Automotive

Behind the wheel of the no-frills eRod electric sports car

Behind the wheel of the no-fri...
Kyburz Chief engineer Daniel Wenger proving there's plenty of fun to be had in the eRod
Kyburz Chief engineer Daniel Wenger proving there's plenty of fun to be had in the eRod
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The Kyburz eRod is compact, and has no bodywork on its sides
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The Kyburz eRod is compact, and has no bodywork on its sides
The eRod also comes in orange 
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The eRod also comes in orange 
The eRod we drove was riding on winter tires, but the handling balance shone through
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The eRod we drove was riding on winter tires, but the handling balance shone through
There is plenty of space behind the wheel of the eRod, even for gangly six-footers
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There is plenty of space behind the wheel of the eRod, even for gangly six-footers
The motor powering the rear wheels makes 45 kW 
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The motor powering the rear wheels makes 45 kW 
The eRod parked among the Kyburz factories in Switzerland
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The eRod parked among the Kyburz factories in Switzerland
The small wheel gives the driver plenty of feedback, and you never need to take your hands from three-and-nine
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The small wheel gives the driver plenty of feedback, and you never need to take your hands from three-and-nine
The instrument cluster is simple and easy to read at speed
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The instrument cluster is simple and easy to read at speed
The cabin is stripped back, but the OMP seat is padded and comfortable 
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The cabin is stripped back, but the OMP seat is padded and comfortable 
The Kyburz eRod is made in Switzerland
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The Kyburz eRod is made in Switzerland
Our eRod tester rode on winter tires
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Our eRod tester rode on winter tires
We were surprised by how comfortable the seats in the eRod are 
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We were surprised by how comfortable the seats in the eRod are 
Swiss pride is alive and well at Kyburz
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Swiss pride is alive and well at Kyburz
Components for the DXP three-wheeled scooter at the Kyburz factory 
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Components for the DXP three-wheeled scooter at the Kyburz factory 
Electric motors for the Kyburz DXP on the floor of the factory
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Electric motors for the Kyburz DXP on the floor of the factory
Although the eRod caught our eye, there are plenty of postal services which prefer the DXP scooter
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Although the eRod caught our eye, there are plenty of postal services which prefer the DXP scooter
Everything has its place at the Kyburz factory
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Everything has its place at the Kyburz factory
Batteries being put to the test at Kyburz in Switzerland
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Batteries being put to the test at Kyburz in Switzerland
Battery technology is advancing fast, and Kyburz is working to keep up
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Battery technology is advancing fast, and Kyburz is working to keep up
The eRod being built at Kyburz in Switzerland
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The eRod being built at Kyburz in Switzerland
The eRod is an open-topped sportscar with a difference
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The eRod is an open-topped sportscar with a difference
A peek under the skin of the eRod as it's being built 
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A peek under the skin of the eRod as it's being built 
Old batteries are studied and recycled at Kyburz
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Old batteries are studied and recycled at Kyburz
The Cheetah is the first car Martin Kyburz built
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The Cheetah is the first car Martin Kyburz built
Chief engineer Daniel Wenger has some fun behind the wheel of the eRod
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Chief engineer Daniel Wenger has some fun behind the wheel of the eRod
The Kyburz eRod in Fun spec
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The Kyburz eRod in Fun spec
The design of the eRod is simple, but effective
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The design of the eRod is simple, but effective
The eRod has no engine under the hood, which helps keep the nose low and sightlines clear
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The eRod has no engine under the hood, which helps keep the nose low and sightlines clear
The eRod's brakes are its weakest point dynamically 
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The eRod's brakes are its weakest point dynamically 
The Kyburz eRod uses the circular taillights from the DXP
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The Kyburz eRod uses the circular taillights from the DXP
The eRod weighs around 600 kg 
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The eRod weighs around 600 kg 
Daniel Wenger putting the eRod to the test 
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Daniel Wenger putting the eRod to the test 
Kyburz Chief engineer Daniel Wenger proving there's plenty of fun to be had in the eRod
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Kyburz Chief engineer Daniel Wenger proving there's plenty of fun to be had in the eRod
The eRod has a giant go-kart feeling
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The eRod has a giant go-kart feeling
The Kyburz DXP is its most famous design
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The Kyburz DXP is its most famous design

