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Businessman wants to put electric cars in Mid-Valley

Store owner says his products are quiet and cut down on fuel costs

November 1, 2005

Larry Dye wants to spark a change on Salem's streets.

His electric-vehicle dealership sells cars that make almost no noise, give off no emissions and eliminate trips to the gas station.

Electric Wheels Inc. opened its showroom at 1555 12th St. SE last month. Beside cars and trucks, the business sells electric scooters and bicycles that pedal themselves.

Emissions from gas-powered vehicles are "dirty and miserable," Dye said. "Electric vehicles are clean, smooth and quiet."

But they're not perfect. Almost all of the cars and trucks that Dye carries are "Neighborhood Electric Vehicles," low-speed vehicles that can't legally go faster than 25 mph. Oregon and 36 other states have laws allowing NEVs to be driven on roads with 35-mph speeds or lower, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

"You don't want to be in a 25-mph vehicle on a 50-mph road," said David House, an Oregon DMV spokesman. "That's dangerous."

And watch your back when lifting the store's electric bikes. They weigh 75 pounds.

A wide array of electric vehicles -- some resembling Humvees, others that look like Volkswagen Beetles -- can be ordered through the dealership. The business's showroom now features two sporty roadsters, three trucks and several electric scooters and bikes. All are new.

Fewer than 1,000 electric cars are on the road statewide, House said. They are registered and titled like any other vehicle, and people who operate them must have a driver's license.

But electric vehicles are becoming more popular. About 55,900 electric vehicles were estimated to be in use nationwide in 2004, 22 percent more than in 2003, U.S. Department of Energy data show.

Dye decided to open the business after visiting Celebration, Fla., a town developed by an arm of The Walt Disney Co., where he says most vehicles are electric. NEVs are used in U.S. military installations and by Palm Springs, Calif., police in enclosed neighborhoods, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

Dye said he hopes Salem residents looking for relief from high fuel prices will go electric.

What kind of people would buy an electric car?

"It's the second-vehicle theory," said Pete Poli, Electric Wheels' general manager. Although most people need faster, gasoline-powered vehicles for highway and other uses, Poli said, the low-speed electric vehicles are appropriate for picking up children from school and other errands around town.

"I have zero trouble keeping up with traffic in downtown Salem," Dye said.

Jack Howard, 45, a cook at Oregon State Hospital, visited Electric Wheels' showroom because he's worried about high gas prices.

"For just in town, you could save a lot of money on gas just to go back and forth to work," he said.

Howard was impressed by the space the trucks in the showroom had for hauling things. He plans to buy an electric vehicle someday but wants technology to improve so they will go faster.

At full levels, a roadster's battery powers it for nearly 50 miles. It can be recharged in about seven or eight hours.

Roadsters cost about $9,500. Vehicles at the dealership come from a variety of manufacturers, including Dynasty Electric Car Corp. of Canada and e-ride Industries of Princeton, Minn.

Dye said electric vehicles would benefit businesses because they are eligible for a $750 state tax credit and a federal tax credit for 10 percent of the vehicle cost. Insurance costs also are less than for a typical car, and maintenance usually involves replacing battery water, he said.

The vehicles make so little noise that they have warning signals that sound when driven in reverse, Dye said.

Since he received his dealer's license this summer, Dye has sold several scooters, four bikes, two roadsters and a truck, he said. Most buyers have been "environmentally conscious people who are sick and tired of paying gas prices," Dye said.




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