Start-up dreams on display in Detroit

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq is an intern for Automotive News
One features a 170-mph electric supercar that can go from 0-to-60 in 3.4 seconds and travels 200 miles on a single charge. The other has a four-person gasoline-powered vehicle with interchangeable body components that gets 100 miles per gallon.

Sounds like a dream, right?

While the Detroit auto show is dominated by volume automakers pitching conventional and alternative-powered vehicles, two companies tucked into a corner between the GM and DUB Magazine displays -- Li-ion Motors Corp. and Wikispeed -- aim to make the fantastical possible.

Li-ion Inzio
Li-ion is showcasing the Inizio supercar, which comes in three different models. Looking like a Corvette cousin, it is powered by 12 lithium polymer batteries that can propel the base R-model up to 130 mph and from 0-to-60 in 5.9 seconds. For the highest performance RTX-model, Li-ion managed to shave off 2.5 seconds and increase the top speed by 40 miles per hour.

While all of the models may be capable of traveling 200 miles on a single charge, there's no way to do that when driving full-out.

"If you drive at top speed that charge might only last you an hour," said Paul Daigrepont, project manager for the Inizio. "But it's going to be a fun hour."

The company says it will launch U.S. sales of the Inizio in July. You can own one of the impractical beauties for between $139,000 and $249,000. That's not including the external charger, which runs $9,500 plus an installation fee.

Wikispeed SGT02: 3 carbon fiber bodies, one chassis.
Wikispeed has taken a more traditional approach to powering a car, but they're doing remarkable things with it.

The Denver company brought the SGT02 to the show. It can hold four people safely and runs on gasoline power. According to WikiSpeed founder Joe Justice, while the car has just a four-gallon tank, each gallon powers the car for 100 miles.

That is, if the driver doesn't go faster than 67 mph.

The outstanding mileage is probably possible because the car is only 1,400 lbs, about one-third the weight of the Toyota Prius hybrid and twice as light as the Suzuki SX4.

By the way, the Suzuki gets 26 mpg. At 50 mpg, the Prius is almost two times better than the Suzuki, but only half as good as the SGT02.

And what if you want a sedan instead of the supercar on display? Wikispeed can build it for you. But what if 10 years down the line, you decide you want the supercar after all? Well, Justice says that's no problem.

"Since the body is built with modular parts, we can change the entire vehicle without having to alter the chassis," he said.

One of the most surprising claims Justice made was that they had managed to go from design to concept vehicle in three days -- and they built an entire body out of carbon fiber for only $1,000 per module. Carbon fiber is a light material that is typically used for the bodies of racecars and on the priciest supercars.

There's no doubt Justice and his team have some work to do on the SGT02, but for now, the company will start selling Michigan-built kits that cost $28,886. If they receive more than 250 orders, they can start to reduce the cost, eventually bringing it down to their ideal price of $17,995.

While the auto industry may be in the beginning stages of commercializing extended range electric and ultra efficient vehicles, the presence of these start-ups is a reminder of the true spirit of the Detroit auto show: Some companies are still building mind-boggling, revolutionary cars because they can.