Crowd-Sourcing the Electric Car

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Taking its cue from the open-source movement in technology--the approach that collective wisdom is better than one designed by a closed group--eCars Now! is a group in Finland looking to shake up the automobile industry from the grassroots.

HELSINKI (Reuters) - After the wikipedia, the wikicar.

"eCars - Now!" is a Finnish Internet community seeking to apply the collective approach taken by online collaborators like the authors of Wikipedia to start converting used petrol-fuelled cars to electric ones, with the first roll-out due this year.

The Finnish-language forum claims to be first of its kind in the world, and wants to provide an alternative to what its members perceive as foot-dragging in the oil and auto industries.

The group is working in the tradition of "open source" projects laid down by information technology -- like the Linux computer operating system which was started by a Finn and challenged Microsoft's dominance.

"If we succeed very well it will create similar projects across the world with whom we can share what we know," said project participant Jukka Jarvinen, adding that a similar scheme was launching in Denmark.

"We're hoping to create a global movement."

Electric cars have struggled to shake off a quirky image with tiny sales of often fantastical vehicles at prohibitive prices, or economy-sized "golf carts" with limited range.

But because they are charged from the power grid and make more efficient use of energy, they produce fewer emissions and are seen as a promising clean-air alternative to petrol-powered vehicles.

When it comes to promises, auto-makers are keen to capitalize on mounting consumer concern about high gasoline prices which is prompting trade-ins of gas-guzzling SUVs.

Chrysler LLC was one of the latest to say it plans to launch all-electric vehicles in the next three to five years.

General Motors is rushing to complete the design of its Chevy Volt, which is a plug-in hybrid, Mitsubishi Motors plans to launch its electric compact car "i-MiEV" in Japan in 2009, and in Europe Daimler's electric Smart and Mercedes models are touted for 2010.

But the Finnish group offers an outlet for fans who have so far been disappointed by the car industry. Some experts say it will still take 5-10 years for alternatives to petrol-fuelled cars to take root, given the capacity challenge for an auto industry that is adding 65 million new cars a year to a fleet of 1 billion.

This article was originally published on 2008-07-23
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