With well-known car makers like Chevy and Nissan rolling out their latest in stylish electric vehicles, it seems the industry is finally starting to get a foothold in the car market.

On a small Island like Bermuda, an electric vehicle is suitable for our short trips, with many of the vehicles being able to make a trip across the Island up to three times, and often further, before needing to be plugged in.

Under the hood of the Island E Car where some of the 10 12-volt batteries are stored.

And when it comes to electric bikes, they could be the answer to some of our most hotly contested issues including noise and even lowering the rates of accidents.

Andrew Vaucrosson, president of Greenrock, has tested three electric bikes and is currently riding the ZEV 4100, which was brought in by Kevin Lanthier.

On a quick test drive of this latest model, which is currently one of the bestselling electric bikes in the US, there are a number of differences that stood out from driving a gas scooter.

Andrew Vaucrosson's ZEV 4100 electric bike.Andrew Vaucrosson's ZEV 4100 electric bike.Firstly, the lack of noise. The bike turns on like a charm and whizzes around with out the typical gas scooter sound.

Secondly, is getting used to the idea of "coasting". While with gas bikes you need to keep the throttle on, the electric bike needs only one shot of power every now and again. This resulted in a bit of a jerky ride for an electric bike novice, but over time would make for a much more relaxing ride.

"I like to think of this bike as the difference between a motorboat and a sailboat," says Mr Vaucrosson. "Like a sailboat the electric bike is a far more quieter and more relaxing ride."

The bike also benefits from having very few parts and, without reliance on oil, there is no need for oil changes. Emissions testing at TCD is also a breeze as the electric bike creates zero emissions.

"There's a novelty to the electric bike that would make it great for tourists," says Mr Vaucrosson. "There's also the fact that there's little waste, few parts to steal and no chance of leg burns. There's also the safety side of it, in that if the break is applied the bike automatically shuts off, so there's less chance of throttling, which often results in accidents."

The market still has a ways to go, however, in terms of becoming completely consumer friendly.

Mr Vaucrosson admits that the battery technology is still evolving.

"There is a movement towards standardising the batteries so that it will be like walking into the shop and buying double A batteries for any flashlight."

While Michael Burke supplies several electric vehicles, including cars, mopeds, bicycles and trucks, through his company greenhousebermuda.com, he realises that he still must provide a broad range of Green products as he could not survive on electric vehicles alone.

He adds that he'd like to see more Government action in terms of getting people thinking about changing to electric vehicles.

"People are not going to change unless they are asked to change," he says. "Government needs to play their part, without Government intervention, no changes can be made."

Rebates and tax incentives such as those provided for solar panels, would help, he says. But he believes that not many people are aware of the rebates available to them.

"The people who are getting solar panels are interested in getting them, so I don't really know how many people know about the rebates," he says.

While duty is zero percent for electric vehicles, he says that reducing licence fees for electric vehicles while increasing fees on vehicles that are known to produce higher amounts of emissions may encourage more people to buy electric.

Mr Burke, who carries a line of electric trucks, says the vehicles would make a great option for company fleets.

"It can give people an idea of how the vehicles work on the Island," he explains.

Turning to Green transportation could also benefit tourism, he adds.

"There are no emissions and the vehicles would benefit the Island in general. We should be taking a page out of other countries' books. Making the Island green and sustainable would see more people making decisions to travel here. More people are making decisions about where they travel based on how sustainable the country is," he explains.

The electric vehicle market is definitely something the Government, particularly the Department of Energy, has been talking about, says Jeane Nikolai, Department of Energy director, when the Green Pages met with her team to discuss the current situation.

While there is certainly movement happening in the market, there is still work that needs to be done in order for electric vehicles to take off in Bermuda, she says.

"Our attitude towards cars needs to be one of the first things that changes," Mrs Nikolai says. "We have a very North American value towards cars and the current mindset is that it doesn't matter how much it costs to drive. We need to shift that mindset to smaller, more efficient cars as the desirable and prized car.

"But many of the electric cars are not the size we are used to. They tend to be smaller. Are they perfectly acceptable for a family? Yes. But we never tend to really think about operating costs and that mindset has to shift if electronic vehicles are going to take off."

