Me & my Sparrow

Woman says battery-powered car creates no emissions, doesn't pollute the air

Woman says battery-powered car creates no emissions, doesn't pollute the air

December 30, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The cartoonish look of Valerie Myers' electric car - is she sitting in the cab of a big toe on wheels? - is why people gawk.

The front of Myers' 2000 aqua Corbin Sparrow resembles a mutant cross between a Volkswagen Beetle and a bumper car. The back tapers and flattens, like a flipper.

You can't help but notice that the front end has two wheels and the back end has one.

Myers, who lives east of Hagerstown, said getting insurance for her electric car was problematic. The engine can't be described in internal-combustion terms, such as cubic inches or number of cylinders.

The power source for Myers' quiet Sparrow is six 12-volt batteries under the hood and seven more under the seat, for a total of 156 volts.


For insurance, the car is considered to be a motorcycle.

Myers, 53, is an information technology specialist for the Department of Public Works and Transportation in Montgomery County, Md.

Myers said she became interested in environmentally friendly transportation after talking with an energy management engineer she knew from work.

Cutting down on gasoline consumption and pollution appealed to her. She bought the Sparrow to replace a Toyota Tercel with more than 300,000 miles.

Still, the Sparrow has limits.

The biggest one is range. Myers said a full charge keeps the engine going for about 50 miles, although she tries not to go more than 40.

Myers must plan trips carefully; stopping for gas is much easier than stopping for a recharge. She has been to Greencastle, Pa., for example, but that's a risky round trip.

The Sparrow's six cubic feet of space behind the seat doesn't leave room for big shopping purchases.

Myers figures she can get about four six-packs of soda and five or six bags of groceries. A 25-pound bag of dog food was tightly wedged on one trip.

For these reasons, the Sparrow isn't Myers' sole ride. When traveling farther or transporting a bigger load, she uses a 2003 Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that gets 50 to 60 miles to the gallon.

Her 1960 Corvette is sitting in her garage for now.

People looking for affordable, efficient, environmentally sound transportation can turn to electric vehicles, said Dave Goldstein of Gaithersburg, Md., the president of The Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C.

They use no gasoline. They have no tailpipes and no emissions.

Electric vehicles can be as small as golf carts or as big as buses, Goldstein said.

They might be slow or fast, weak or powerful. The $100,000 electric Tesla Roadster was described by The Washington Post as having an acceleration of "zero to 60 in four noiseless seconds," with a top speed of 135 mph and a range of more than 200 miles per charge.

Myers and her Sparrow have competed in National Electric Drag Racing Association events. She holds a record for her division - 71.83 mph in 19.182 seconds at the quarter-mile Mason Dixon Dragway east of Hagerstown in 2005.

Myers bought her car in 2004 for $9,000 from a Bethesda, Md., man who later tried to buy it back. She believes she has one of only two Sparrows in Maryland.

Corbin Motors filed for bankruptcy in 2003. However, Myers Motors (no relation to Valerie) of Tallmadge, Ohio, is selling an NmG, or No More Gas - essentially the same car as the Sparrow - for about $25,000.

Myers said it's hard to break people of their petroleum-based habits, but she hopes her car sparks discussion.

"By 2050, we'll be out of gasoline," she said. "We need to prepare now."

Sparrow facts

The Corbin Sparrow ...

· Is a single-passenger, three-wheeled, zero-emission electric vehicle.

· Is classified as a motorcycle by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

· Has a top speed of about 75 mph.

· Uses 13 12-volt batteries, for a total of 156 volts. The horsepower is about 25, with a peak of about 40.

· Can cover at least 25 or 30 miles between charges, although some estimates are as high as 60 miles.

· Weighs 1,350 pounds.

· Is 96 inches long by 52 inches wide by 57 inches high.

· Was offered new for $13,900 for "jellybean" models and $16,995 for later-production "pizza-butt" models, which got their name because Domino's Pizza ordered several as delivery vehicles.

· Was made by Corbin Motors in Hollister, Calif., from 1999 to 2002. The company, which produced 285 Sparrows, filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

Source:, a site not connected to Corbin Motors

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