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USA: 2012 Detroit auto show: We take a spin in two electric SUVs

Electric power isn’t just for little city cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i. The vehicles of choice for us suburbanite Americans are SUVs. That’s the conclusion reached by AMP, a Cincinnati, Ohio company that converts everyday vehicles to electric cars. (AMP competed in the Automotive XPrize with a converted Saturn Sky.) To that end AMP converted a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Mercedes-Benz ML-class into EVs. These two SUV conversions will soon go on sale at a Cincinnati, Ohio dealership that carries both brands. Reservations are being taken now.

AMP’s GCE (Grand Cherokee Electric) is based on the rear wheel drive Jeep. It relies on two electric motors powering the rear wheels. It uses a single-speed transmission, as most other EVs do. The battery pack is a 37-kWh unit that’s good for about a 100-mile range. It’s a large battery and some might expect a longer range but the GCE is a 5,000-pound vehicle as opposed to the Leaf, which weighs 3,400 pounds. Charging times are said to be six hours through a 6.6-kWh on-board charger using a 240-volt supply. The price is $57,400 before counting a federal $7,500 tax incentive. That sounds high, but it’s aimed at fleets, some of which are obligated to purchase EVs and use grant money. In the short spin I took the GCE was quiet and responsive, with readily available silent power. Instrumentation is not quite EV style and free of whiz bang dazzling graphics. The range gauge is simply the same Full to Empty needle as in the conventional Jeep.


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