Electric ATVs: A Consumer's Guide
Four manufacturers bring electric ATVs and UTVs to life
Story by Lucas Cooney, Apr. 13, 2010
As gas prices fluctuate and environmental concerns continue to be pushed to the forefront, we hear more and more about electric ATVs. For most of us, however, electric off-road vehicles are still part of the great unknown. We know they exist, but don’t really know much about them.
Most electric vehicles share a few common features and tendencies. First off, they are almost completely silent. This can be a little strange at first, as all you really hear is the sound of the tires on the trail and a quiet hum from the electric motor, but you do get used to it.
Another common trait is torque. Electric motors have 100 percent of their torque available immediately, so getting up to speed from idle happens very quickly. Horsepower generally peters out quickly, however.
Maintenance is usually inexpensive, at least according to the folks that build them – we’ve never had one for a long-term test so we’ll have to take their word for it. Electric motors have fewer moving parts than conventional gas motors, which means fewer parts to wear out. You also spend less money to run them as a full charge adds pennies to your energy bill, compared to whatever you have to pay to fill up at the pump. Additionally, spark plugs, along with oil, air, and fuel filters are all non-existent, so you never have to replace them.
The biggest concern most people have with electric vehicles is battery life. If you drive aggressively, batteries will drain in big hurry. To help combat this, some vehicles come with several drive modes that limit to varying degrees how fast the unit can go. Batteries are also heavy, so electric ATVs weigh a fair bit more than their gas-powered counterparts. Also, batteries wear out over time and replacing them can be quite expensive. Electric vehicle manufacturers, however, counter that the money you save on gas and service should more or less cover the cost.
To give you a better idea of what’s available, let’s look at four different electric off-road vehicles – two ATVs and two side-by-sides.
Polaris Ranger EV
Polaris is one of the biggest names in the ATV industry, so we figured this was the most logical place to start. Polaris has been building ATVs since 1984 and snowmobiles for half a century. It is also at the forefront of the booming side-by-side market with its Ranger lineup. At its 2010 model intro, Polaris surprised most of us media types by unveiling the Ranger EV (MSRP $10,699) – the first electric side-by-side produced by a major manufacturer.
This was a major step for electric vehicles. The electric off-road vehicle industry is still fairly small and manufacturers don’t normally have much of a dealer network. Polaris, of course, has dealerships all over North America, so finding parts and getting the Ranger EV serviced is that much easier. That’s a lot of peace of mind for consumers.
But what makes the EV tick? It’s based around a smaller, two-seat chassis that fits in the back of a pickup truck. It features what Polaris is calling the largest battery pack in the industry (11.5 kilowatts) and Polaris claims it has the longest range of any electric midsize. Its 30 horsepower electric motor has an estimated range of 50 miles and a top speed of 25 mph. According to Polaris, it should take about eight hours to recharge the batteries using a 110V outlet.
Cushioning the ride is a MacPherson Strut front suspension with 8.0 inches of travel and dual A-arm independent rear suspension with 9.0 inches of travel.
Like all electric off-road vehicles, the Ranger EV is virtually silent. Beyond its ultra-quiet motor, this is still very much a Ranger. It comes with a 500-pound Lock & Ride cargo box, 1,200-pound towing capacity and 1,000 pounds of total payload.
You can choose between three drive modes; High for speed, Low for towing and hauling, and Max for maximum range. If you drive around in High mode all the time, your batteries will drain a lot quicker, but the other modes don't offer as much speed and performance.
The eight 12-volt batteries add quite a bit of weight, but it’s all at the bottom of the chassis so the center of gravity is very low, so the Ranger EV should be able to hug the turns like few other side-by-sides can. That said, this is a 1,700-pound vehicle (dry weight), while the similarly sized Ranger 400 is 650 pounds lighter (dry). To reduce drag and help prolong battery life, the tires on the Ranger EV don’t feature a very aggressive tread, but if you’re buying this vehicle you’re probably not planning to use it for mud bogging.
For more information, visit PolarisIndustries.com.
Eco Electric ATV (E-Force)
Produced by Ellicottville, NY-based Electric Vehicle Systems (EVS), the Eco Electric ATV (known as the E-Force) claims to be the world’s cleanest, quietest, and most efficient ATV ever and boasts three times the torque of a similar sized gas motor. We haven’t had a chance to ride the E-Force yet, but we should get our hands on one in the coming months.