Mobility scooters, postie bikes, motorized trolleys and electric sports cars. It's not exactly a normal progression, but it's the road taken by Kyburz. Based in Zurich, the small firm started making three-wheeled electric mobility scooters and small trolleys, but decided that wasn't exciting enough, and added the eRod to the mix last year. New Atlas hopped on a plane to Switzerland, where we looked at what goes into making an electric sports car and got behind the wheel for some quality time.

Unless you work for Swiss Post, you're probably asking: what is Kyburz, and why should I care about them? Nestled in the town of Freienstein, around half an hour north of Zurich Airport, the company is best known for the DXP, an electric three-wheeler used by the Switzerland's national postal service. We spotted three of the bright yellow scooters carrying posties silently along their routes on the short bus ride from the hotel to the factory.

"I was working in a normal company, in the development department, and for me it was quite boring," Martin Kyburz, founder and CEO of Kyburz AG, tells us. "What interested me was vehicles. I was an electrical engineer, so of course I wanted to build electric cars. The first car I constructed was a vehicle for my personal use. I wanted to a vehicle which doesn't consume too much fuel, but I also wanted a vehicle which is very nice to drive. Everything went well with the construction, but I ran out of money.

"My purpose was always to develop electrical vehicles, but first of all I had to have a company where I could earn my money to spend on new projects."

Battery technology is advancing fast, and Kyburz is working to keep up
Battery technology is advancing fast, and Kyburz is working to keep up

Martin founded his company in 1991, building electric mobility scooters for the elderly because they were relatively simple. In the background, he was putting together a four-wheeled prototype of the DXP.

After initially being knocked back, the DXP was picked up by Swiss Post and the company has seen significant growth since then. Fifteen employees has become 80, and along with the DXP three-wheeler, the range has expanded to include a four-wheeled electric trolley for Deutsche Post and (pending a trial) a vehicle for Australia Post. There are also consumer four- and three-wheeled mobility scooters, with and without a roof. Oh, and the eRod of course.

"Its one purpose is that you can race on the streets, where you should not really drive too fast," Kyburz says with a wry smile. "You should train your skills on the street, and that was the purpose behind developing the eRod."

The motor powering the rear wheels makes 45 kW 
The motor powering the rear wheels makes 45 kW 

The eRod is a fascinating beast, blending aspects of a Tesla Model S and Honda Project 2&4. Three different models are available, starting with the Basic, jumping up to the Fun and finally the Race. The two entry-level models share a 45-kW (60 hp) motor generating 140 Nm (103 lb-ft) of torque and can reach speeds of 120 km/h (75 mph), but the higher-spec Fun has a 17.1-kWh battery providing 130 km (81 mi) of range, which is 60 km (43 mi) more than the Basic will manage. The top-of the range Race ups things a notch with a 150-kW (201-hp) motor producing 305 Nm(225 lb-ft) of torque and 39-kWh battery providing a range of up to 220 km/h (137 mi). It has a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph).

Getting into the eRod is remarkably easy, because there are no doors or windows to get in the way. Just step over the low steel chassis and slide into the padded OMP bucket seat and strap up the four-point racing harness. Although the car is small and squat, there's plenty of room behind the wheel, even for this gangly six-seven scribe. The bonnet is low, giving a clear view of the front wheels and suspension, and the suede steering wheel is purposeful and small. So far, so good.

Not so good is the temperature. In the process of setting this visit up, we were warned about the weather – winter in Switzerland isn't the best time to drive anything topless, let alone something without a windscreen – but the cold wasn't enough to keep me from the hot seat.

