Alternative energy is cooking! It is time to convert your vegetable oil to biodeisel, siphon your barbeque propane for the family car, simmer corn into ethanol, soak up Mr. Sunlight with your photovoltaics, or simply tune in, turn on, and PLUG IN – the second annual Alternative Energy and Transportation Expo (AltCar Expo) landed last Friday and Saturday at Santa Monica Airport. Thousands attended the show, eager to reduce their carbon “tire track,” and the Expo attracted an army of hard-core carbon clobberers, green gearheads, and the just plain eco-curious under two days of brilliant Southern California nuclear powered sunshine.
“We thought Friday might not be too crowded,” noted show organizer Christine Dzilvelis as she surveyed a jam-packed noon first-day crowd at Barker Hangar. (Dzilvelis is a pioneer of such shows, with roots back to alternative vehicle shows at the California Science Center nearly two decades ago.) Indeed, judging by both exhibitor participation and the public’s overwhelming response, divorcing our wheels from so-called “dinosaur wine” (a term coined by humorist Kinky Friedman) is one hot topic in Greenville-by-the-Bay.
“Santa Monica has become a leader in alternative transportation,” noted Mayor Richard Bloom at an invitation-only VIP reception at the Pier on Thursday evening. “Eighty percent of the city’s fleet is alternative technology vehicles.”
In general, the many green machines at the Friday-Saturday Expo seemed to divide into three groups. There was the small, two wheel stuff, including: a motorized Razor-type scooter (“Motorboard”); electric-assist bikes; Segways; and the street-ready super slick Vectrix electric maxi-scooter. A second group of vehicles were one-of-a-kind “exotica.” For the salt flat racing crowd there was the 245 mph “White Lightening” needle- shaped battery tray racer and for the dirt crowd an electric sprint car. For the nostalgic and/or still-angry Hollywood greenies, Petersen Automotive Museum loaned the display of the now-banished EV1. (Despair no longer celebs, word on the street is that GM is rebounding with the all-electric VOLT.)
The third genre was the serious, potentially mass-produced “Al Gore league paradigm shifter” alternative fuel vehicles that can get a commuter from the Antelope Valley to Santa Monica and home on the same day. Helping to sort out all the alternatives (at least for this visitor), Honda’s exhibit offered their vision of a progression of emerging green machines, and while Honda’s list excluded two major technologies – all-electric cars and flex fuel – it included four others. First is the extremely efficient internal combustion engine. Second is a hybrid gas-electric, which should be music to the ears of the many pious parishioners of the Church of Prius. (AltCar Expo included one aftermarket plug-in Prius on display that claims 100 mpg. Go to pluginconversions.com for details.) Penultimate on Honda’s list is propane. And the real pot of gold at the end of the green rainbow is hydrogen. Hydrogen is here. Hyundai, Toyota, Daimler-Chrysler, and Honda each displayed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at AltCar Expo, the latter two being operational, including Honda’s FCX that is already being tested in the city fleets of Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
True to Mayor Bloom’s commitment, one can only hope that the AltCar Expo returns next year, in part to help Mother Earth, but also local industry. Seems that one company on display, Miles Electric Vehicles, is based right at the Santa Monica Airport. Miles imports Chinese-built electric cars and trucks on Daihatsu platforms with a range of 60 miles and top speed of 35 mph. Their market niche may be small for now, but then a previous transportation manufacturer at SM airport was named Douglas and they ended up building the DC3, at the time the most successful airplane ever.