New style electric vehicle takes off

Plug it in and go

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2000

BEND, Ore. -- A new species of sparrow is taking off in central Oregon.

This Sparrow is a cross between a motorcycle and an electric car, with some design elements that -- up to this point -- most Americans have seen only on The Jetsons.

The Sparrow has a long name -- Sparrow Personal Transit Module -- but a simple mission. It's a one-passenger, all-electric vehicle designed for use by commuters and small businesses.

The Sparrow is sold by WildWind Motorcycles in Bend and built by California-based Corbin Motors.

A personal Sparrow recently delivered to WildWind is destined for a Salem customer. The company is backlogged on orders, and customers can expect to wait up to six months for delivery, said Wildwind general manager Bruce Best.

According to the Electric Vehicle Association of America, the number of Americans interested in electric transportation is on the rise, and Corbin Motors is just one of many companies responding to the demand.

Priced at roughly $14,900, the rear-wheel-drive Sparrow comes with a CD player, electric windows, heaters and six cubic feet of storage. It operates much like a golf cart, with forward and reverse, and runs up to 60 miles on each charge with a top speed of 70 mph.

Customers can choose between a 110-volt and 220-volt system, and the car charges from even a household outlet in about two hours. The Sparrow costs about four to six cents per mile to operate -- a lot less than an average car.

''It's a neat little concept, and a great commuter car,'' Best said. ''It's ideal for people who make many short trips around town because it saves money and helps the environment at the same time. It's an alternative.''

Best said central Oregon is an ideal place for the alternative vehicle.

''People here are geared and oriented to being environmentally nice, and they take pride in their surroundings,'' Best said. ''The Sparrow is ideal for anyone who wants to provide service and be environmentally conscious, too.''

The Sparrow is licensed as a motorcycle in California, and Best said many businesses there are turning to the Sparrow as an inexpensive, clean and quiet method for delivering goods and running errands.

The future for electric vehicles seems secure. The U.S. Postal Service recently purchased 500 electric vehicles, the electric vehicle association reported, the first batch of about 5,000 they plan to buy. And manufacturers of everything from forklifts and ice resurfacing machines to scooters and bicycles are using electric power. Mainstream automobile manufacturers are now introducing electric cars, too.

Toyota this year introduced the $20,000-plus Prius, a four-door gas/electric hybrid. Lonnie King, salesperson at Dave Holt, Inc. in Bend, said the Prius has been available in Japan and elsewhere overseas for about two years.

King said the electric aspect of the vehicle is designed for low speeds. With the Prius, for example, the gas engine kicks in at speeds over 19 mph, he said.

The hybrid is especially attractive to commuters in big cities, where traffic jams keep them moving slowly for long periods of time. Although the hybrid is not for everyone, King said the vehicle is ideally suited for low speeds and city commutes.

''It's a marvelous piece of equipment, and if I lived in Portland, where traffic is bumper to bumper, I would take a good look at it,'' King said. ''And it's whisper quiet.''

Here in Bend, King said the dealership has sold one Prius and has seen a lot of interest in the car, which can average 44 miles per gallon on the highway and 54 mpg in town.

Customers have to be willing to wait for the Prius, though, which Toyota is manufacturing as the orders come in.

Honda customers must also wait a couple months for delivery of their hybrid vehicles. Honda introduced the Insight in 2000, and the two-door, $20,000-plus vehicle averages about 61 mpg in town and 70 mpg on the highway, said Bob Thomas sales consultant Dave Wilcox.

The interest in the vehicle is high, Wilcox said, due in part to rising fuel prices and an increasing interest in helping maintain a clean environment.

Neither the Toyota nor Honda hybrids have to be plugged in. The electric batteries are automatically charged when the gas engine is running.

''I think it's the wave of the future, a novel idea,'' Wilcox said. ''Honda wanted to test the market.''

The market throughout the country is expanding, but nowhere is demand greater than in Florida, Arizona and California, said Richard Thomas. He's the manager of Electric Car Distributors, Inc. in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Electric Car Distributors manufactures and distributes electric low-speed vehicles, golf carts and bicycles.

Thomas said the fastest-growing segment of the electric vehicle industry is in the area of low-speed vehicles for older people living in gated communities and large developments in warm southern states.

Tax incentives in Arizona make the use of electric vehicles and carts attractive, and there are actually lanes designated for the low-speed carts, Thomas said.

''I think it's going to happen quickly,'' Thomas said of the transition to electric vehicles. ''It's going to get huge.''

End ADV for Oct. 14-16

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