Production of electric vehicles from many of the mainstream manufacturers also may put a wrench in plans to see an electric car sitting next to a gas engine car in the Island's show rooms. Only so many electric vehicles go into production and Bermuda is often not a big enough market for manufacturers to produce vehicles to fit our vehicle needs.

"One problem that we have seen is that some of the technology still has a ways to go," explains Christopher Warboys, policy analyst for the Energy Department. "The quality of the vehicles have not been up to standard, and while that has improved over the years, it does taint people's impression. You don't see a lot of vehicles come from manufacturers that are household names, and for many a car is the biggest investment that people will make and they want to make sure it is going to last."

While the Island E Car is not manufactured by a well-known car maker, Dennis Lister, who is the director of the electric vehicle distributor on the Island, has been spending the past few months testing the vehicle on Bermuda's roads.

Working with the Electric Car Co, Mr Lister has found the electric car to be the perfect vehicle for Bermuda's roads, and has not had to change his way of life, or his daily commute, since he started driving an electric vehicle.

"When we approached the manufacturers there were two things that we said specifically had to be part of the package," explains Mr Lister.

"The design was one the car had to act and look like a real vehicle. In the past, electric vehicles have stood out almost as a statement for that person being Green. Here in Bermuda, since we can only own one vehicle, it has to have the right look. When someone sees it in a parking lot, we didn't want them to know which car was the electric car."

The car also had to be roomy inside and have typical features such as radio, AC, power windows, and plenty of leg and head room.

"Secondly, was the performance. We didn't want people to recognise that this was different from a gas engine. Those two things they delivered very well. I don't have anyone yelling at me on my drive from Somerset, 'Hey Lister, take that slow thing off the road.' And most people are unable to point the car out from other cars in a parking lot."

Although the car was unveiled in December, Mr Lister says that he is still testing the vehicle and sending further requests back to the manufacturer before putting the car on the market.

But interest has been sparked, and he says he has been approached for test drives of the car, but still believes there are further things that need to be done to get people onboard with electric vehicles.

"The Government has taken the first steps but the next step needs to be for the consumer so they feel it in their pocket with something like licensing fees.

"We're facing a high cost of living right now and people have to think about the real direct and positive effect that something like electric vehicles can provide."

Through his own use of electric vehicles, the Island E Car plugs into a regular socket and runs off of 10 12-volt batteries, Mr Lister has seen the difference in his own pocket.

While his Belco bill has gone up, he believes the savings at the end of the day outweighs the increase in his electricity bill.

"There is no comparison really, as there is virtually no maintenance on the car," he says.

The next steps in the electric vehicle market will be very exciting as the Government unveils the Energy White Paper, which is on its way to being published, and will have a chapter on transportation addressing the electric vehicle issue.

Mrs Nikolai adds that while the department supports the electric vehicle industry, there are other areas that can also continue to be tackled in order to lower our emissions in Bermuda.

"Carpooling is something that really hasn't taken off here," she says. "It's not part of our culture and people don't really like the inconvenience of not having their own transportation. There's also that thought that home is my castle and that often extends to your vehicle, so people don't necessarily want to be sharing that space with anyone."

Using public transportation more often and walking or riding a push bike, were also areas that we need to work on, she says.

The safety of our roads has often held many people back from adopting alternative modes of transportation. Mr Vaucrosson feels that is something that needs to be addressed before we can move forward.

"Instead of thinking about building more parking bays for buildings we should be thinking about providing showering facilities for people to be able to bike, walk or run to work. Instead of widening our roads for bigger cars, we should be thinking about making our roads more accommodating for alternative transportation.

"We need to be thinking more about getting back to doing things on a small scale - small is beautiful and it is what made Bermuda unique in the past."

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About Greenrock

According to The Footprint Network, which measures the ability of the planet to produce resources and absorb waste, our resource use and waste production is 60% more than the earth can produce or absorb annually.

This overshoot is the result of decisions that we each make every day. We seek to generate debate and to influence people to change their behaviour.We strive to be catalysts: Success for us is when we can Change the Mindset so that sustainable use of resources is included in decision-making for individuals, government or businesses. ... read more


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