Array of electric, low-emission vehicles showed off

By Steve Lawrence The Associated Press
Thursday December 13, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Bryan Woodbury may have a solution for motorists who are tired of urban gridlock: A car that can zip through traffic like a motorcycle and squeeze into the smallest parking spaces. 

Woodbury’s 38-inch-wide Tango was among dozens of electric and low-emission vehicles on display Wednesday, about a year before state regulations will put thousands of such cars and light trucks on the California market. 

“California is pushing this whole thing,” said Shane Thompson, sales representative for Inmetco, a battery recycling company. “It’s the reason these car companies are coming out with these things.” 

Thompson and Woodbury were exhibitors at an Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas conference that gave big and small manufacturers the chance to show off an array of electric, hybrid and futuristic fuel-cell vehicles, ranging from bicycles to buses. 

Alan Lloyd, chairman of the state Air Resources Board, said the display “demonstrates that when the industry is challenged they do a wonderful job of stepping forward.” 

Regulations adopted by the ARB will require that an increasing percentage of new cars and light trucks sold in California must be zero-emission or extremely low-polluting vehicles, beginning with 2003 models. 

The mandate starts at 10 percent and increases to 16 percent by 2018, although manufacturers have several ways they can initially reduce the requirement, including putting the cars on the market early. 

Small manufacturers like Woodbury’s company aren’t covered by the mandate, but they can benefit by selling credits for complying with the requirements to bigger car companies. 

Major automakers fought the requirements for years and succeeded in convincing the ARB to water down — but not abandon — the regulations. 

One company, General Motors, is still fighting the regulations in court, although it was among the conference’s exhibitors. 

But another major automaker, Toyota, announced Wednesday that it would get a jump on the regulations and begin selling or leasing its RAV4-EV, a battery-powered sports utility vehicle, to California motorists starting in February. The RAV4-EV has been available only as a corporate fleet vehicle. 

Woodbury, who runs Commuter Cars Corp., a small Spokane, Wash., company with his father, plans to start producing the battery-powered Tangos in June. 

The narrow car can comfortably carry two people, one behind the other, and can go from zero to 60 mph in four seconds, he said. 

“It looks tiny and cramped but you have the same interior space (per passenger) as a normal car.” 

Initially prices will range from $40,000 to $75,000 but mass production would drop the cost to the $12,000-to-$17,000 range, depending on how many are made, Woodbury said. 

He figures the Tango will attract customers who are “sick and tired of getting stuck in traffic every day but want an exciting car. ... It’s not another golf cart.”