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Open Source

By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-07-23 Print this article Print

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.


The group is starting small. It has identified demand for more than 500 electric conversions in Finland and its Web site aims to begin introducing potential buyers to sellers of suitable used cars and components, and mechanics who can make the conversion with an electric motor and lithium batteries.

Its first conversion model will be a Toyota Corolla -- it aims to produce a few dozen finished eCorollas this year -- which it says would have a range of 150 kilometers per charge and a top speed of 120 km/h.

This compares with Oslo-based specialist car producer Think's model City, which travels up to 180 kilometers with a top speed of 100 km/h.

The forum expects the used car and mechanics' work in total to cost roughly 25,000 euros ($38,000), close to the price of a new Corolla in Finland, and will make the conversions using commercially available components.

On the forum, participants feed ideas to the site's discussion boards and email lists, the best of which the non-profit community will put into use.

The community believes 500 orders would be sufficient for mass conversions: Think plans a batch of 8,000 electric cars next year at 20,000 euros each.

Its experts are volunteers who negotiate prices for the components and car conversions. End-users will pay for the car, the component costs and the mechanic.

"We are not trying to jealously build any sort of corporation out of this," Jarvinen said. "This kind of an unorganized organism that grows in small cells across the world cannot be bought out."


The old common problem of electric cars -- heavy batteries with a limited life-span -- has mostly been overcome with lithium battery technology, although limits to the range remain.

Infrastructure for power is a hurdle: there are few public spots where one can charge an electric car in Finland, but they can also be charged at home.

Renault and Nissan have signed a deal with Portugal to make the country one of the first to offer consumers the possibility of nationwide electric car charging stations. The two makers have also said they will mass-market electric cars in Israel and Denmark in 2011.

The e-group's intentions are good, says researcher Juhani Laurikko of the Technical Research Centre of Finland, but they are not yet approaching the issue in a sustainable way.

"Frankly, there is not much potential here, but these are moves in the right direction. Converting petrol-fuelled cars that are only a few years old is a waste of natural resources," he said.

"I would rather see conversions done on used cars older than 10 years with older petrol-engine technology."

The community says it is best for the electric car's image to start with new cars rather than tired models.

Finland's Vehicle Administration said the community's cars could be admitted to the roads in Finland.

"They may well be admitted, as long as they fulfil the legally set criteria," said Erik Asplund, senior officer at the vehicle inspection unit. "There are a few of these criteria but probably nothing that couldn't be overcome."


(Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn in London; Editing by Sara Ledwith and Jon Boyle)

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