Strange cars, new tech: Hello, Green Drive Expo

Luscious Garage brought in a hand-painted Prius hybrid which it converted to a plug-in. You can see the layers of batteries in the trunk.

Luscious Garage brought in a hand-painted Prius hybrid which it converted to a plug-in. You can see the layers of batteries in the trunk.

Biodegradable, soybean foam, coconuts: are these words that say “car” to you? They would be if you caught the Green Drive Expo at Craneway Pavilion Saturday.

The Bay Area’s first eco-friendly car showcase for consumers gave people the chance to talk to manufacturers and owners of green cars and find out for themselves how practical these vehicles are.

“The point of the show is really about education and dispelling some of the rumors, because there still is — after the ten years that hybrid cars have been around — just so much misinformation,” said Eric Powers, the founder and manager of the expo.

Ford, which showed off four of its “green” vehicles, had a produce stand to get people wondering what coconuts, soybeans and beets have to do with cars.

There were several companies offering plug-in conversions for Prius hybrids.

“In many of our vehicles, the seats are made partially out of soy-foam, which eliminates a great deal of petroleum when making the foam inside the seats” said Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Moore. “We’re also constantly looking at fibers like wheat straw that can be made into plastics that are sustainable and durable, and more biodegradable.”

Among the innovative cars on display, Think City garnered attention for its small, two-seater, zero-emissions car. What else makes it so unique? The body is made out of plastic. The Nissan Leaf attracted a crowd, especially around its backside, as it has no tailpipe.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin test drove the all-electric Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid.

Drivers could test the torque on more than ten vehicles—some of which haven’t hit showrooms yet—through the streets around Craneway Pavilion. Prius-owner and Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin took the all-electric Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) for a spin.

“It’s really the way to go, it was so much fun and so quiet,” McLaughlin said as she stepped out of the vehicle. She said the size of the car surprised her, as she had expected the electric cars to be more like the Toyota Prius Plug-In (PHEV) rather than the Ford crossover SUV she had just driven.

The plug-in Prius is not available in car dealerships yet, but companies like San Francisco-based Luscious Garage can do it for you.

Luscious owner and lead technician Carolyn Coquillette said her company replaces the battery, rather than adding onto the original battery pack.

With the new larger battery, she said, the kitted plug-ins could drive up to 70 mph on all-electric power. The cars have roughly a 25-mile range before they need to be plugged in.

Several do-it-yourself car buffs had their own eco-friendly car solutions.

Two years ago, Patrick Mackey took a Miata with a blown engine and rebuilt the engine so that the car ran on electricity. It is quick off the line and can hit up to 93 miles-per-hour.

Patrick Mackey, a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond, was showing off his electric Mazda Miata.

“I had a ’68 Mustang with a big V8 (engine) in it,” Mackey said. “Our garage is right underneath our house so every time I would fire that thing up you would smell it for a few hours. So I started thinking about that and saw ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘Who Killed the Electric Car’ and started researching how to make an electric car.”

Mackey says his Miata is quick off the line, can hit 93 mph, and goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 11 seconds. He now has a company called EV Miata, which sells electric conversion kits. Though he’s obviously a fan of electric cars, he says people should think about what they need from a car when deciding to go electric.

“You have to think about where you’re going to go, how far you need to go and where you’re going to charge and drive it,” he said. “I use my car as the commuter,” Mackey said. “I wanted a fast little car; I didn’t want to be in a golf cart.”

Frank Bletsch shows off his invention, the Joe Car. The three-wheeled electric motorcycle is made mostly from surplus components.

Not everything at the expo was car-centric. There were also electric motorcycles, scooters, and regular and electric bikes. Frank Bletsch built a “Joe Car”, a three-wheeled contraption classified as a three-wheeled motorcycle that looked compact, boxy, and a little alien.

“It’s electric and designed for city speeds, 40 miles-per-hour and it’s got a 20-mile range,” he said. “It’s completely my own design and I did most of the fabrication. It’s built with a lot of surplus components, motorcycle wheels from eBay and aluminum from metal yards.”

“When I was a kid, there was a cartoon character that had a three-wheeled bicycle with a house on the back and I thought, ‘God, I want to make something like that.’”

Though the expo was a good place to see green cars, car aficianados still have to wait for the eco-friendly Porsche Carrera RSR.

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