Full speed ahead | Daily News


Full speed ahead

Sri Lanka is not known for having a car industry. Around four decades ago, well-known business tycoon Upali Wijewardene pioneered the assembly of FIAT cars (Upali Fiat) in Sri Lanka, some of which are still around.

Japanese cars flooded the country after economic liberalization in the late 1970s, which decimated that nascent industry. Right now, Micro Cars has an assembly unit for certain types of Geely and Ssanyong vehicles, while Mahindra and Mahindra too will have an assembly plant to locally manufacture one of its best-selling models. Apart from Micro’s name-sake car from some years ago, there has been no attempt to build an indigenous car for Sri Lanka.

But the future of the car (and of course, transport itself) is electric. The days of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) could be over by as early as 2030, as all carmakers are shifting to electric power trains.

Several all-new electric car models will invade the global market this year and some of these will come to our shores as well. It is in this context that we should laud the efforts of a team of young Sri Lankans who have built an all-new electric car from the ground up. Not just any electric car – an electric supercar that can rival almost any supercar, electric or ICE, from an established global manufacturer. The Vega (meaning “speed” in Sinhala) EVX will have its world premiere at the Geneva Motor Show in March, marking a proud moment for Sri Lanka and its enterprising youth. The Government has extended its fullest support to this venture.

The electric supercar, with a price tag of US$ 250,000 (that compares favourably with other supercars), will certainly put Sri Lanka on the world auto production map. The specs of the car are truly world class. The production version of the Sri Lankan supercar will be 4.53 m long, 1.99 m wide, 1.22 m tall, and has a 2.85 m wheelbase.

It has a luggage capacity of 260 litres and weighs 2,090 kg, 480 kg of which are due to the battery. The battery pack is composed of 12 modules, each of them with 50 lithium ferrous phosphate (LiFePO4) pouch batteries. Currently, it delivers 540V and 40 kWh, enough for 250 km. Fast charging is done via ChadeMo and CCS at 120 kW. The supercar can reach a top speed of 240 km/h and a 0 to 100 km/h of 3.1 seconds.

“At the moment, we are spending a lot of effort on technologies for this battery pack, with tab liquid cooling, advance fusing, and high energy density packing technologies. We hope that our real USP – Unique Selling Proposition – will stand out with the cylindrical cell packs that we are developing,” said a Vega Spokesman. “Unlike some other EV supercars, we decided to build all the electronics ourselves in the first go. The liquid motor controller, EVCU, BMS, DC/DC, body control, thermal control, etc. are all built by us from the ground up. That took a long time to get to a drivable state.” This is indeed a stellar effort in that less than 30 engineers were involved in the project at any given time and they lacked CNC tooling necessary for this kind of work.

But there many challenges ahead. This car had been hand built, which may not be possible if actual orders are placed for the car in any number.

The Vega team must decide how many cars they are going to build – some supercars built by established brands have a very limited production run, like 100 units. In that case, the factory facilities available locally may not suffice to produce both LHD and RHD cars and Vega might have to outsource assembly to a specialist company such as Magna Styer which builds such cars for other companies.

Another option for Vega is to use this as a foundation to venture into the production of more affordable electric cars. This is indeed how Tesla started – with an electric roadster that cost more than US$ 200,000 (there is a new model coming this year that will compete with the Vega) and now Tesla has a Model 3 sedan that costs US$ 35,000 (base).

It all depends on marketing – the Vega should be positioned not only to appeal to the uber-rich who have the cash to buy, but also to car lovers who might someday want to buy a more affordable Vega-badged electric car or even a bike. Vega should aspire to become a brand known to motor enthusiasts all over the world.

Vega – and other established carmakers represented in Sri Lanka – must also resolve the chicken an egg situation that prevails with regard to electric chargers. Sri Lanka needs to have a network of superchargers with the rising popularity of electric cars, which will be the only ones allowed to be registered after 2040. We must be ready to face that future from now itself.

Pramod de Silva  

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