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Has the lithium revolution arrived? Recently Altair Nanotechnologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALTI), announced that it has received a $750,000 initial order for its fast charge, high powered batteries from Phoenix Motorcars.

The battery packs will be engineered and manufactured at Altairnano's Anderson, Indiana facility and will utilize Altairnano's proprietary nano-lithium ion battery technology.  Phoenix Motor Cars is using the engineering services of Boshart Engineering, Inc., based in Ontario, California, to develop the battery integration, validation, certification and regulatory testing.

"Altairnano's nano-lithium battery technology, when integrated with an optimized electric drive train could provide the impetus to rejuvenate and realize the promise of the electric vehicle vision" commented Daniel Riegert, Chairman of Phoenix Motorcars.  "We are preparing for the manufacture and distribution of several thousand vehicles over the next few years."

Altairnano has invented and developed a nano-structured negative electrode material called nano Lithium Titanium Oxide, or nLTO, that replaces the graphite used in "standard" lithium ion batteries with safe, nanomaterials. They have conducted tests in which they demonstrated absolute safety under conditions where standard graphite-based cells typically smoke, vent and explode. Battery cells using nLTO can be charged in as little as one minute, while graphite containing cells take between one and two hours to charge and, even then, can pose significant safety concerns. In addition, the battery life cycle of nLTO  has been demonstrated to be more than 9,000 use cycles at charge/discharge rates at which other battery types simply cannot function.  Altairnano nLTO-based batteries can operate at temperatures as low as -50 degrees C and as high as 75 degrees C .

The cars will not be neighborhood vehicles but will fully road-ready. In March, Phoenix demonstrated a prototype of a freeway-speed pickup truck with a certified range of 120 miles per charge and a top speed of 85 mph using Valance lithium ion batteries. At that time they said that the pickup would answer the needs of meter readers at utility companies, messenger and delivery fleets and harbor and airport applications.

Green Car Congress reported the following additional information:

The new vehicle to be produced with Altairnano and Boshart is an extension of this prior pickup work. Phoenix is anticipating approximately the same specs, according to Dan Reigert, the chairman.

Altairnano’s technology allows for 10 - 15 minute recharge—with the use of an off-board charger. Phoenix uses an Enova drivetrain in the current pickup prototype, and will still offer the Enova option in the new vehicle, although it is also investigating other drive train options at this time.

Riegert estimates that it will take to the end of this calendar year to get the safety testing certified with NHTSA and CARB certification. Following that certification, Phoenix will offer the electric pickup for sale to fleets and individuals.

The current production plan is for 10 vehicles by the end of 2006 (in process), 500 vehicles in 2007, 5,000 in 2008, 20,000 in 2009, 50,000 in 2010 and 100,000 in 2011. Initial pricing is in the low to mid $40K range.

This implies strongly that the vehicle will be a pickup.

The following statement appears on their website:

Phoenix Motorcars, Inc. is currently the only California Air Resources Board (NASDAQ:CARB) certified freeway speed electric vehicle manufacturer in production. As a consequence, we have received a purchase order for twenty electric taxicabs from a company in Sacramento, California. As part of that contract the taxicab company has an option on 60 additional units. They have indicated that they plan to exercise that option. We are in discussions with a fleet buyer who has requested preliminary information on fulfilling their need for 300 electric vehicles to meet their fleet requirements. ... Phoenix Motorcars, Inc. anticipates that the Fleet sales market will be massive and immediate. The major focus of the company at this time is the fleet market. ... To the best of our knowledge, Phoenix Motorcars is currently the only production battery electric freeway speed full sized automobile in the marketplace. We are experiencing substantial market pressure to produce up to hundreds of vehicles per year for fleet applications as well as growing consumer demand.

Previously the company had built a 1937 Ford Cabriolet Reproduction and the pickup with the following specifications, which, per Green Car Congress, would be similar to that of the production vehicle:

Chassis

Chassis Manufacturer – Phoenix Motorcars, Inc.
Frame Type - Full Perimeter Frame Wheelbase - ~112”
Front Suspension – Mustang II Type Tubular IFS
Front Brakes – Ford 11” disc type
Rear Suspension – Ford 8.8 IRS w/ Alden coil over shocks
Rear Brakes – Ford disc type
Steering – Mustang II rack and pinion
Rear End – Ford 8.8 w/open differential

Drivetrain

Motor manufacturer – Enova Systems
HP Rating – 120HP
Torque rating – 167 lb/ft
Controller Manufacturer – Enova Systems
Controller output – 90KW
Controller thermal management – Water-cooling
Regenerative braking – Programmable
Battery management system – Enova systems
Battery charging system – Enova Systems - 6.6KW
Battery – Li-Ion (standard), lead acid, nickel metal hydride
Battery Pack – 28 12V cells or equivalent

Phoenix Motorcars, headquartered in Ojai, California, has been an industry leader in the development of battery electric freeway speed vehicles since 2001. The mission of Phoenix Motorcars is to manufacture zero emission vehicles to reduce the toxic emissions of the largest contributor to air pollution, personal automobiles.

Boshart Engineering, headquartered in Ontario, California, is an expert in emission certification, vehicle homologation, vehicle & technology integration as well as many testing programs including over-the-road durability, competitive vehicle testing, ADP testing, brake testing, remote site testing, and procurement activities for OEM's and aftermarket manufacturers.

Resources:

ALTAIR NANOTECHNOLOGIES RECEIVES INITIAL ORDER FOR ELECTRIC CAR BATTERIES, Altair press release, July 5 2006
EV To Use Lithium Ion Batteries, John Gartner, Wired Autopia, Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Altair Nanotechnologies Receives Initial Order for Electric Car Batteries; Teams with Phoenix Motorcars and Boshart Engineering to Test EVs, Green Car Congress, July 5, 2006
AltairNano, Reno, NV
Phoenix Motor Cars, Ojai, CA

Source: Altair Batteries to be Used in Electric Vehicles (ALTI)