Up close, and personal. My first impression: This car is teeny. Would I be able to fold in my 6-foot 2-inch frame? Heck yes!
With 3.7 seconds to 60 mph, this baby would fly. The possibility of me expanding my horizons with speeding tickets would increase exponentially if I were allowed access.
The Tesla Roadster was one of the key attractions at Fresno Earth Day celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno. Accompanying the little black electric powered ball of fury were a Nissan Leaf, a Chevy Volt, a solar-powered Toyota Prius, a hybrid Honda Insight and several other vehicles of interest.
The festivities included other attractions. Those included 75 participants for a crowd-pleasing variety that included live music, food, workshops, tours, exhibits, free e-waste recycling, solar cooking & bio-fuel making demonstrations, xeriscaping and more. The church itself is worth checking out as it is LEED certified and makes use of energy efficient materials, low-flow plumbing and landscaping that needs very little water.
But I was there to see the cars. For me, the experience proved valuable even if it was self-indulgent. My wife, Peggy, tagged along for the experience. I promised her it would be brief and that I would avoid engaging in any long-winded discussions about cars.
I succeeded. We left after about 20 minutes and still got a chance to look at the solar oven display. Very cool concept. Great for reducing deforestation in third world countries.
But the wheeled objects really captured my interest. There was a Zap car, one of the three-wheeled creations of the Santa Rosa-based manufacturer of electric vehicles that until recently served as a niche product. Zap recently purchased controlling interest in Chinese automaker Zhejiang Jonway Automobile Co. Ltd. and hopes to tap into the growing Chinese market with a new lineup of vehicles. I suspect it's a company to watch.
Peggy snapped several pictures of the Zap mobile, figuring it would be a favorite of her students. She teaches ninth-grade English at rural Riverdale High School (which by the way has its own solar installation.)
I checked out the Nissan Leaf. The owner explained details of power consumption and some of the variables for getting the most miles out of a charge. One thing I noticed about the rig was that it looked a lot beefier in person. The photos of the Leaf online make it look dainty somehow.
Up close, the Leaf looks quite solid. The aluminum wheels are rather large and sporty and the interior is spacious and not too Jetsons. Here's a shout-out to Phil T, who's been blogging about his experiences as a SoCal Leaf owner for the past several months. "Phil, you're right. Photos don't do the car justice."
We also got to get up close and personal with Smart car. I've been repulsed by the things since I first saw one skittering down the freeway. All I can think of is the short wheel base and how the thing would spin like a top on ice.
But looking at it from a different angle gave me greater appreciation. Just the engineering of the car is amazing. All sorts of stuff crammed in without looking crammed. The engine fits in back like a Bug. (Obviously not in in a Beetle's league, but still interesting.)
There's an electric version of the rig available this year at dealerships across the country. Dubbed Smart Fortwo Electric, the tiny vehicle was anticipated by Daimler designers two decades to be powered by an electric drive train, according to officials. They apparently left room in the design so there appears no change in outward appearance in the two vehicles.
Two vehicles that stood out at the Earth Day event, at least to me, were a couple of Volkswagen Jetta TDI series, one older and another brand new. TDI, for turbo direct injection diesel, is the designation VW bestowed upon its latest generation of diesel vehicles. The older Jetta was tuned to run on biodiesel, while the new one sported VW's latest "clean diesel" technology. Mileage in the latter is listed at 34 mpg combined city/highway.
Fred Voglmaier, who writes on tdiclub.com, says demand for the diesel rigs is high. Could be.
The Prius owner at the Earth Day event gave a serious rundown on what kind of mileage he gets under multiple conditions. The data was fascinating and he can get up to 56 mpg under certain conditions. The model even was equipped with a solar panel in the glass roof.
Toyota is set to introduce its Prius PHV, for plug-in hybrid, next year. Here's how Steve Siler of caranddriver.com described the differences with the conventional hybrid: "The Prius PHV is essentially just a Prius whose nickel-metal hydride battery pack has been swapped for a far pricier, far heavier, and far more potent lithium-ion pack."
Range is supposed to be far less than the Volt or Leaf.
The Chevy Volt looked the most conventional of the electric cars at the Unitarian church that day. In fact, it looked rather large, hardly a compact car. Interior space was ample, and the design, inside and out, was very un-Chevy. By that, I mean Chevy's had a reputation for short-shrifting its cars on style. The SUVs look cool. The cars, on the other hand, and I personally believe since the Camaro was redesigned in the 1970s, just looked lame.
The Volt, and the redesigned Camaro, return Chevy to a contender among car buyers.
There was also a beat up old Mercedes at the show that looked as if the owner brewed the biodiesel in the trunk. It's an original, late 70s or early 80s vintage. Cool but definitely somebody else's project.
The Honda Insight is a great vehicle and reasonably priced. Great entry for the hybrid/electric market. My wife despises the design as she does that of the Prius.
All in all great show. I saw the Tesla driving around Fresno. I pointed it out to some young people at the athletic club, but they just stared blankly until I said, "0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds."