Thursday, October 20, 2011

The E-Bridget

Review of The E-Bridget concept from U.S.A. Motors.
By Dennis Mac Luggage
Car and Track Trends Magazine
December 2013

Sonny Sanderson, CEO of U.S.A. Motors has unquestionably been gratified by the sales of the Bridget roadster which stand at around 10,000 units in the last year and a half. This is very healthy volume for such a niche vehicle but if the economy were not still in the throes of recovery then the figure would likely be higher. S'ok though because the volume is fairly closely matched to the small factory's capacity and quality of the sweet little ride has not suffered and in fact gripes & gremlins have been in very short supply. This is most likely due to the car's simplicity, many fewer things to go wrong, and who couldn't love that? The firm is modestly profitable as well which is a rarity in the niche market.

Much of this no doubt must be laid at the feet of U.S.A. Motor's not reinventing the wheel, keeping the vehicle as simple as possible, pitching the car as the sum of its humdrum components, and keeping development costs within the bounds of sanity. 10,000 units would be counted as complete failure for a full line manufacturer but the likes of Tesla would swoon over such numbers. In fact the 100 mil. that Sonny Sanderson spent in getting the Bridget to market, starting from scratch, is less than, by a factor of about thirty, what Tesla has spent on getting its two models to a sales level a tiny percentage of that enjoyed by the cheery uber-Spridget.

Early this year Sanderson and his merry little band of engineers trotted out the Hy-Bridget which was a suitably minimal hybrid version of the roadster. The car worked, quite well if we're any judge, but U.S.A. decided that however well it worked it just did not fit into their one car lineup. The selling price of the Hy-Bridget would have had to have been at least $5000 higher than the fifteen grand tab of the standard Bridget and it wasn't a bit more fun to drive and fun after all is the object of the whole exercise.

The standard Bridget easily gets 40 mpg out on the slab and although this figure is becoming much more common every other make uses great heaping helpings of expensive high-tech to accomplish it. An ultra-tech direct-injected turbo motor combined with an advanced 6-8 speed trans may be many things but simple it surely is not. One might say that, except in the fun category, U.S.M. has set low expectations for its product and has met those expectations perfectly.

The latest Bridget version show evidence of very minor fiddling about the edges of its performance envelope but the looks, price, and functionality have changed not a bit. Yet Sanderson and his engineers are not resting on their laurels completely and so have given forth with another concept on the heels of the Hy-Bridget, the E-Bridget. "We did it" says Sanderson, "because we could." Also because, we're sure, that it did not require vast wads of cash to accomplish.

One thing pure electric vehicles are not usually characterized by is light weight. The Mitsubishi iMiev, still on the market despite two years of very lackluster sales, weighs twice what a Bridget does. In fact no pure EV or hybrid squeaking below the 3000 pound limit comes to mind. Since the main enemy at U.S.M. is weight then the onus on the engineering team was to make a simple pure electric vehicle that did not outweigh its IC powered brethren.

Towards that end the relatively pricey wheel motors from the Hy-Bridget were retained. For that matter the E-Bridget is built on the same mule chassis as the hybrid, waste not don't 'cha know. The IC engine/generator combo was yanked out, as was the small supercap that distinguished the hybrid. In their place was deposited an 8kwh lithium polymer battery crafted, not to some mileage objective, but rather to closely match the weight of the removed components. Thusly the E-Bridget weighs within a few pounds of a standard roadster. Atop this battery sits the car's power electronics, also suitably sized. Total battery/electronics weight is in the neighborhood of 300 pounds.

This is on the small side by pure EV standards but of course the Bridget itself is aburdly light by any standard at all so even though the battery weighs quite a bit less than what the one in a Volt its range is fifty percent higher. Sanderson claims a 60 mile real world range for the E-Bridget with a top speed of 80mph. We've not been given a chance to drive the vehicle but we've little reason to doubt Sanderson since our horseback guess, given the battery size and 25hp each wheel motors, is right in line with his claims. Claimed full recharge time, 120 volts only, is ten hours.

Since weight has been kept under control we'd expect the fun factor of an E-Bridget to nearly equal that of a standard roadster--minus the lovely feel of its perfect 5-speed trans. So the fun factor and the weight factor is well in hand but the price factor is another matter entire. Even in quantity the battery used would likely cost five or six thousand dollars and this would shoot the price of the vehicle up by that much at a minimum and probably a good deal more since high power battery management systems are far from cheap.

Sorenson claims, and here again he's almost certainly right, that an E-Bridget would have to sell for at least 25 thousand dollars and any profit at that price would be elusive. Plus now that the heavy federal subsidies for pure electrics have disappeared the market for such a beastie would be even more elusive. And so although the operation was a success the patient will be allowed to expire. No E and no Hy-Bridget will grace a showroom floor in any foreseeable future.

Perhaps it is for the best. Our darling little Bridget needs no excuses, no broadening product line, no justifications for its existence. The Simple Simon of the automotive world is complete and perfect as it stands. The Bridget is one of the great car bargains, greatest bargains period, and any real attempts to position it within the wildly complex greater automotive zeitgeist is extremely misquided.

So Sonny says they did it "because we could" but as he wisely knows this reason is simply far too insufficient to bet his corporate finances on whatever passing trendiness is being chased in the escalating techological fever of the greater automotive world. Let it be Sonny. Let it be.

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