for the Westport News in Connecticut
(Wed March 3rd, 1999)
He's seen the future and it's electrifying. Remy Chevalier has been
an environmental activist most of his adult life and now he's charged up
about getting a chance to spread the word about the clean, quiet power that
many think may soon revolutionize the auto industry.
"It's sometimes difficult to separate writing about the environment
from being an advocate and activist but I manage most of the time," said
Mr. Chevalier, a long time Weston resident who was recently appointed
as Assistant Editor of Electrifying Times, a national magazine dedicated
to electric vehicles.
The magazine was started as a newsletter five years ago by Oregon
electric motorcycle builder Bruce Meland and now features glossy color
artwork and sponsors such as General Motors and Toyota. The current issue
features not only urban commuter cars but also sports cars and racing vehicle
powered by electricity.
"We're trying to get the word out about these vehicles of the future
and we're hoping that once we build an audience one of the large
publishing companies will take us under their wing," said Mr. Chevalier.
"There is a core group of electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasts and it's growing
quickly." During a recent talk about transportation and environmental issues
Mr. Chevalier traded opinions and quips with fellow Staples graduate (class
of 1970) Jim Motavalli, now editor of Norwalk based, "E The
Environmental Magazine". Mr. Motavalli is also a syndicated automobile
columnist and author of a book on the environmental future of the auto
industry that will be published later this year by the Sierra Club and Random
House. The two were joined by South Norwalk Electric Works (SNEW) Master
Electrician Ed Bolton who brought along that company's electric powered Ford
"The big news is that Toyota is bringing out a small electric vehicle
called the Prius later this year. They've already sold more than ten thousand
in Japan at about seventeen thousand dollars each and will probably sell
them for about that here," said Mr. Motovalli. "Hybrid vehicles
(gas/electric) and fuel cells will bring the real breakthroughs early in the
next century. Mercedes Benz plans to produce one hundred thousand fuel cell
powered cars in two thousand and four 2004. They'll us hydrogen to produce
electricity and give off clean water as a byproduct."
In the electric car field today selling 10,000 cars is the equivalent
of having a number one record on the hit parade. After all, the mighty
General Motors, after hundreds of millions in research and development has
managed to put only about 500 of its EV1 electric vehicles into consumer's
hands. Ford and Chrysler also sell electric vehicles, primarily to commercial
users such as SNEW and their sales are measured in the hundreds and thousands
"It's really a marketing issue," said Mr. Chevalier. "People think that
the EV's are expensive and inconvenient, particularly when gas is cheap
and plentiful. Like Jim says, the hybrid and fuel cell vehicles will help
to change that perception. In addition, stricter clean air standards and
rising gas costs, which are inevitable, will convince a lot of people to
consider them as well."
Electric cars are more expensive to buy, unless the manufacturers
are selling them at a loss, such as General Motors and Toyota are doing. If
the batteries go the replacement cost is huge, as much as $20,000, one of
reasons most EV's are being leased rather than sold right now. There
are advantages along the way, however. The cost per mile to run one is about
three cents, compared to close to thirty cents for a conventional vehicle.
The electric motors are maintenance free, there is no exhaust system to
repair and there is virtually no pollution.
"Small electric cars or even hybrid sport utilities would be excellent
for commuters in towns like Fairfield, Westport and Norwalk," said
Mr. Motovalli. "The big stumbling block at the moment is the lack of
charging apparatus at the train stations. If those were in place people could
leave their cars plugged in all day while they're in the city." That lack
of a fueling infrastructure is one of the factors holding back the more wide
spread use of EV's. Their 100-mile range and eight-hour charging time with
conventional electrical outlets makes them impractical for interstate travel
At the same time they are perfect for commercial applications and are
even available from some rental car companies in California and Florida.
They work well in urban or suburban setting and w here a company has a regular
and limited service area. That's why SNEW and several other Connecticut
utility companies are using them. They are also being tried out to shuttle
commuters back and forth to some train stations in the state.
"We are very happy with our electric vehicles," said Mr. Bolton. "We
have the truck, a car and an electric bicycle that we're evaluating for use
by our meter readers. We have a charging station at our plant by the
train station in South Norwalk and it works out very well for us." So,
what's it like to ride in an EV? Surprisingly normal but somehow eerie is the
best way to describe the experience.
From the outside Mr. Bolton's truck looks like any other parked on
Main Street. Under the hood there is maze of tubing, wires, plus plastic
and aluminum castings that doesn't look much different than what you'd find
in a onventional vehicle. The batteries are hidden away under the body
andinstead of a place to pump gas in the back there's an outlet in the
front for plugging in to an electrical source.
The eerie part comes when Mr. Bolton turns the key and nothing appears
to happen. You have to look closely to see that the, "On", light on the dash
is glowing. There's no starter motor cranking over and none of the
engine ibration you experience in a regular truck.
The silence continues when you pull away from the curb. Other than a
slight, "whine", from under the hood and some road noise there is nothing to
hear except the radio. Maybe this is what it sounds like when you're driving
in a Rolls Royce. Performance seems normal on local Westport streets and
Mr. Bolton says the truck will cruise along the highway at regular speeds,
at the expense of some loss of driving range.
"Ford made it as much like any other truck as they could, said
Mr. Chevalier. "That's really the whole point, to make the experience as
normal as possible, to make the source of power essentially
transparent." Electrifying Times and E magazine are available in many local
bookstores and they can be found on the Internet at www.electrifyingtimes.com