4th annual AltCar Expo showcases alternative rides

Brian Watt does the Tango alone.
Brian Watt does the Tango alone.
Daisy Nguyen

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The 4th annual AltCar Expo started today at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. KPCC’s Brian Watt stopped by to survey everything that runs on anything…but oil.

Brian Watt: At an expo focused on vehicles, the seduction begins in the parking lot.

Rick Woodbury: Yeah, world’s fastest urban car. This is the only car that can lane split. According to 59 police officers, it can drive between the lanes like a motorcycle. It’s five inches narrower than a goldwing and it’s the same width as a police motorbike.

Watt: That’s Rick Woodbury rolling by in a narrow, blaze-orange battery-powered box he calls the Tango. It takes two… passengers only…riding single file …and it costs 108-thousand dollars. It’s competing for attention with other nifty rides of all colors, shapes and sizes. Not to mention some pretty normal-looking hydrogen fuel-cell sedans like the Honda FCX Clarity. Steve Ellis works for Honda in Torrance.

Steve Ellis: It’s a zero emission car. You can refill it in 3-5 minutes and go another 200-220 miles. It gets the equivalent of like 60 miles per gallon.

Watt: But you have to refill it a hydrogen fuel station. There aren’t many of those yet, but the car’s GPS system will find the nearest one – in this case, close by in West LA. Ellis offered me a ride.

(Car door closes.)

Watt: There was plenty of room inside for my 6’2” frame and…this baby moves…

(Car accelerates.)

Watt: You know, the pick-up on this thing is pretty good.

Ellis: It has V-6 like torque and acceleration. I think it’s an example of just how far we’ve come with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. We had a customer that gave us some feedback and I said, well, how do you like the car? And she said, well, I feel like I’m driving a car from the Jetsons and everyone else is driving one from the Flintstones.

Watt: That customer is one of a dozen people in the Southland who drives one. The Clarity is not for sale yet. It’s available for lease, at 600 dollars a month. I asked Ellis about the challenge of creating the infrastructure that could make cars like his operable everywhere.

Ellis: I say we have to turn that type of thinking around and move it to: the opportunity for America, for society is the infrastructure. When we’re really serious about moving off of oil, reducing our dependence on oil, cleaning up the environment. We’ll put the effort into building a network of stations.

Watt: Ellis acknowledged that this technology is running the early stages of what willl likely be a marathon.