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Santa Barbara firm wins honor for electric car design

In what is expected to be a key boost in its effort to find external investors, a Santa Barbara-based company has received a bost in its bud to mass produce a solar-powered, affordable car.

Revolution Motors received the prize for the Best New Vehicle Design During the “Future of Electric Vehicles” at the inaugural IDTechEx conference earlier this month in Silicon Valley. IDTechEx promotes high-tech innovation, including radically new materials, components and forms, company officials said.

“It’s the first real recognition from the industry for the merits of what we’re doing,” said Ben Werner, who started Revolution Motors almost five years ago in a Goleta garage, which housed the prototype car, called a “Dagne.”.

The conference was attended by startup companies in the electric vehicle, or EV, industry, as well as corporate giants vying for stake in the emerging industry, such as BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen.

“Revolution Motors was chosen to receive the most imaginative vehicle award for creating a vehicle that offers a driving experience beyond the current automotive paradigm,” said .IDTechEx Chief Executive Officer Raghu Das, one of the judges: “Their vehicle shows a level of creativity and innovation that is needed in the field of electric vehicles.”

Werner said he had a pretty good idea that he was going to get the award when the conference organizers invited him to attend the event in San Jose. “It was more of a delight than a surprise,” he said

“We’ll build and sell our vehicles first; the vehicle factory will come later,” Werner said. Revolution Motors’ plan is to sell its first hand-built, two-seat Dagne vehicles to Santa Barbara customers in early 2012. Then, he said he plans to gradually grow the scale and efficiency of the manufacturing operation. Dagne is Scandinavian for “new day.”

Werner said he is seeking investors to match some federal and state grants and loans his company. His company is seeking a $4 million private equity investment, which can be leveraged into a total of $40 million in grants and low-interest loans during the next two or three years, he said.

Werner said his vehicle stood out for its “unconventional yet effective design, which will provide improved energy efficiency.”

“That translates into a more affordable battery and lower net vehicle cost, while being practical, safe and fun to drive, Mr. Werner said.

Company officials said the electric range of the Dagne is 120 miles, while the hybrid range is 600 miles. Top speed is 120 mph and it can travel from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds. Its fuel economy is 150 miles per gallon.

From the energy collected from a 4-square-meter solar panel, a Dagne can be driven for 40 miles, which is the average daily commute in the United States.

Werner said the Dagne driver uses a joystick instead of a steering wheel. That and its specially designed brakes give it better handling than most three-wheeled vehicles, he said. He said the car is expected to have a $25,000 price tag.

Werner said he wants to manufacture Dagnes along the South Coast of Santa Barbara County.

Werner, fellow UCSB engineering graduate, Eric Sandoz, the company’s chief technical officer, and other founding members of the company put up $250,000 of their own money to start it.

“In contrast to huge investment capital sinks like Tesla Motors, (based in Silicon Valley) which spent well over $100 million before turning a profit, Mr. Werner said.

California-based Tesla makes a two-seat electric-powered roadster, which costs more than $100,000 each. The cars are demonstrated at Santa Barbara’s Canary Hotel every few months.

To date, Revolution Motors employs three designers, Werner said. The design team includes Balaji Rengarajan, one of the developers of the TATA Technologies Nano, the world’s lowest-priced at $2,500. Rengarajan’s sketches of the Dagne are on the company’s website,
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