TAMPA, FLORIDA—When it comes to electric cars, what does Florida have that Connecticut does not? Well, the weather is certainly more conducive, since EVs lose range when it gets cold. But given the freakishly warm weather in the nutmeg state early last week, maybe ice and snow are mostly in our past, anyway.
What Florida also has is its very own EV Expo, which I was happy to attend. The typical EV show celebrates the cars from the major manufacturers — the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, the Mitsubishi I-MiEV — but this one took in the whole spectrum, including a focus on EV conversions. Before said Leaf and Volt were available, converting your own car was pretty much your only option, and thousands of people either got under the hood themselves or hired a grassroots converter.
Here in Florida, there were converted Porsches (a 911SC with under four-second zero-to-60 times, and a 914), some eccentric motorcycles, and even a 1967 Morris from England. But does conversion have a future now that battery EVs are available on mainstream car lots? It's uncertain, even though high-quality parts availability and expertise are at an all-time high. I talked to one converter who told me he's taking it one day at a time. He had to admit that the Leaf, which he'd recently driven, is awfully nice.
But EV conversions no longer focus on just getting from point A to point B. I ran into a young man who was converting a used Honda S2000 to batteries with no loss of power — more likely a gain. And just around the corner from the Porsche was the loosey-goosey exhibit of the Electric Drag Racing Association (EDRA), whose star, John Wayland, was in attendance. Wayland runs an unlikely electric Datsun 1200 named the White Zombie ("Suck Amps," reads the back bumper), which regularly blows the doors off big-bore muscle cars from its base in Portland, Oregon. If electric dragsters could just come up with a sound to compete with that of a V-8 in full song, they'd pack stadiums and create national race series.
And not all EVs travel on four wheels. I also learned from plug-in-bicycle-guru Ed Benjamin of eCycleElectric that, at least in China, the EV revolution has already been won. The worldwide market for electric two-wheelers (bikes and scooters) is likely to grow to 130 million per year by 2025. Thirty-one million were sold in 2011, with only one million in countries other than China (250,000 in India, 335,000 in Japan, 100,000 in the U.S.). Efforts to sell ebikes in the U.S. have not notably succeeded.
One other project that caught my attention was an electric pedicab, soon to hit the streets of Mexico City (which has more than 20,000 human-powered rickshaws). The electric version, pioneered by Victor Juarez, who not only co-founded the EV Expo but, as head of Electro Autos Eficaces de Mexico, has worked on electrifying his home country.
I came away from Florida energized or, to put it another way, plugged in. A lot is happening, in Connecticut as well as the sunshine state.
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