So why is TheCarConnection.com (emphasis on CAR) reviewing a neighborhood electric vehicle? Valid question.
Answer: Because WheeGo has told us that their 2009 Whip NEV will make the transition into a fully highway capable model sometime next year, so this could be an up-and-coming competitor to the 2009 smart fortwo. Our test drive opportunity gave us a look into whether the Whip genuinely is a real car, or some third-world excuse that's only refined enough for drivers who are used to steering an ox cart with a switch.
First, here's what we drove: nearly production ready 2009 Whip NEV and an early prototype of what will become the 2010 Whip HSV (high-speed vehicle).
Background:WheeGo imports fully completed vehicles from China produced by the Shuanghuan Automobile Company that are "rollers," meaning they have no powertrain. (In China, the vehicle -- called a Noble -- have gasoline-fired four-cylinder engines matched to five-speed manual transmissions.) The all-steel vehicles arrive stateside with DOT compliant seats, safety belts, glass, and tires. Even the low-speed version of the Whip could be considered nearly a "real car."
2008 Volkswagen Jetta and 2009 WheeGo Whip NEVEnlarge Photo
Styling: Just looking at the photo makes you think the Whip is a smart fortwo knockoff. In reality, the Whip's general shape is familiar, but it's no knockoff. For starters, the car is a foot longer than the smart, and the hood/front end is significantly longer proportionally. Unlike the fortwo, the powertrain is up front, not under the rear cargo floor. That space in the Whip is populated with batteries. Along with being longer than the fortwo, the Whip is also four inches wider and a bit taller.
Overall, this is a substantial vehicle, as can be seen in the above photo (parked next to a 2008 Volkswagen Jetta).
Powertrain: To become NEVs, once the Whips hit an Ontario, CA assembly facility, an electric powertrain is installed where the gas engine used to be. A single electric motor that produces 110 lb.ft. torque that puts out a nominal 10 horsepower with 40 peak horsepower. Sophisticated lead acid batteries (12 eight-volt advanced glass-mat sealed cells) are good for real-world driving of about 40 miles.
The Whip NEV is speed limited to 25 mph or 35 mph depending on state laws for these vehicles. Charge time is about eight hours from a nearly dead battery pack. Showing high degree of ingenuity, the motor drives the wheels through the Noble's five-speed transmission with the linkage locked in second gear. Brakes are economy-car standards; discs up front, drums in the rear. Weight is up to around 2500 lbs.
High-speed versions get these major upgrade; a more powerful motor (55 horsepower at up to 3500 rpm), an FE-type lithium battery array, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The lighter but more powerful batteries lighten the Whip by 400 pounds. High-speed versions will be limited to approximately 60 mph. This vehicle's expected range is over 100 miles on a single charge, meaning a typical driver might be able to go 2-3 days without a recharge.
The WheeGo Whip offers plenty of room for two, a car-like feel, and high seating position that is as tall as many crossovers.Enlarge Photo
Inside: The Whip feels like any relatively current Asian economy car (think Hyundai Accent from 2003). The seats offer good support, door panels look modern, and the equipment level is fully up to par. For example, the standard audio system is from JVC and incorporates Bluetooth and MP3 compatibility. Unlike most NEVs, the Whip has a fully functional HVAC system with air conditioning.