A Minnesota mechanic is touting the viability of electric vehicles at the State Fair.
Stewart Roberts, who owns The Foreign Service repair shop in Roseville, is displaying a black 2003 Ford Ranger at the fairgrounds, which he's converted to 100 percent electric power.
The truck sports a new wax job and a bunch of slogans painted on the shiny surface, such as "100-percent electric vehicle conversion" and "40-miles per charge," a rough approximation of how far you can travel on a charge.
"And it says 'no more blood for oil,' a little political statement there," Roberts said. "That's on the gas door. And look at that, there's a gas cap there, but if you take the gas cap off, you can see the ground down there."
"And stacked up on top of that," Roberts continues, "is the controller, that allows you to apply the throttle and have a normal acceleration rate. And then there's various controls for generating 12-volt power to run the lights, the heater, the windshield wipers and things like that, that you need on a normal vehicle. And sitting on top of all that, because it's kind of neat-looking, is the battery charger."
Also under the hood are three big 12-volt lead-acid batteries. Nine more are in the truck bed, taking up a little more than a quarter of the cargo space.
Roberts converted the truck for Todd Seabury-Kolod. The truck cost $3,000 used, plus another $15,000 for the conversion.
"I like to think of myself as a mild-mannered person, but I seem to be overcome with this mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it-anymore feeling," Kolod said.
He's mad because the technology to make an electric truck like this has been around for more than twenty years, but he says the big automakers and the government have ignored the potential of electric vehicles.
"You get $4,500 for Cash for Clunkers but you don't get one penny for an electric conversion like this," he said.
Since the conversion, Kolod's electric bill is going up, but he thinks his overall costs will go down.
"Especially with gas prices hovering at around $2.50, there is a little bit of savings, but I think more importantly, the carbon footprint is less, and that's probably what I care most about," he said.
Studies show that, even factoring in the coal-fired power plants producing the electricity, electric cars put out about 25 percent less global warming pollution than gasoline cars.
That climate change advantage will improve as we add more wind power to our electric energy mix. Roberts says electric vehicles can help even out the demand for electricity.
"We can be charging our batteries for our electric cars at night when there's surplus of electricity; we can also be turning on chargers during the day if it's a windy day and there's a surplus of wind energy."
It takes eight to ten hours on standard household current to fully charge the batteries. That'll get you 35 to 40 miles the next day.
The truck rides smooth, and very quiet. Roberts says the truck will go 70 miles an hour, but he doesn't recommend it.
"It's really not a good idea to drive at high speeds because it's not good for the batteries. And there's no reason to; it's an around-the-town vehicle, where our speed limits are all 60, maybe 65 at the most."
This is his second conversion project. He says it's easy to convert trucks, because it's obvious where to put the batteries.
The Ford Ranger and a bunch of other electric cars are on display at the State Fair. There are other conversions, and a couple of cars made to be electric at the factory.