Meet the Wheego Whip: A New EV for 2010

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 4:19 PM EDT

Meet the new star in the EV firmament, the Wheego Whip. That's a fairly fanciful name for a remarkably capable vehicle build by Wheego Electric Cars, headed by former EarthLink President Mike McQuary (just one of many former Internet players now involved in plug-in cars).

According to McQuary, Wheego raised $1.2 million in August from existing investors and is expecting $1.3 million more from "new pockets." It needs the money to get its Wheego car through crash testing and certified as a road-going EV. In current form, it is licensed as a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV), meaning that, in most states, it's limited to 25 mph and roads with speed limits not above 35 mph.

Even as a NEV, the Whip is very well equipped, including air-conditioning, power windows and locks, four-wheel disc brakes and an iPod-ready stereo. "People are always saying, 'It's a real car!'" McQuary told me. "They expect something cheap and tinny, based on a golf cart or something."

The present Whip, which went on sale last month and is powered with lead-acid batteries, sells for a modest $18,500. The highway-capable car (with an almost identical body and chassis) will have lithium-iron batteries, go 100 miles on a charge, and reach 65 mph. The estimated selling price is $28,500 (which is sweetened by a $7,500 federal tax .

"We'll start crash testing in December and then retool if we have to," McQuary said. "The worst-case scenario is that crash testing and retooling would cost $1 million, but we'll have money left to get the car on the market by the middle of next year." The best-case scenario, you could say, is that all will go swiftly and Wheego will sell its hoped-for 5,000 cars next year.

Like many EVs, the Whip is what McQuary calls "a United Nations car": The body and chasses are from the Chinese company Shuang Haun ("Double Ring"), the motor from Wisconsin, the battery from Canada, the controller from Boston and the seatbelts from Oklahoma.

Wheego is a sleeper of a company, with a whimsical name. But if it can build and effectively market a high-quality EV for less than $30,000, it might become a household name fairly quickly.