Although we only had a brief stint behind the wheel that involved taking the car on a short stretch of winding road through a forest, it was enough to know Kyburz has hit the nail on the head. A fairly large turning circle makes the tight turn out of the factory complex a bit difficult, but the steering is direct at speed, and the driver never needs to take their hands from nine-and-three.

There is plenty of space behind the wheel of the eRod, even for gangly six-footers
There is plenty of space behind the wheel of the eRod, even for gangly six-footers

Even on winter tires, the balance of the eRod chassis shines through straight away. It feels completely neutral, giving you confidence to squeeze the long-travel throttle early and slingshot through corners or – if you want to – stamp the pedal to make the rear wiggle on exit. It isn't threatening or scary, to the point where even a frozen foreigner driving on the wrong side of the road can feel at home straight away.

In keeping with the long throttle, the steering is light and unthreatening at speed, but the brake pedal clearly didn't get the memo. Don't skip leg day at the gym, because the left pedal requires a serious shove to stop the car, even though regenerative braking also helps slow it down. It's the one weak point in the eRod setup, but a weak point that stands out every time you sit down behind the wheel.

It's a shame, because our time in the eRod was thoroughly enjoyable otherwise. With 45 kW (60 hp) shifting around 600 kg (1,323 lb), it's not going to melt your nerves in a straight line, but that means you can use full throttle all the time. In urban areas there isn't exactly room to use much more power anyway. Kyburz has struck an excellent balance between performance and fun, all without the guilt of running a highly strung internal combustion engine. Did we miss a screaming exhaust note? Yeah, kind of, but the wail of an electric motor offers a different thrill, a thrill that continues to evolve.

It won us over, but Martin Kyburz isn't too concerned about selling the eRod in massive numbers. Around 10 have been shifted so far, and the car is also being used as a testing bed for new electric car tech, but don't expect to see one at your next track day.

The eRod being built at Kyburz in Switzerland
The eRod being built at Kyburz in Switzerland

"One of the next eRods we do, we will build with the same battery the Tesla has. It's quite a good battery, but we are also testing different kinds of new technology with eRod," Martin says. An eRod with self-driving hardware is also being developed in tandem with a Swiss school, and there are more (secret, unfortunately) projects in the works.

Like a modern Caterham, you can also buy one as a kit car, which is designed to stoke the fires in a new, greener type of car enthusiast. I can't be trusted with an Ikea bedside table, and managed to electrocute myself with a pair of iPod headphones, so the idea of building an electric car from scratch is terrifying, but the appeal is unquestionable if you have the time and engineering nous.

As internal combustion fades into the background, some car enthusiasts have asked if the fun will fade with it. Kyburz and the eRod prove there's nothing to be worried about yet, even if the thrills are a bit different to those we're used to at the moment.

Product page: eRod

4 comments
Buellrider
Super fun looking. Wouldn't mind having one of those to rocket around in. Looks quality built.
DavidCPovenski
You left out the most important stat: cost.
ljaques
Yeah, those sure look like fun! The performance doesn't seem to be all that hot, with you saying "it's not going to melt your nerves in a straight line, but that means you can use full throttle all the time". I'd still want a helmet at all times and better elbow protection. That roll cage looks narrow. And get some braking in there, eh, Kyburz? Did you purposely decrease braking effect to allow the regen to take as much as possible? I much, much, much prefer vehicles I can stand on their freakin' NOSE, thankyouverymuch. Brakes have gotten me out of nearly as many accidents as a good strong engine and throttle have. Now double the motors, double the batteries, and put brakes on this sumbish, will ya? Oh, and sell it for $10k, right? Thanks!
jerryd
I doubt they are using the same kind of battery Tesla does as only Tesla has it and no one else can make it. He likely is using Panasonic cells which are different in many ways. But with pouch cells available and far easier, heaper to assemble, one wonders why go small cell. Tesla has robots to lower assembly costs and the only economic choice when they started up.