In a way, using a typical two-ton car with a gas-guzzling, internal-combustion engine to run errands around town is akin to going grocery shopping with a NASA space shuttle: grossly inefficient.

Alt-vehicle entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer has developed a better idea – the Arcimoto SRK, a three-wheeled, electric-powered motorcycle that seats two people, with enough room left over to carry groceries and such. It also looks pretty cool, is fun to drive and will even be affordable, asserts Frohnmayer, Arcimoto’s president and chief visionary officer.

While Frohnmayer declined to disclose an actual price, he says the SRK will cost less than $20,000. Arcimoto will start beta testing the SRK in November, with 15 pilot prototypes hitting the streets in phases by mid-2015. Design refinements will ensue, followed by a target production date of late 2016, says Frohnmayer, a former video-game developer who earned a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley.

“We still have a lot to do before we start cranking them out like potato chips,” quips Frohnmayer, who sold a successful video-game start-up and used the proceeds as seed money for Arcimoto. “But the SRK will be the first affordable and functional electric vehicle for the masses.”

Based in Eugene, Oregon, Arcimoto is a hybrid Latin amalgam that means, “future I drive.” It’s an apt moniker for the rakish, futuristic-looking SRK, which is aimed at tech-, green- and chic-conscious urban dwellers who mostly drive short distances (and no motorcycle driver’s license required).

For the last seven years, Frohnmayer has been an entrepreneurial Jason, searching for a vehicular version of the Golden Fleece: a small, emission-less, front-wheel drive vehicle that’s unlike anything else on the market. Now in its seventh iteration, the SRK (short for “shark,” because one road tester likened it to driving a strong and nimble animal, like a shark) fulfills those ambitions.

“We weren’t trying to build an electric car, but an electric vehicle that’s radically different – one with a smaller footprint than a typical car but that still solves the (environmental) problems posed by today’s cars,” he says.

How is the SRK different from conventional electric vehicles? For starters, take the three-wheel “tadpole” configuration (one wheel in back and two up front). “To deliver high efficiency on the road, you don’t need that extra wheel, as long as the vehicle is designed properly, with the weight in the right place,” Frohnmayer says. One less wheel also reduces drag, which in turn improves driving performance, he adds.

In this case, the “right place” is up front; about two-thirds of the vehicle’s 1,460-pound curb weight is borne by the two front wheels. “In terms of accelerating, steering and braking, that’s a real advantage,” he says.

In addition, the two seats are bolted to the chassis in tandem, not off to each side, which helps to provide an even lower centre of gravity. “You’re right in the centre of the driving experience,” Frohnmayer enthuses.

Here’s the skinny on the rest of the SRK’s specs:
• two 30kw, AC induction electric motors (generate 90hp at peak)
• top speed of 75mph
• zero to 60mph in less than nine seconds
• battery pack comprised of 2,000 lithium-ion cells
• 60mi driving range, or more than 100 miles with a battery upgrade
• regenerative braking to assist with battery recharging
• turning radius of less than 31ft
• 124in long, 56in tall and 69in at its widest point
• welded tubular-steel frame
• roll-cage and crumple zones for increased safety

Frohnmayer says the batteries can be recharged in a standard 110-volt household outlet, gaining about 8 miles of range for every hour of charging; using a 220-volt outlet provides 30 miles of range for every hour of charging.

“We’ve also developed our own technology for packaging the battery cells,” he points out. “One reason we can achieve a compelling price is that we’ve reduced the cost of the battery system.”

Another unusual feature: clear polycarbonate panels that can be attached to create an enclosed cockpit for bad-weather driving. Or remove them to expose the vehicle’s dune buggy-ish tubular frame and enjoy a more open, motorcycle-like driving experience, Frohnmayer says.

“When the weather is nice, it’s exhilarating to drive,” Frohnmayer says. “And it’s incredibly easy to park and maneuver.”

And way more efficient for grocery shopping than a space shuttle.

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