The 2WD E-Force’s 72 volt brushless DC motor is powered by six 12V batteries that pump out a claimed 28 horsepower (10 hp continuous) and a claimed 374 ft-lbs of torque at the wheel. The transmission features forward and reverse drive with regenerative power.
Independent double-wishbone front suspension offers 6.1-inches of travel, while the rear swingarm with dual hydraulic shocks provides 7.0 inches of travel.
The E-Force (MSRP $7,195), which tips the scales at 824 pounds, has a towing capacity of 1,000 pounds, plus another 165 pounds on the racks (66 pounds front, 99 pounds rear).
According to EVS, the E-Force is designed for a variety of applications, including: agriculture, home and professional utility use, construction, police and local law enforcement, national, regional, and local government security, private and public border patrol and regulation, sportsmen, and campers, public and private parks maintenance, and many others.
“The E-Force can handle rugged terrain, move small planes with a front hitch, and is perfect for Rangers to patrol parks, campgrounds, and large events,” says the EVS Website. “Go on an Eco ATV moose tour, foliage ride in fall, or just ride in the woods with friends without disturbing the animals and environment around you.”
For more information, visit EcoEATV.com.
Bad Boy Buggies XT
Bad Boy Buggies introduced us to electric off-road vehicles. We did a ride review with Bad Boy Buggies in 2008, but the company has been around since the early part of the century.
In the early years, Bad Boy Buggies were built using E-Z Go golf carts with modified suspension and increased power. Eventually, the company started to design its own chassis and began building the vehicles from the ground up.
Today, Bad Boy Buggies produces four different all-electric side-by-sides, including a four-seater with a stretched chassis and the new XT model. Prices range from $7,295 for the 2WD LT to $11,995 for the new 4WD XT.
Dual 48 volt DC motors are at the heart of the XT and are powered by eight heavy duty deep cycle six volt batteries. All told, the vehicle produces a claimed 39.4 total horsepower (18.8 front, 20.6 rear) and 160 ft-lbs of torque. Batteries take about eight to 10 hours for a full charge, should last three to five years, and have a claimed range of 16-23 miles.
This full-time 4WD machine features independent MacPherson struts up front and in the rear, while stopping power is provided by discs at each wheel and regenerative braking.
The cargo bed can hold 500 pounds, while the front basket and roof rack can each take on 40 pounds. The XT can tow 800 pounds, while vehicle payload is rated at 1,000 pounds. The XT has a claimed dry weight of 1,669 pounds.
Bad Boy Buggies aggressively targets the hunting community and aims to produce vehicles that get them where they need to go…quietly.
For more information, visit BadBoyBuggies.com
Based out of Ashland, Ore., Barefoot Motors is fairly new to the ATV market, but has been making waves in the industry.
Barefoot’s Electric Utility Vehicle (EUV) looks much like a typical gas-powered ATV, but uses the power and torque of electric motor technologies to make a zero emissions vehicle. According to the company, over 90 percent of the EUV's components are sourced in the USA (with over 40% in Oregon). Barefoot Motors prides itself on being the only woman-owned vehicle manufacturing firm in the world.
The EUV is marketed as a heavy-duty all-terrain work vehicle for agricultural, industrial and land management applications.
Available in both a 4WD (MSRP $12,900) and a 2WD (MSRP $11,900) version, a Sepex 80 volt DC motor (two in the 4WD) powered by lithium ion phosphate batteries is at the heart of this beast. The batteries are rated for a minimum of 1,000 charging cycles and can be charged up in about seven hours. The 4WD EUV produces 65 ft-lbs torque and 31.8 horsepower, while the 2WD model offers 50 ft-lbs torque and 22.3 horsepower. Range is purported to be 40 miles, depending on conditions, and max speed is capped at 25 mph.
Suspension is provided by dual A-arms with an adjustable coil over shock up front and a swingarm with adjustable coil over shock in the rear – both offering six inches of travel. The EUV also features dual front and rear hydraulic disc brakes and electrical regenerative braking.
Towing capacity is rated at 1,000 pounds, to go along with 300 pounds of available payload, including front and rear racks and the rider. The 4WD model weighs in at 880 pounds, while the 2WD version comes in at 770 pounds.
For more information, visit BarefootMotors.com.