“One electric motorcycle, called the ‘Killacycle,’ goes from zero to sixty in one second,” says Paul Thomas, organizer of the Kick Gas Festival, an electric-car-racing and eco-fair event being held at the Barona Drag Strip this weekend.
“Electric cars are not as expensive as people think,” he adds. According to Plug In America, an organization that promotes electric vehicles, the cost of electricity needed to power a car equates to about 83 cents per gallon.
“A majority of the cars [racing] will be cars that have been converted from gasoline-powered vehicles,” says Bill Hammons, former president of the Electric Vehicle Association of San Diego. “ICE stands for internal combustion engine; we like to refer to our cars as a car with no internal combustion engine, or a NICE car. We convert ice to nice.”
Though almost any car can be converted, Hammons says some models are better suited for running solely on batteries. “An SUV is a big box — it doesn’t push through the wind all that well, and the aerodynamics are not that great. We have a 1933 Rolls-Royce that was converted, and there’s a guy converting a Cadillac. A Miata is a nice car to convert.”
The Electric Vehicle Association held a two-week workshop this summer, during which students converted a Volkswagen Beetle. The process, Hammons says, is “pretty elementary.” He says the toughest part about vehicle conversion is “getting away from the TV for two hours a day and doing it.”
Regarding the cost, Hammons says, “When I got my first electric car in 1998 [a Chevrolet S-10 compact pickup], I was spending $25 a week. I’ve been told that gas has gone up since then.”
To bring an electric car from no-charge to full-charge can take up to eight hours. “It takes me about two seconds to charge my car — just stick the plug in the outlet,” says Hammons. “You don’t drive it until you’re empty and then charge it up, you drive it until you get where you’re going and then you top it up. In a lot of ways it’s similar to a cell phone — you don’t wait for it to disconnect. Keep the batteries happy, and they keep you happy. Common batteries are happier when they’re more than 50 percent charged.”
In many ways, electric vehicles are simpler than conventional ones. “There’s no smog inspection for vehicles registered as electric with the DMV; tags are cheaper, no oil changes, no belts. A conventional car has over 1000 intricate moving parts that move in every direction imaginable. An electric car has one moving part — that’s the motor. Just like a motor on a fan, it never breaks down,” says Hammons.
Despite the advantages of electric, Hammons currently drives a hybrid SUV. “I used to have an electric car and a gas car — what I did was get rid of those and got a hybrid [Ford Escape].” One of the reasons he chose a hybrid as his sole car is that it will allow him to drive long distances (few electric cars can travel more than 100 miles between charges).
“A conventional Ford Escape gets about 18 miles per gallon; the hybrid gets 31 miles per gallon. Hopefully, by adding electric power to the rear wheels, I’ll get up to 60 miles per gallon.”
Because they are high-efficiency vehicles, electric cars tend to have more power than those that run on gasoline. “We’ve been going down to the drag strip for years, beating gas cars,” says Hammons. “In a conventional car, you turn the key and that engages the starter, and that starter engages the motor, and that’s where all the torque is. In an electric car, you just switch on the motor. This 1933 Rolls-Royce we’ve converted, [the owner] drove it until the parts wore thin — they just wore out like a sewing machine.”
Restoring the parts would have cost $40,000. “So he converted it to electric, and once he did, it ran much better than a gas car. Then he had to go in and beef up the brakes because we couldn’t stop the thing.”
The relative silence of electric cars can present a problem. “When I drive down the street and a pedestrian is in front of me, they usually don’t know I’m there until they catch me in the corner of their eye,” says Hammons.
According to one study conducted at University of California Riverside, pedestrians must be 40 percent closer to a hybrid than a conventional vehicle before they hear it. Lawmakers will soon vote on a bill — presented by the National Federation of the Blind — that will require the Department of Transportation to ensure all hybrids and electric vehicles are more audible.
Hammons, having grown accustomed to both the silence and zero emissions of his electric vehicle, says that when he attends races that involve gasoline-powered cars, “I can’t hear or breathe for days afterwards.”
Kick Gas Festival
Sunday, October 12
Barona Drag Strip
1750 Wildcat Canyon Road
Cost: $15 (includes Saturday-night camping and concert)
Info: 858-412-4935 or www.kickgasfestival.com