SEMA: Ed Begley Jr. says SEMA can help with electric vehicle's image problem

Surrounded by millions of fossil-fuel-thirsty horsepower in the great hall of SEMA, Ed Begley Jr., the reigning poster boy of environmental activists, asked himself, "The electric vehicle rally was last month. Burning man has come and gone, what are you doing here?"

Heeding the advice of Michael Corleone (Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer), Begley was promoting the Phoenix Motorcars sport-utility truck and seeking SEMA guidance in the cool factor.

"SEMA has style, innovation and engineering," said Begley. "We need SEMA. We need to work with all the aftermarket to give style to this vehicle. That's what's been lacking in electric vehicles."

Begley touted the benefits of electric vehicles and hybrids, focusing on the economic benefits. "Forget about the environment," he said, noting that it cost him $12 to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. "It fits my pocketbook."

The Phoenix SUT is based on a rolling platform from an undisclosed Korean automaker. It's fitted with a 200-horsepower Enova motor and powered by Altairnano NanoSafe rechargeable nano-titanate batteries. Altairnano says this technology has advantages over traditional lithium ion batteries, the least of which is generating less heat. The company also says the battery can handle thousands more recharging cycles, so durability and battery life are much longer. The Phoenix SUT is designed with a range of 100 miles and can be recharged in 10 minutes with a fast charger. Otherwise, it takes about 7 hours with a conventional outlet. Top speed in the 3,800-pound truck is 95 mph. The GVWR is 4,800 pounds, which gives the SUT a 1,000-pound payload.

Dan Reigert of Phoenix says fleet operators are the first target as the vehicle starts with a planned 500-unit production in 2007. Vehicles are currently assembled by Boshart Engineering in Southern California. If the technology can be transferred effectively to Korea, production could expand to 6,000 the following year and ultimately to to 100,000 by 2010. Initial starting price is $45,000 but Reigert says the gasoline equivalent operating cost is 30 cents to a gallon of gasoline.

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