EVs In Paul Newman's Hometown
by RAY JONES rayjay@ntplx.net

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 pickup truck.
 
"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 as well.
 
"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 the
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 right now.
 
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 and www.emagazine.com respectively