By Brandon HENSLEY
Earl Cox knows the mindset, because he’s been there. He knows what it’s like to drive a classic American muscle car, or the big SUVs, with engines that rev-up with such ferocity as if it’s warning others that the true king-of-the-road has arrived.
But these days, Cox isn’t buying it; either the way of life or the cars themselves. These days, Cox is buying electric cars and what they can offer. Before anyone conjures up images of clunky-looking things on four wheels, with speeds that can barely top those of golf carts, Cox has something to show you.
Meet his 2008 Tesla Roadster – a sleek sports car with a paint job so red police might be tempted to ticket it while it’s parked. On a blazing hot Saturday afternoon, Cox took it down La Crescenta Avenue and onto the 210 Freeway. After the wrap-around on-ramp was cleared, Cox accelerated the car up to speeds so high so quickly that it’s impressive a roar of an engine was not heard at all.
“Torque and power are what electric motors are really, really, really good at,” Cox said. Why don’t more people know this? “It’s a secret,” he said. “You’ve got to feel it.”
While the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” answers some questions about the electric car’s (somewhat) rise and fall in the 1990s, Cox thinks there’s more work to be done, and Tesla Motors is a start in the right direction to bringing back eco-friendly vehicles to the masses.
The company unveiled its line of Roadsters in 2008, and Cox and his family went in, being one of the first to own one. (The car is – surprise – not cheap. Cox and his family paid over $100,000. The new models go for that price as well.)
In the 1990s, General Motors’ EV1 model got 50 miles per charge. The Roadster gets up to 200 miles on a full charge, thanks to a more advanced lithium-ion battery pack. Cox said it takes three and a half hours to do a full charge. It also boasts regenerative braking, which recuperates energy used in letting off the gas pedal to help it accelerate again. Cox’s car has 30,000 miles on it and less than 10% wear on the brakes.
Cox said in the coming years, Tesla will unveil models that will rival the BMW and Toyota Corolla. The future is almost now.
“I believe that once the prices get down, and infrastructure gets out there, and all this sort of stuff, probably 95% of the cars on the road will be electric,” Cox predicts.
High prices are a large obstacle in owning an electric car for many people, and have been for years. But both Cox and Rick Reinhard, chief engineer of Phoenix Motorcars, said in the long-term, purchasing an electric car would be more beneficial because of the low maintenance and no fuel costs.
“The only real expense for electric cars is charging, which is cheap, and tires,” Reinhard said. There is though the matter of replacing the battery, which can cost between $5,000 and $20,000, Reinhard said, depending on chemistry and how much people drive the car.
The other part of convincing the public is the problem of how far the car needs to go.
“The consumer needs to understand they don’t need to go 500 miles on a charge. You can commute to work in a vehicle that has a 50-mile range, a 100-mile range,” Reinhard said.
Phoenix Motorcars, which is dedicated to building “zero-emission, freeway-speed green vehicles,” according to its website, is developing a fleet pickup truck that can get 70 miles on a full charge.
“I think the average person won’t be able to afford to not go with the electric car,” Cox said.
Cox is also in the business of producing energy-efficient machines. He is a project manager for Aerovironment, a company that in part makes electric spy planes for the U.S. military, including one called the Wasp, which weighs one pound and has an 18-inch wingspan. Soldiers can send the plane, which contains a video camera, over a hill or around a corner to see what’s waiting for them.
Cox said the military started asking for them after the War in Afghanistan started. “Some the special-forces guys took a few of our little prototypes over there and it made a big difference, and so suddenly they realized they needed these things badly.”
And now electric cars are something that Cox thinks society needs badly. He said hybrids are “a baby step in the right direction.”
“I’m looking at this as an investment in the future for society. Getting off of our dependence on oil.; it’s a very aggressive step, I know,” he said.
Nonetheless, Cox thinks the future for eco-friendly cars looks bright — maybe just not as bright as his shiny red Tesla Roadster.