expected to include families with high school or college students, young people and non-profit groups.
EcoCentre expects to have dealerships in each of the top 75 markets in the U.S. and Canada by 2016. Alvarez declared to Webb that EcoCentre “plans to have conservatively 175 to 200 (dealerships) in a five year plan.”
California will be the first area in the U.S. where the company will concentrate its dealerships openings; letters of intent were signed with dealers interested in opening EcoCentres in Riverside, San Bernardino, Glendale, Canoga Park and San Jose.