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Electric vehicle owners get charge out of Auto Cross

Event aims to promote transportation as viable and self-sustainable

June 05, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
  • Ken Barbour, 32, of Deptford, N.J., stands outside his 2008 BMW Mini Cooper Electric Car -- the Mini E -- while Marshall Erb, 20, of Mooresville, N.C., prepares to race it Saturday at the Power of D.C. Auto Cross at the Valley Mall parking lot. Barbour said he has let more than 300 people drive his leased vehicle in the past year in an effort to prove the viability of electric cars.
Alicia Notarianni, Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- Chip Gribben will tell you that electric vehicles are no longer just glorified golf carts.

On the contrary, they are a viable and self-sustainable mode of transportation that people should consider, he said.

Getting that message out was the goal of the Power of D.C. Auto Cross event Saturday at the Valley Mall parking lot. Roughly 15 electric vehicle owners participated in the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, D.C., event. A number of mall patrons stopped to watch the races.

Craig Garfield with the Sports Car Club of America described Auto Cross as racing laps through a circuit course consisting of straightaways, serpentine "slaloms" and curved "sweepers" that are delineated by cones. Garfield said the course was a half-mile or less in length and took about 30 seconds on average to complete.

"It's just one car against a clock," Garfield said.

The cars taking to the track were not a parade of typical high-performance race cars with revving engines, but an array of electric vehicles, or EVs, with quiet whirring batteries. Among them were production EVs, including a couple of sleek Tesla sports cars and a 2008 BMW Mini Cooper Electric Car -- the Mini E. But the majority of the vehicles on the course were conversion vehicles from which gasoline-powered engines had been removed and batteries and chargers had been installed.

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Dave Delman, 53, of Jericho, N.Y., drove a 1981 DeLorean, featuring gull-wing doors, that he converted over the course of five months with the help of a friend. He said the conversion cost him about $17,000, including $6,000 that he paid for the car. He said the car defies the stereotype of EVs being slow and lacking power.

"My speedometer goes up to 85 and I've had the needle past that," Delman said. "I figured if I'm gonna do a conversion, I might as well do it in style."

Jim Coate, 44, of Waynesboro, Va., raced his 2000 Honda Insight hybrid. He said he plans to convert a car, and he is considering using a Studebaker.

"It started out as a lark, a joke. But I've done some research and (Studebaker) have heavy frames and are lightweight overall, so it would be a good candidate," Coate said.

Doron Shalvi, 38, of Brookeville, Md., took his wife and three children to the Auto Cross. Shalvi bought a blue Vectrix Electric Maxi-Scooter a couple of years ago when his car died. He said the price of gasoline had just hit $4 per gallon, plus he does not like the idea of the United States being dependent on foreign oil. He didn't have the time to convert a car, and there were no fully electric vehicles "on the shelf."

Shalvi bought the scooter, which accelerates at highway speeds, at a reduced price of $9,000. He said an equivalent gas-powered vehicle would have cost about $6,000. But he pointed out that, in addition to not needing gasoline, electric vehicles require less maintenance. They do not need oil changes, tune-ups, filters, radiator flushes and mufflers, he said.

"This runs well and meets my commuting needs. I just go home and plug it in at night," Shalvi said.

Brent Hollenbeck, founder and CEO of TimberRock Energy Solutions, proposes taking electric vehicles one step farther than that. As an alternative to plugging them in, Hollenbeck sells solar arrays to provide energy to electric cars. He demonstrated an array at the Auto Cross event.

"The challenge with EVs is if you plug them into the wall, the electricity coming from there is dirty. It's typically from coal-burning power plants. We have small solar systems designed specifically to charge electric vehicles so people can put clean electricity into clean cars."

The system Hollenbeck demonstrated costs about $5,000 before government incentives and $2,000 after, he said. He estimated that it would pay for itself in five to seven years.

The Power of D.C. Auto Cross participants will be racing today at the Mason-Dixon Dragway on U.S. 40.

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