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November 10, 2010

Interview With an EV Owner: Adventure

by Brian Foley

EV2

Charlie Garlow, a Sierra Club member from Silver Spring, Maryland owns a three-wheel electric motorcycle. This is the second of three interviews with EV owners. Read the first one here.

How did you get this electric motorcycle?

It's a little tricky. There are not a lot of three-wheel electric motorcycles for sale. But there is a company out in Oregon that is now manufacturing the bodies -- or shells, frames -- so that you can put it together yourself and you can put into it your own electric motor that you buy from them or separately. I bought a separate motor because I wanted more power. Mine is considerably modified from the original BugE.

Can you describe this vehicle?

It's got two direction wheels in the front and one drive wheel in the rear and a body structure that is aero-dynamically streamlined that makes it slick to the wind. It looks kind of interesting, frankly.

What's the range?

If you have lead acid batteries in there, it'll probably go about 30 or 40 miles on a charge. If you put in lithium ion batteries, as I'm attempting to do, it'll have a 100-mile range or more.

Have you always been this passionate about EVs and renewable energy?

I've always been interested in reducing my carbon footprint. For the last 20 years I've been involved in electric vehicles. I've owned a series of EVs. One was a sedan -- a 1981 Dodge Neon. I had a 1997 Chevy pick-up truck made by General Motors at their factory. And now I'm working on this three wheel motorcycle. I feel a bit like Toad of Toad Hall -- that animated cartoon from years back who always wanted to buy the latest contraption that would take him around.

Let's say I'm a typical middle-class American and I want an EV. What's your advice?

There are a number of second-hand, cheaper electric vehicles, whether they’re motorcycles or cars or trucks. They're on sale on eBay or Craigslist and you can find them through various electric vehicle associations. There are electric vehicle clubs. If you have enough money to buy a new electric vehicle, Nissan is coming out with the Leaf all-electric vehicle very soon. The Volt is an electric hybrid, which is a pretty good idea. It's pure electric for the first 40 miles, which then kicks in your gasoline engine. And there are a lot of other companies that are getting on board.

What do you think about when you see gas prices?

Gas prices are way too low in this country. We need to tax gas so that it's $5 a gallon like it is in Japan or $7 a gallon like it is in Europe. That would be more of an incentive for us to think about electric vehicles. That would get people to look at electric cars and say, "This is a great idea." In fact, it's already a great idea. If you get yourself an electric vehicle, your cost for fuel -- your electricity -- is one-quarter the cost of gasoline, presuming gas is about $2.50 a gallon. When we had $4 a gallon the summer before last, we had a lot more people asking about electric vehicles. And maintenance costs! There are no oil changes, there's no muffler to be replaced....

All of those costs to maintaining a gas engine, which is basically an explosion going on in your car -- no wonder the thing falls apart -- don't happen. Think about your power drill you keep down in the basement. When was the last time you had to overhaul its engine, or change the oil, or flush the radiator? Never!

Photo courtesy Charlie Garlow.

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