Henney Kilowatt

Henney Kilowatt

Introduced for the 1959 model year, the Henney Kilowatt was the world's first modern (transistor-regulated) electric car [Westbrook, M: "The Electric Car: Development and Future of Battery, Hybrid and Fuel-Cell Cars", Institution of Electrical Engineers (UK) & Society of Automotive Engineers (USA), 2001] . The Kilowatt was a predecessor to more recent battery electric vehicles such as the General Motors EV1. The electric propulsion technology developed for the Henney Kilowatt also contributed to the development of modern electric hybrid vehicles [Victor Wouk, Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Scientific American, 1997-10, p70-74] which use a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine in addition to an electric propulsion system.

Corporate funding

The Henney Kilowatt was a project of National Union Electric Company, a conglomerate including Emerson Radio, and Henney Motor Company, which had purchased Eureka Williams in 1953. The project was initiated by C. Russell Feldmann [Audio recording of interview with R. Feldman: CalTech Institute Archives - Millikan Library, 1972] , president of National Union Electric Company and the Eureka Williams Company. To build the electric cars, he employed the services of the Henney Motor Company coachwork division of Canastota, New York. Henney had been building custom coaches since 1868 and was a well-recognized name in the automotive industry because of its affiliation with the Packard Automobile Company. Henney produced thousands of custom built limousines, ambulances, and hearses (most of them built on Packard chassis), before being contracted to begin the Kilowatt project. National Union Electric Company was also the producer of Exide Batteries —and naturally had a vested interest in shifting American automotive focus from fossil fuels to lead-cell batteries. Morrison McMullan Jr., controller of Exide Batteries, was also a participant in the development of the Kilowatt. (In 1974, National Union Electric was purchased by AB Electrolux of Sweden .)

Designers and developers

The propulsion system was developed in consultation with Victor Wouk, then an electrical engineer at CalTech. Wouk is best known as the inventor of the electric hybrid car [Victor Wouk, Hybrid Electric Vehicles, Scientific American, 1997-10, p70-74] . Wouk recruited Lee DuBridge, then President of CalTech, and Linus Pauling to assist in the assessment and development of the electronics [Wouk, Victor (2004) The Papers of Victor Wouk. Finding Aids Online, California Institute of Technology Archives, Pasadena, California.] . Wouk designed the necessary speed controller for the Kilowatt, although the controller was actually manufactured for the Kilowatts by Curtis Instruments. After researching the electrophysics underlying the propulsion system, Pauling determined that traditional lead batteries would not provide the power necessary to give the cars performance that could rival traditional gas powered cars. Pauling accurately predicted that the relative low top speed and the short range of the cars would make them impractical [http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=glossaire&definition=9838] . An active proponent of eco-friendly cars, Pauling was focused on making the car more practical before releasing it to the public. He recommended that the project be discontinued until the appropriate battery was available commercially. The electric propulsion system for the cars was designed and built by the Eureka Williams Company of Bloomington, Illinois, manufacturer of Eureka Vacuum Cleaners. Henney Coachworks was contracted to build the chassis of the car from tooling and parts purchased from Renault. Many body panels and interior components of the car are virtually identical to those of the Renault Dauphine.


The 1959 models all ran on a 36-volt system of 18 sequential two-volt batteries. The 36-volt cars had a top speed of 40 mph (64 km/h) and could run approximately 40 miles (64 kilometres) on a full charge. After the 36-volt system was realized to be impractical, the Kilowatt drivetrain was redesigned by Eureka Williams as a 72-volt system for the 1960 model year. It employed 12 sequential six-volt batteries. The 72-volt models were much more practical than the 1959 36-volt models. The 1960 Kilowatt boasted a top speed of nearly 60 mph (97 km/h) with a range of over 60 miles (97 kilometres) on a single charge.

Production and sales

According to the official [http://companies.jrank.org/pages/4210/Eureka-Company.html Eureka Company corporate history profile] there were a total of 100 Henney Kilowatts manufactured during the entire two year production run, but of those 100 cars only 47 were ever sold. A French Renault Dauphine enthusiast [http://www.dauphinomaniac.org website] also confirms that a total of 100 rolling chassis were prepared by Henney Coachworks for the project, but of those only 47 functional cars were actually completed. A March 20, 1967 article in U.S. News & World Report states that 35 of the Henney Kilowatts were purchased by electric utilities in the United States. Company records show that there were 24 cars sold to electric utilities as 36 volt 1959 models and 8 Kilowatts sold to utility companies as 72 volt 1960 models. From these and other sources, it is reasonable to conclude that fewer than 15 Henney electric cars were actually sold to the general public. Some of these cars may have been sold as 1961 models. The company continued promoting the Kilowatt in 1961 with hopes of securing enough prepaid orders to finish the remaining chassis components that had already been built. Few, if any, were sold in this manner. Although the 72 volt propulsion system introduced for the 1960 model year was substantially superior to the earlier 36 volt systems, Eureka Williams was unable to produce the 72-volt system cheaply enough or quickly enough to attain the targeted $3600 sales price.

Of the documented 32 Henney Kilowatts produced, it is estimated that there are between four and eight still in existence. Interestingly, the very first two Henney Kilowatts - the serial number 0001 car and the original prototype (serial number "EXPERIMENTAL") were stored by company executives for decades until being sold to a private U.S. automobile collector in the early 2000s. These two cars both have fewer than 500 miles (about 800 kilometres) and are impeccable examples of this historical vehicle. Additionally, there are at least two other documented "survivors" that are still driven periodically.


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