Who Didn't Kill The Electric Car?
Tuesday, as the Edina theater marquee asked Who Killed The Electric Car? and gas station marquees hailed the highest gas prices in the history of the Twin Cities ($3.105 for unleaded), I turned the ignition key on one of the few known electric cars in the state, clicked the switch on the control panel to "reverse" and put my foot on the accelerator as the vehicle's owner, Pete Bonahoom, nervously cautioned, "Just remember, this is a $25,000 car."
Not to mention the future of everything, chick magnet, tonic for the troops, dude magnet, the answer to all our problems, kid magnet, hope for the planet, motorcyclist magnet, the only way to go, skateboarder magnet, big fun, and, as one slack-jawed Earth-loving cat with an Amoeba Records Hollywood T-shirt on Lake Street put it, "a very sweet ride."
(Left) Pizza Galactic brothers Greg and Pete (foreground) Bonahoom, and (right) the Myers Motors sweet ride.
Bonahoom, 28, is the owner of Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis. The two-year-old restaurant is best known for its superhero-costumed delivery people, and it got Hummer-sized press in early June when one of its superheroes nabbed a purse snatcher. But perhaps most importantly, Bonahoom and Galactic is the owner of three electric cars – three-wheel buggies that can be seen tooling all over south Minneapolis – that would be the envy of all the former electric car owners in California who lament the General Motors-big oil-feds-led hit on their beloved EV1s in Who Killed The Electric Car?
Bonahoom bought his vehicles from NevCo, a now-defunct Eugene, Oregon company, who came out with an electric car in 1999 and went under last year. "No one else (in Minnesota) has these. They only made 38 of them, and I have four," says Bonahoom, a former stock trader for Piper-Jaffray. "I freaked out when I looked at the people around me and saw where that whole path would take me; it was just after 9/11 and the world was entering this super-chaotic state," he says, explaining how he embarked on his organic business and came to buy the cars, dubbed Gizmos, for under $12,000 each.
"I didn't want to be pissed at myself on my deathbed, and hate what I'd been doing. I started learning the whole concept of socially-responsible business, and thought it was something that needed to be worked on," says Bonahoom, sitting at his neat timecard-strewn desk in the back of the Galactic kitchen. He's wearing a "Dy-No-Mite" T-shirt and a glazed look, due to an exhausting week that has seen business spike due to the purse snatcher press, and news that one of his drivers was in a serious hit-and-run motorcycle accident the night before.
"One of the major impacts that pizza restaurants have on the environment is that you drive crappy cars everywhere and spew out emissions and all that," he says. "So I just Googled `electric car' and found a few different choices, and went with the Gizmo for various reasons – price being the biggest. Plus, they're really unique-looking. The other one we have now is stylish, but (the three) Gizmos are funny, and I'd rather have humor in the business than style."
Because it's easier to drive (the Gizmos are driven with two hand-controlled brakes and accelerator sticks), Bonahoom suggests I take for a spin the stylish one: A sleek blue version from Myers Motors that comes with the standard steering wheel and floor brake and accelerator. The car was given to Galactic as a promotional tool after someone at Myers saw a national TV story on the purse snatcher.
Bonahoom takes me out to the back parking lot, where his brother Greg is working on the vehicles. The Myers car's fuel "tank" is hooked up to a generator, which is attached to the car's battery. Pete pulls the hose out of the tank, and says the car can run for a couple hours per charge, but that he wants it back after 30 minutes because he needs it for deliveries. The car can reach 75 miles per hour, but its internal computer is set to not exceed 45, because Bonahoom doesn't want anyone flipping it.
I pull out of the Galactic back lot and onto Garfield Avenue. After gingerly making my way up the one-way, I ease out onto Lake Street and, with SUVs and other monster trucks whizzing past and bearing down, I feel like a go-cart at Elko Speedway. I cruise down Lyndale, picking up speed and confidence as I go. At every intersection I find myself silently idling at, I have conversations with strangers. People of all ages on the street wave and point and smile; the ones who don't wear expressions that suggest they want to drive it, own it, know what it is.
Look, I test-drove a Hummer a couple years ago, and it wasn't nearly as much fun as this. Driving the H2, I pretty much felt like a dick, and the one thing I remember is that it had a great radio (the electric car has a decent CD player), and what the salesman told me as we drove around a man-made lake in Arden Hills: "When you come up to an intersection, they all stop for you. They want you to go first. They want to watch you. And there's a fear factor, too." It did not charm me, nor did it inspire thumbs-ups, or a couple of electric youth on bikes to yell, as they did just past Lakewood Cemetery, "Oh, that's sick!" Nor did it come with this quote from Romans, which Myers Motors has on its promotional materials: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
One of the main points of Who Killed The Electric Car? is that General Motors never marketed the electric car the way every car in America has been: as a sex symbol. Save for a brief love affair with a 1970 T-Bird with suicide doors and an eight-track tape player, I have never owned a sex machine, but trust me: Hotties of all stripes like electric cars. Sure, some of the more conventional can't-be-bothereds look at you like you're a little boy in a Rickshaw and like your manhood-car thing isn't even in the running, but plenty of others – say, the blissed-out runner at Lake Calhoun's North Beach – look at you with a wry smile that says she knows that the "All Electric!!" sign on the side of the car goes for what's inside the hood and in the cockpit.
After 30 minutes of electricity, I reluctantly return the car to Galactic, on Lyndale and 28th. I get back into my emissions-belching beast and drive home. No one looks at me. I am Clark Kent, no longer saving the world or making a better future for the children. But, as with the last three minutes of Who Killed The Electric Car?, I come away hopeful. Hopeful that someday soon, the bums who run oil–slicked civilization will be out of power, and common-sense stuff like the electric car will no longer be the vehicle of choice for solely superheroes and dreamers.
"Most people don't even know the electric car is an option," says Bonahoom. "My whole goal is to influence other businesses to do what I'm doing. That way, not only am I doing stuff, but I'm spreading it."
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