Charged up over sales of e-cars

first_imgGLENDALE – They roll down the street in stealthy silence and run on juice from your wall socket, and for Rob Thomas, they’re the antidote to the ills of high gas prices and petroleum dependency. “I want to go completely off carbon,” Thomas said as he inspected an electric car at EnVironmental Motors, one of the only showrooms in the San Fernando Valley dedicated to the sale of electric cars. “I’m the guy who’s installing solar panels on my roof, and I want to plug it into that.” While most people might be tempted to install fluorescent light bulbs or check their tire pressure after watching former Vice President Al Gore’s global warming documentary, Taryn Sokolow, director of the e-car venture, said the film motivated her to revive the greener side of the family business. Her father owns Colonial Honda next door and first dealt in electrics six years ago. But that side business had been quiet until recently. “Before I saw that movie, I didn’t know how bad it really was,” said Sokolow, 25. “I didn’t know how deep (global warming) really went. … I’m in a unique position to do something.” The dealership, which held its grand opening this week, stocks vehicles with fanciful nameplates such as Santa Rosa-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) and ZENN (Zero Emission No Noise), from Toronto-based Feel Good Cars. Some resemble your common compact hatchback, but with the rattle of a gasoline engine muffled to a soft buzz from the electric motor. Others, like ZAP’s Xebra line of three-wheel sedans and pickups, are guaranteed to turn heads as much as record high gas prices do. The national average for a gallon of unleaded regular exceeded $3 this week, while hitting $3.45 locally, according to AAA. “The record just keep going up and up with gas prices,” said ZAP CEO Steve Schneider. “I think that consumers globally need to have choice.” Still, they might be a tough sell in sprawling Southern California – the Xebra’s top speed is 40 mph, with a range of up to 25 miles between charges. At $10,000, it’s best used to supplement a gas-powered vehicle for local errands. It’s those limitations that will keep electrics at novelty status, said Jim Hossack, senior consultant with Tustin-based automotive analyst AutoPacific. “In terms of high-volume application … all pure electric cars (are) probably nonviable,” he said. “At the same time, L.A. is a big place and there are lots of opportunities for a lot of unusual uses. Can you sell 100 a year? Maybe. Can you sell 1,000? Then you’re pushing me.” Hence, Los Angeles is a key market for Schneider. “Automobiles in America represent more than just transportation,” he said. “It represents individualism. And there’s no other place than Los Angeles where individualism speaks out in an automobile. “If gas is $10 a gallon, you will still see Hummers driving here in L.A. There will always be demand in one spectrum. We’re just in the other end.” Meanwhile, newer electric models with more power and range are on the drawing board, and are at least 1 1/2 years away from market. That’s why electrics at EnVironmental Motors share the Glendale lot with a few Smart cars, those ultra-compact, freeway-safe gasoline vehicles that scream Euro-chic and get about 40 mpg. “We want to get users familiar with electric technology,” Sokolow said. “When they start coming out, we hope that our name is already out there and already associated with electric vehicles, so it will be an easy segue to freeway-speed electrics.” (818) 546-3304160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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