Tag Archives: Alan Cocconi

Mystery of the Electric Car

So I’ve been reading up on electric cars for a while now, and over that time a pretty clearly defined mystery plot unfolded before me.

The modern day electric car saga (not the one from a century ago) began in 1996 when GM released the EV1 to customers in California on a lease only basis. Customers loved the car for its convenience, environmental standards, and impressive performance.  The EV1 could blow away combustion engine varieties in its class in 0-60 trials.  Depending on what generation you drove, the batteries could last from 70-160 miles on a charge.  Patrons who were able to lease one gave it rave reviews, but the car was inexplicably pulled off the market in 1999, and the leased cars were taken back by GM and crushed.  The car was a completely capable, $30,000 to $40,000, plug-in ev that did not even make it to the 21st century.  This was before lithium-ion batteries, the popularity of laptop computers, and numerous other technological advances of the past ten years.

One name stuck out like a sore thumb from when I watched Who Killed the Electric Car (I encourage everyone to watch).  His name was Alan Cocconi and he developed the 100,000 watt amplifier for GM that would allow the first generation EV1 to travel 90 miles on a charge, and go 0-60 in 7.9 seconds, with lead-acid batteries.  I wrote an article completely dedicated to his work from development of the EV1 to his company, AC Propulsion, and his electric drivetrain, now used in the Venturi Fetish, Wrightspeed X1, and the Tesla Roadster.


So how do you rectify it being 2008 and the advances in lithium-ion laptop battery technology, with the auto industry’s failure to release an electric car with comparable performance to the EV1 at a reasonable price? Look at this list of 10 electric cars available now.  It’s a sad motley crew of too expensive and barely capable of 45 mph.  And it’s not the fault of the startups. How can these small companies compete with big auto? But notice the two electric supercars on the list, the Tesla Roadster and the Venturi Fetish.  What do they have in common? Alan Cocconi’s AC propulsion electric drivetrain.  Why is this man not employed by a major automaker?  If Tesla had GM’s scale, they would have no problem selling an electric vehicle far superior than any combustion engine car to the masses for under $30,000.  Why can’t major automakers utilize this technology instead of giving us the over hyped hybrid Chevy Volt?  I would love to interview Alan Cocconi to see what his thoughts are on this.

On Alan Cocconi

Alan Cocconi

If you follow electric cars you need to be familiar with Alan Cocconi.  As you can plainly see from the picture above, he’s kind of a badass.  He is predominantly responsible for the technology found in the GM EV1; which was ahead of its time, or technology today is behind the times depending on how you look at it.    In his garage he fabricated what was basically a 100,000 watt stereo amplifier that would allow the EV1 to travel 90 miles on a charge, go 0-60 in 7.9 seconds, and have an ungoverned top speed of 123 mph on the test track.   And this was before Lithium-Ion batteries were viable; the EV1 started out with plain old Lead-Acid batteries.  To this day, first generation EV1’s would still be completely cutting edge and capable electric cars.  The EV1 was only leased, but estimated retail was $30,000- $40,000. This lease agreement allowed GM to take them back to be subsequently crushed, but we got the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car?, out of the whole ordeal.

Anyways, so what happened to Alan? Well he’s still in the electric car business.  Unfortunately he has not been contracted to work on major project to the extent he did at GM.  But the company he founded in 1992, AC Propulsion, is a major player in the electric car market today.  The first AC Propulsion Tzero was built in 1996. Like the EV1, the Tzero had a range of about 90 miles, but could rocket from 0-60 in 4 seconds, making it the first electric supercar. By 2003, a second generation Tzero was born, packing lightweight Lithium-Ion batteries instead of Lead-Acid. This gave the Tzero an ev range of a whopping 300 miles. If that wasn’t enough, a trailer mounted generator could be attached to the back to extend the range even further. Seen here:

Tzero and trailer

Well the Tzero never made it to production, unfortunately.  Out of the Tzero, and the potential of the Lithium Ion battery, came the concept for the eBox.  Basically, AC Propulsion converts customer-owned Scion xBs by removing the internal combustion engine and related components and installing the AC Propulsion electric drive system and battery. You can do this now, but you have to provide the $15K Scion and another $55K for them to convert it. Undoubtedly, if AC Propulsion operated on a larger scale, this could be done for less than half that. Tom Hanks was pretty enthused about this one:

But the real legacy of AC Propulsion and Alan Cocconi stems from that 100,000 watt amp. The AC Propulsion drivetrain that Cocconi developed has evolved, and is now used in the Venturi Fetish, Wrightspeed X1, and the Tesla Roadster. All of which are on the cutting edge of electric vehicle technology and have inspired others to design future concepts.