AltCar Expo fulfills imagination, innovation

A classic, red Volkswagen bug convertible was on display at last weekend’s 8th Annual AltCar Expo in Santa Monica’s Civic Center. It would have been ordinary except for the fact that it was electric-powered.

The Volkswagen was donated to the expo and has been in development for four years at Santa Monica High School through the Team Marine organization.

Big name companies such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chevy, Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were all present at the event, but there were many smaller names and individuals with intriguing ideas as well.

Displayed was a solar-powered boat, an electric scooter with a removable, rechargeable battery pack, electric bicycles, and a propane-powered school bus.

“I enjoy doing environmental activism,” said Patricio Tuerrero, Team Marine club member and Santa Monica College student who has been working on the Volkswagen for three years now.

“We’re basically a high school club,” Tuerrero said. “We teach people how our actions affect our environment.”

Tuerrero claimed that the electric car has a 100-mile range and can be charged in six to seven hours.

He said he worked on the Volkswagen for two years in high school and then one year at Los Angeles based Left Coast Electric, with the mentorship of Greg “Reverend Gadget” Abbott, the company owner.

Priced at $31,000 after incentives, the Chevrolet Volt was available for test drive by attendees at the expo.

“You get a combined driving range of 380 miles,” said Michael Strapazon, Chevrolet spokesperson, about the Volt. “The first 40 to 50 miles is all electric powered, getting 98 MPGs.”

Chevrolet also offers an all-electric $18,000 Spark EV hatchback with incentives.

“It is essential,” said Steve Ellis, manager of Fuel Cell Vehicle Sales and Marketing of American Honda Motor Company. “[Honda is] biased to zero emissions electric vehicles.”

Today’s consumers have been realizing the longterm savings available with fuel-efficient vehicles.

“The cost advantage must be there for today’s customer,” said John O’Dell, senior editor of Fuel Efficiency and Green Cars Edmunds website.

There are several different types of offers giving budget-minded customers real choices. The Nissan Leaf seats five adults with a base model priced at $20,000 after incentives.

“The Nissan Leaf doesn’t pollute,” said Paul Scott, Leaf specialist at Nissan of Downtown LA. “It uses 100 percent domestic energy from sunlight falling on your roof.”

Consumers save $2 per gallon driving a natural gas vehicle such as a Honda Civic natural gas vehicle, said Charles Haas, senior market adviser of Clean Transportation, Low Emission Vehicle, Southern California Gas Company.

“It drives just like a regular gasoline vehicle, but you’re saving money every month,” said Haas.

He also said that policymakers and car manufacturers should broaden what is defined as a natural gas vehicle.

“We brought out four bi-fuel prototype vehicles,” said Haas. “They run on compressed natural gas, as well as gasoline. It provides confidence to the driver that they have that back fuel, as well.”

Alternative fuel vehicles go back 100 years, said Mark Sanford of Petersen Automotive Museum. He said the museum has a 1917 Detroit Electric car on display that is fully electric.

But some of the energy-efficient and clean-gas vehicles may seem pricey to some.

“The cost difference tends to go away in 2040,” said Enid Joffe, president co-founder of Clean Fuel Connection Incorporated.

Joffe said she sees a commitment to saving energy and cleaning up the environment compared to 30 years ago.

“There are millions of people working on the next technology because whoever discovers it is an instant billionaire, so I’m very excited when I meet with these people at Cal Tech, or some of these research institutions,” Jon H. Coleman, fleet sustainability and technology manager of Ford Motor Company. “Someone’s going to crack the code.”

Santa Monica’s continuous advertising and featured events about pollution and sustainability have so far reflected the city’s effort to improving the environment and lowering energy costs.