This is not your brother’s Prius. Found on DailyNews.com.
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer
It could be a Ferrari, but it’s nearly silent. It could be a Tesla, but it’s juiced by a jet. It could even be a GM Volt, but has double the range and speed.
Instead, the CMT-380 is the world’s first hybrid-electric sports car powered by a microturbine. Co-created by a video game designer with key components from the San Fernando Valley, the wicked matte-black machine debuted Thursday at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
“It’s a jet engine on wheels,” said Jim Crouse, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Capstone Turbine Corp. of Chatsworth, a partner in building the prototype.
It would be more fun to launch the 240-horsepower electric car on a lonely desert road. Or on a sexy Sunset Strip.
It can blast 60 mph from a dead start in 3.9 seconds, only inches behind the new 561-hp Mercedes Benz AMG gull wing, or a $375,000 Lexus LFA sports coupe.
It can top out at an electronically limited 150 mph. And because of the extended range made possible by its microturbine generator, it can cruise for 500 miles – 80 of them on pure electrons. That’s twice as far as a GM Volt, with its gasoline engine generator.
And the ultra-low emissions from its Capstone C30 microturbine, fueled by diesel or biodiesel, can rival any hybrid car on the market.
Cruise it on Sunset, and the CMT-380 is low and sleek enough to beckon any babe or hunk into its carbon-fiber racing passenger seat.
“It’s a great opportunity for showcasing our designs,” said Capstone Turbine President and CEO Darren Jamison.
It was 21 years ago that the Chatsworth company, then called NoMac Energy Systems, was founded to build small gas turbines for use in hybrid electric vehicles. But the clean, efficient microturbine tested at Willow Springs raceway in the Antelope Valley a decade ago fizzled for lack of demand in a world of SUVs.
Since then, Capstone Turbines has shipped more than 5,000 microturbines around the world to power offices, hospitals, hybrid electric buses and other industrial uses. The publicly traded firm, which employs 220 people, did $48 million in business last year.
But it still dreamed of supplying microturbines for the ballooning green car market.
Enter Richard Hilleman, a former electrician at the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada and now chief creative director for video game firm Electronic Arts. As a hobby, the 48-year-old geek behind such games as “Ferrari Formula 1,” “John Madden Football” and “Tiger Woods Golf” tinkered with electric cars.
After converting his vintage Porsche 550 Spyder into a 200-horsepower electric, he set out to build a hybrid sports car with legs.
After five years he completed the wundercar hours before its L.A. launch.
“I’ve been responsible for both scourges of the 20th century – nuclear devices and video games,” Hilleman said. “Now this.
“I’m trying to be on the right side of time here, one of those rare cases where I can be politically correct and cool at the same time.”
Hilleman and Capstone officials tout their technology as being green and practical. Its C30 microturbine – essentially a small jet engine – cranks out 30 kilowatts by spinning a small turbine at up to 96,000 rpms. Capstone officials say the limited production turbine that now sells for $30,000 could be brought down to a tenth of the cost if it was mass produced for the auto market.
And after the CMT-380s batteries fade, it can fully charge them in an hour. The microturbine hybrid supercar can get equivalent of 75 mpg to 210 mpg, depending on the measurement standard.
Some, however, aren’t convinced microturbines make practical electric-car generators.
“Compared to a small gas engine, it’ll cost more and be noisier for an automotive application,” said Jake Fisher, senior engineer for Consumer Reports’ auto test track, who looked at the CMT-380 at the L.A. Convention Center. “Engines are cheap. They’re out there. They’re proven. And they’re efficient. It’ll be hard to compete with them in the near term.”
Capstone has no plans to build the car, but hopes instead to sell its technology to a willing automaker.