Electric-Powered Vehicles

By Ethan Kelley

For the driver climbing into the cab, the truck resembles dozens of compact pickups cruising Island roads. The bench seat, radio and heater prepare the rider for the usual hum of a gasoline engine and the whir of an exhaust pipe. But turn the key, and there is silence.

An electricity gauge is the only sign that the Ford Ranger is on, with an instrument needle revealing the power level of a bank of 39 batteries slung under the body. Although the driver shifts a lever into forward gear, the truck has no transmission; an electric motor between the rear suspension bars delivers speed directly to the wheels.

The pickup accelerates smoothly, and a gentle buzz is the only sound from the high-voltage power converter under the hood. An economy gear offers the sacrifice of performance for range; under normal conditions in the regular drive gear, the truck travels around 60 miles between three-hour recharge cycles. The electro hydraulic steering is responsive and forgiving, and the regenerative braking system brings the Ranger to a quick stop, while converting kinetic energy into extra power for the battery pack.

The truck is not an experimental prototype, but a 1999 production model, one of several electric vehicles brought to the Island by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Alternative Fuels Program for a Tuesday demonstration and test-drive session in the high school parking lot.

Proving that electric vehicles work in the rain, the afternoon fair put close to 100 business people, public officials and curious citizens in the seats of trucks and neighborhood carts, with a bicycle and skateboard-scooter available as well. According to program representatives, the Island may soon be the first community in Massachusetts to take part in a pilot project to bring electric vehicles into everyday use in a summer vacation area.

"The Vineyard is ideal for electric vehicles," says Kristin MacFadyen of the DEP program. "Our primary goal is cleaning up air quality through reducing mobile pollution. The Vineyard's compact size, lower speed limits and narrow roads make it a good environment for this, and the range issues with electric vehicles aren't as extreme here."

A federal grant announced this week is expected to jump-start the pilot project, says Miss MacFadyen, and along with funding from long-time supporter Boston Edison and donations from manufacturers, a test fleet of electric vehicles may be on Vineyard streets for much of the coming summer. Pending Island and state approval, up to 10 neighborhood vehicles, three bicycles and one demonstration moped could be in the hands of rental outfits and public officials as soon as this August.

"We would be providing the vehicles at no cost for the season," she says. "We would work to establish a screening process for tourists to rent the vehicles. What we'd like is to share them among the towns and the rental companies, since both expressed interest in trying them out. We're hoping businesses and towns might seek their own in the future."

The sight of neighborhood electric vehicles already has stirred excitement among roadside spectators, who looked on with enthusiasm as one of the vividly colored carts rolled onto the ferry as they were leaving the Island. Made by Global Electric Motor Cars and Bombardier Motor Corporation, the vehicles' design certainly catches the eye, with a bubble-like canopy enclosing a cockpit resembling a sophisticated golf cart.

The neighborhood vehicles behave much like their turf-going counterparts, but are equipped with strong motors and safety features that permit travel of 25 miles per hour on public ways. Both companies' carts accelerate rapidly and are easy to steer, and come with rear compartments for groceries, luggage and other gear.

The electric bicycle at this week's presentation is a product of Zap Power Systems. The rider first pedals to get the bike up to speed, then presses a throttle switch that kicks in an electric motor. The battery gives the bike a cruising speed of around 12 miles per hour, and is small enough for the rider to carry a spare.


Copyright 1998 Vineyard Gazette
P.O. Box 66, Edgartown, Mass. 02539
Page Created: April 13, 1998

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