Optimal Energy’s Joule battery-electric vehicle (BEV) was one of the big hits of the 2008 Paris Motor Show. The company recently announced the next step in the Joule’s evolution by setting 2010 as the firm date for pilot fleets of the vehicle in South Africa. Optimal Energy anticipates full-scale production of the Joule by 2012 with annual quotas of 50,000 vehicles. The South African EV manufacturer wants to export about 80% of Joules to capture market shares in Europe, the United States and Asia.
The Joule is a four-door, six-seat sedan that is capable of reaching a maximum speed of 81 miles per hour. Optimal Energy designed the Joule for performance as well as energy efficiency with an engine that can reach 60 MPH from a dead stop in 14 seconds. The modern design of the Joule was possible with the help of Keith Helfet, a former designer with Jaguar who brought that brand’s sensibility to Optimal Energy. The Joule will come with a three-year warranty to anticipate any mechanical problems that may arise in the vehicle’s first generation.
While the performance level of the Joule may be impressive, the heart of the beast is its cavernous battery bay. Optimal Energy will insert a large-cell lithium-ion battery in each Joule to cover 124 miles per charge while the extended drive version of the Joule will cover 249 miles. The South African automaker plans to lease out its lithium-ion pack for approximately $164 per month to cover initial production costs. Joule drivers can eschew the leased battery for aftermarket battery packs due to an accommodating battery bay which can handle most configurations.
If Optimal Energy does live up to its promises, the Joule will create an enormous economic benefit for South Africa. The ambitious production timetable would push Optimal Energy’s team of 80 designers and engineers to nearly 1,000. Optimal Energy was also quick to point out the 5,000 jobs in parts, sales and marketing that the Joule would require. While the primary argument for BEVs and other zero-emission vehicles is sustainability, the economic benefits of mass producing the Joule and competing EVs cannot be underestimated.