Wayne Garver's '71

Kids love Wayne's Beetle

By Ron Erb and Carol Cole, Gateway EV

 The St. Louis Auto Dealers Association hosted EAA local chapter Gateway EV Club at the St. Louis car show January 27-30, 2011. The annual event draws hundreds of thousands of attendees, and this year, it offered many their first opportunity to see and ride in an electric vehicle.

Of the 500 cars, trucks and SUVs on display at the Americas Center Convention Complex, six electric and hybrid offerings from Nissan, Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota were available for rides in a special section of the complex designated as the EcoCity, a “green” exhibition area where Gateway EV club members displayed seven of their vehicles.

EcoCity sprouted native trees, grasses and a fanciful representation of St. Louis-area landmarks surrounded by an automotive test track. There, dealers ferried attendees in the latest electric and hybrid models, alongside Gateway EV Club members, who chauffeured guests in a ’71 MG, a ’71 VW Bug, an ’87 BMW 325i convertible, a factory Toyota Rav4 EV, and a Prius Plug-in with an A123 extended battery pack.

One of the club’s most popular and reliable conversions, Wayne Garver’s VW Bug, attracted a long line of riders during the four-day event. “Just before the show closed on Sunday, I took two very excited

boys, about 8-10 years old, for a ride in my VW,” Garver said. “They had their cell phones and were taking pictures and videos of every thing – the inside, the outside – while we were riding. They were

impressed that it is possible to have a practical electric car today. I think the young people are really on the bandwagon for electric vehicles.”

Gateway EV members’ many successful conversions result from months, and in some cases, years of hard work and personal expense. Member Jeff Dale proudly circled the EcoCity landscape with his BMW 325i convertible filled with amazed guests. The black bimmer only recently took to the road. Jeff made the St. Louis Post Dispatch recently, explaining that the area’s lack of a refueling infrastructure hampers his EV use. That was not the case at the convention center, where a 220-volt charging station enabled Jeff to accommodate a steady stream of enthusiastic riders on the EcoCity test track.

Jeff's '87 Bimmer Convertible

Jeff Dale proudly chauffeured Auto Show visitors around EcoCity

George Mollenhoff had bought a 1991 GMC S-15 pickup with a Warfield Warp 9 Series Wound DC motor, a Curtis controller and 24, 6-volt Trojan lead-acid batteries. He enjoyed his purchase so much that he joined with Ron Erb to found the local EV club after hearing Erb interviewed on KMOX radio. The Gateway club has more than a dozen other conversions currently underway or completed and slated for exhibition at upcoming events.

“Gateway EV members presented their cars and views to a more diverse crowd than usual,” said club Vice President Ron Erb. “Most events the club attends attract an environmentally conscious demographic. The St. Louis Auto Show draws from the general public, many of whom had never seen an electric car, let alone ridden in one.”

To make that first experience a smooth and rewarding one, Erb and St. Louis Auto Dealers Association Executive Vice President Chris Adelmann worked together from November until the first of the show’s attendees arrived at the event (see related story). Adelmann noted attendance increased 25 percent this year.

“Public response was unprecedented. Going green is a powerful market force, you can expect an even larger, more expansive EcoCity next year,” said Kurt Mungenast, St. Louis Auto Show committee chairman.

Show-goers jammed EcoCity to see a 2008 Tesla Roadster and a 1975 CitiCar also on display. Club member Kyle Feller found the mint-condition CitiCar in a barn in Tennessee and brought it home to St. Louis just in time for the auto show.

The Tesla, owned by club members Dr. Marc Clemente and Dr. Teresa Knight, dazzled onlookers with its style as well as its ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds on silent, battery power with zero tailpipe emissions.

Club members fielded show-goers’ questions about battery power, range and recharging.

“People are also concerned about where to charge a vehicle when away from home,” observed Larry Kinder, President of LilyPad EV, a distributor of Coulomb Electric Vehicle charging stations and an EcoCity exhibitor.

“As such, our job is to ensure the development of publicly available as well as private charging infrastructure. We sell charging stations to shopping centers, theaters, parking garages and employers to help ensure that drivers have a place to charge their vehicle when away from home.”