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Freedom Won takes Fiat 500 down Electric Avenue

07.04.2015

Some of you may remember… a couple of years ago we covered a project that local electric car makers, Freedom Won took on, whereby they converted old Land Rover Defenders into electric game-viewing vehicles and even produced electric boats for a game park.

New project

Now, in the wake of several compact electric vehicles being unveiled locally, the company has released its own small electric car. If you’re thinking that its machine resembles a Fiat 500, you’d be spot on! It is a Fiat 500, only - as I discovered - from an aesthetic point of view.

Where and why?

The vehicle was completed in February 2015 after a client from Cape Town provided his own Fiat for the project. The vehicle was built at Freedom Won headquarters in Kromdraai after owner, Anthony Keen, who, at the age of 77, decided to pursue this dream and have his own electric vehicle built.

What’s it like?

I had an opportunity to drive the little car, which gained around 300kgs during the transformation. This necessitated stiffer suspension springs and a slight loss in boot capacity, which is about the only casualty of the conversion.

Having driven other electric vehicles I at least had some base to compare it to and while it doesn’t provide massive acceleration it will certainly be faster than the standard 500 in and around the city. Having said that, the gearbox provides two gears, high and low and the latter does allow for more brisk acceleration and for climbing steep hills, while the former is more for cruising.

The drive is practically silent, which means you get more road noise as there’s no engine to offset the road rumble, while you can certainly feel the car is heavier and stiffer.

The regenerative braking can be calibrated to suit the owner’s wants. The setting that I drove the car on was certainly less aggressive than in the BMW i3, for example. You still have to use the brakes in the Fiat whereas in the BMW the regeneration means rapid braking when you’re off the accelerator.

What’s it powered by?

The car is fitted with a 23kWh lithium iron phosphate battery pack, which has been stuffed in every nook and cranny in the little Italian and helps it get to a top speed of around 160km/h. The power rating is around 60kW/220Nm while the range is claimed at 200km if you drive well. Start stepping on it and you’re looking at around 150km on a full charge.

What would it cost me?

Well, assuming you’ve got a small car like the Fiat or perhaps a Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto which, in the used market would fetch around R100 000, a month to wait and R300 000 for the conversion. You’ve then got a Freedom Won electric car. Alternatively, for around R130 000 you can have a city-only conversion where the car is only capable of lower speeds and distances.

The company claims that the initial investment of the conversion will be recouped in less than five years as the electrical costs are lower than traditional fuel and the car itself requires no maintenance on the drivetrain, just things like tyres and brakes.

Verdict

For me, it’s still a mighty sum of money to pay for an electric vehicle when the likes of the Leaf and i3 are out there. However, it is local and certainly a viable option in the alternative energy debacle.

Article written by Sean Nurse
07.04.2015
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