Ever since I was a kid, when my father used give me Matchbox cars he bought on his way home from work, I’ve been crazy about cars. So I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to speak with Simon Saba of Saba Motors, whose EV vision is something any gearhead can get jazzed about: to deliver an exotic electric sports car with a price tag of under $40,000, that will have the looks and performance of cars costing 10 times as much and is environmentally friendly to boot!
I had the pleasure to speak with the animated Mr. Saba and his charming wife at the Fast Lane to CleanTech Incubator Mixer, held at Club Autosport in San Jose. Club Autosport is the current home of Saba Motors, and hosts it and a number of other cleantech companies at its “car-condominium” facility, as part of the Electronic Transportation Development Center (ETDC), a San Jose Redevelopment Agency initiative to incubate and support startups dedicated to clean automotive technologies, including battery infrastructure startup EVIN, the very unusual compressed air powered Magnetic Air Cars, and over 30 others.
SABA Motors is a competitor in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize Competition, with a $10 million dollar prize awarded to the car that, in addition to being the winner in a series of speed and endurance trials, must achieve an effective 100 miles per gallon, and adhere to a large number of very stringent design and safety criteria (complete competition details have yet to be finalized). According to Mr. Saba, these rules are so stringent that, “if the Toyota Prius were to be entered in the X-Prize competition, it would fail to meet the design criteria.” SABA’s competition include rival sports car makers Tesla Motors, Zap and Aptera, along with 37 others that have qualified to date.
The company’s strategy to win the X-Prize, and to deliver on its retail-price promise, is to reduce the amount of batteries needed by making the rest of the vehicle as lightweight as possible. Because they are some of the heaviest and most expensive components of the car, reducing the number of batteries allows the company to achieve both goals simultaneously.
Those familiar with Amory Lovins‘ work on the Hypercar concept will see much of that concept embodied in SAAB Motor’s prototype vehicle. The theory goes something like this: the lighter you make the car, as a whole, the smaller you can make the individual components. For example, a car with less mass requires less energy to move it, and the same is true for making it stop, hence smaller engines and brakes can be employed. As each component becomes smaller, it reduces the requirements for all of the other components, and becomes a compounding effect resulting in large gains in efficiency, and should ultimately result in overall cost savings in the production vehicle.
Mr. Saba demonstrated to me just how lightweight the vehicle is, by effortlessly moving it back and forth with two hands. As a matter of fact, one of his biggest obstacles is how to get more traction to the ground in such a lightweight vehicle. He cites the tires breaking free of the pavement has the biggest limiting factor in the amount of speed that the car can currently achieve.
And… just for the record, the prototype is no glorified golf cart or three-wheeled motorcycle disguised as a car. It’s a real looker, and evokes the minimalist spirit of English roadsters like the Jaguar D-Types of the 50s and 60s or even the Mazda Miata of the 90s, with the same driving-first-and-only mentality. (meaning you will probably need some nice, steampunk-y, leather goggles to keep the bugs out of your face.)
But, unlike its cousin, the Tesla Roadster, the SABA is not intended to be an expensive toy that only a few can afford. Rather, Mr. Saba believes that the only way for an electric vehicle to make a real impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to sell a whole lot of them. Mr. Saba plans on achieiving this by building a car that is not only mere transportation, but also captures the imagination. He believes that if he can do all that while making the car emissions free and under $40,000 retail, he will have a winner on his hands. (the Miata is a great example of how successful this strategy can be, and it wasn’t even emissions-free!)
Who wouldn’t want to own a car with Ferrari-like performance for the price of a well-equipped Toyota, that is zero-emissions to boot? Heck, I’ll take two!
Do you think Simon Saba will realize his vision? Tell us about it in the comments.
Steve Puma is a sustainability and technology consultant. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, ThePumaBlog, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.