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."
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 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.
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.
"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.
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