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1999 EFV World Expo

In early 1998, I attended my first mass ride-and-drive exhibition of multiple electric vehicles (EVs) at the first EV World Expo, held at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA. (Unfortunately, I did not bring a camera, so I can't digitize and show pictures from that; a similar event was held in Alameda, CA later in the year.) This year the event has been broadened to include all "Environmentally Friendly Vehicles" and renamed the EFV World Expo to reflect this; it was held on 24-25 April 1999 at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA. This is a high-traffic open-air pedestrian mall in the city's downtown area; I saw crowds there such as I had never seen before at an event specific to alternative fuel vehicles (as opposed to an AFV display at a major auto show, say), so this was a very good choice of venue to give AFVs lots of exposure. Unfortunately, the choice of location prevented the organizers from offering test rides in addition to static displays; I hope they will be back on the agenda next year!

Iridescent EV1

The event was sponsored by the GM EV1 electric car, with cosponsorship by EV Rental Cars and First Inertia Switch (who make sensors for the automotive industry, including various electric vehicle projects); all three companies had displays at the Expo, and there were several EV1s at various places along the Promenade, including this one with a special iridescent paint job to which a static photo just can't do justice... Every other production EV that I can think of from a major automaker, except the Dodge EPIC minivan, was present as well; this includes the hybrid-electric Toyota Prius now available in Japan (and next year in the USA). In addition, there were some very interesting prototypes, and production vehicles from smaller companies. AC Propulsion had two vehicles and a rolling chassis; one vehicle was their 200 HP Volkswagen Golf conversion, which is planned to be the basis for a production car from VW in 2003.

AC Propulsion VW Golf

The other AC Propulsion complete vehicle and the rolling chassis were for an exotic car that they are putting into (very) limited production, the high-performance tzero. Whereas EV1 enthusiasts boast that the GM car will beat a 4-cylinder BMW Z3 in a quarter-mile drag race (and a Porsche in the ol' Stoplight Grand Prix, where speeds don't have room to climb too high and bottom-end torque is the decisive factor), AC Propulsion has set up the tzero to take out Corvettes! It also corners and brakes in true sports-car fashion, and gets about 100 miles range per charge (if not accelerated to 60 MPH in 4.6 seconds too often!) from its lead-acid (!) batteries. I want one, but unfortunately the price of admission for this hand-built street-legal racing car is around 80 grand. Prices go down as production volumes go up, though...

AC Propulsion tzero

In addition to regular-size electric cars and trucks (and the natural-gas-powered Honda Civic GX) there were three flavors of small commuter vehicles present, and two electric bicycle makers. In the commuter vehicle category, Toyota brought its e-com two-seater prototype (which I first saw at the Alameda EV Expo last year), and there were three Sparrow one-seaters present. This is another insanely cool vehicle that I want, very much; at $12900 I can't afford to get one on a whim, but that's less expensive than many motorcycles (and almost all cars!) and it would make a great choice for one's primary (solo commuting and errand-running) transportation. Just before the EFV Expo, Corbin (the manufacturer) announced that they had completed Dep't. of Transportation testing and achieved full highway legality! Get your deposit in now...

Corbin Sparrows

In a similar chassis layout (one occupant, three wheels, electric drive to the single rear wheel) at about half the price is the Gizmo from Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Company. A Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, or NEV, is a street- but not highway-legal vehicle intended for low-speed urban errands and commuting; a typical top speed is 40 MPH, which certainly would cover almost all the non-freeway driving I do. As you can see from the photo below, the whole top opens and you sit down from the front of the vehicle; there is no steering column to get in the way because the controls are on the handles to either side of the seat. The only true electric motorbike I have yet seen, from EMB (as in Electric MotorBike) is also effectively an NEV, with 40 MPH top speed, and I have seen at least a couple of scooters intended for similar use with 25 MPH top speeds.

Gizmo from Neighborhood EV Company

The electric bicycles on display were from Electric Transportation Company and EV Global Motors. Electric bikes, whether the motor and battery are an add-on or are integrated into the bike's structure, are becoming increasingly popular; I put a motor from ZAP (stands for Zero Air Pollution), the industry volume leader, on my bike a year or so ago, and an integrated model developed by Aerovironment (the company that built the GM Impact prototype electric car, ancestor of the EV1) is sold by Charger Bicycles, and another integrated model is available from Electrobike. These offer a less expensive way to go electric than even one of the scooters, motorbikes, or NEVs I mentioned above, and EV Global Motors in particular (founded by Lee Iacocca of auto-industry fame, and now partnered with advanced-powertrain makers Unique Mobility) is hoping to use electric bikes to open the garage doors of America to electric-powered vehicles, and then to follow that foothold with cars and trucks.

It is overseas, however, that electric bikes may make the greatest direct environmental impact. In developing nations where bicycles are the most common means of transportation, but which are beginning to create enough wealth for motor vehicles to become widespread, the inexpensive but extremely dirty two-stroke motor scooter is a typical next step. If these can be replaced with affordable electric bicycles and scooters, then several times the population of the United States will breathe a lot easier each day! In the USA, though, bicycles are almost entirely recreational rather than commuting vehicles, and it will take a full spectrum of Environmentally Friendly Vehicles, up to full-sized cars and trucks, to make a dent in motor vehicle pollution. As many members of the public saw at this Expo, a lot of choices are already available!

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new 26 April 1999