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Disruptive innovation

John Day

John Day

Posted May 10, 2010

One of the teams competing for the Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE asks in its literature what the computer industry would be like today if Wang, Data General and DEC were still the only manufacturers. Remember them?

Future Vehicle Technologies (FVT) goes on to say that North America “desperately needs the inventors – the small groups of passionate people who push the envelope and bring disruptive innovations to the world.”

The three firms FVT mentions were innovators in their day, but were ultimately overtaken by another innovation, the personal computer. It remains to be seen how beneficially disruptive FVT’s innovations will be, but as “six guys in a garage” (now 20), they appear to be headed in a good direction.

Photos of the vehicle FVT wants to build – the eVaro – are at It’s a three-wheel, two-seat plug-in hybrid with a 125 mile range on electric power. For longer trips, a small gas generator charges the batteries and provides the same range as any other gas-powered vehicle. Energy recovery from regenerative braking is upwards of 30%, according to vice president Todd Pratt.

What sets the eVaro apart is its electric drive system, which consists of two 400-volt brushless DC electric motors, twin 500-amp inverters, the 20-kw generator, and 21-kwh lithium polymer batteries. FVT designed the motors and most of the vehicle’s other components, including its battery management system, central vehicle controller, and high-speed CAN network. Linear Technology Corp., Freescale Semiconductor, and Energy Innovation Group (EIG) supplied key components. Pratt says the design eliminates the need for a transmission and differential.

FVT expects to sell the eVaro for $43k but also plans to license its technology to OEMs and conversion companies. Pratt says only a handful of companies produce high voltage electric drives for highway speed vehicles, and he claims that FVT’s is simpler, more efficient, and able to drive vehicles as large as Ford’s F-150.
“Some of what we’re doing isn’t really new,” Pratt says, “but it’s new to the auto industry,” and the industry can always use more innovation.

eVaro, Energy Innovation Group, Ford F-150, Todd Pratt, regenerative braking, Wang Laboratories, Linear Technology Corp., brushless DC motors, lithium polymer batteries, Data General, plug-in hybrid, battery management system, Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE, EIG, Freescale Semiconductor, electric drive system, Future Vehicle Technologies, DEC, FVT, Digital Equipment Corp., high-speed CAN network

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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