Saturday, November 26, 2005

Xebra and Obvio at SF Auto Show

Suddenly we have an affordable electric car on the scene. For just under $9,000, the Xebra claimed to carry four people and get up to 40 mph with a 40-mile range. Could it be true? I had to see for myself. Zapworld, the Santa Rosa electric scooter company made the paper with its display of the new electric Xebra at the San Francisco International auto show this week.

Like the Sparrow it has three wheels and registers as a motorcycle. I asked how many batteries it had. Six, said the sales rep, but didn't offer to show me the car. The doors were locked so couldn't even get in the car. In fact, after talking to my EV buddy Mark Geller, I agreed with him that the cars weren't real. The body panels looked like painted over plaster of Paris.

The sales person gave me a card to register for a test drive and disappeared before I could ask any more questions. They're not offering a test drive until January and only in certain obscure cities. We think that they're generating publicity for the car in order to lure investors. This is their pattern, but they haven't managed to come through with an actual product yet, just scooters. They've been struggling to get the Smart car imported for two years now. The sales person said that the EPA was holding it up which means that it doesn't meet emission standards. I had heard that it didn't meet crash test standards.

The more interesting car was the Obvio. With its wing doors and wild color scheme, it was eliciting more interest than the Xebra. This was not a working vehicle either. Zap claims to be working with a Brazilian company to bring this car to market. It is a trybrid; able to run on gas, alcohol or electric, but the sales person, a different one, couldn't tell me whether all three systems would exist in one car. An interesting feature was the front seat, which can accommodate three people in a row. Perfect for the ménage a trois. Another whimsical feature was that a Boblbee backpack is supposed to snap onto the dashboard. They had the backpacks on the rear window deck, but I didn't see how they attached to the dashboard.

With electric vehicles struggling to find investors, the EV community feels that the plug-in hybrid will be the technology that brings back the electric car because once people realize how easy it is to plug in and how little they actually use the gas engine in the hybrid, they may simply opt for an electric car for their around town runabout.

Triple A allowed our CalCars team to show the plug-in Prius to the public. They had a display titled "Alternatives that Empower" and "Could Your Choice of Car Change the World?" The alternatives were natural gas, hybrids and hydrogen. To their credit they did explain that the making of hydrogen causes more emissions than if you were to use fossil fuels directly.