If you’ve ever been soaked by the Mouse — paying bundles of “Disney Dollars” for overpriced rides and watered-down ethnic food — you’ve ridden in an electric vehicle. You don’t remember? Think back to that open-sided 14-seater transporter you rode for tours. Quiet, wasn’t it?
Even if you’ve never been a guest of Uncle Walt, the chances are you’ve ridden in one of these at an amusement park, zoo or themed attraction. The goofy character driving often provides colorful commentary. Well, these off-road vehicles were already green, but the Solar Electric Vehicle Company (SEVC) has made them even greener by adding charging from the sun.
Bob Kopach, vice president of SEVC, told me he has 14 of them off the beaten path. There are four at the University of Mississippi, where they fit the bill for the Democratic National Committee when it wanted green transportation for the presidential debates in 2008. After carrying the candidates around, the electric vehicles stuck around at Ole Miss for use as VIP and long-distance parking shuttles, campus tour transport and special missions for the chancellor.
Other users of the $20,000 solar transporters are Lake Forest University, the U.S. Navy, the San Francisco Zoo, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Milwaukee’s Summerfest and, believe it or not, the Egyptian pyramid concession. There are 20 pending orders, many from zoos. Obviously, these light-hearted conveyances would be great for servicing long-term parking at airports, national parks, and other relatively warm weather locations.
The transporters are equipped with Trojan T105 lead-acid batteries, and they charge in the conventional way — from grid power. But with just wall charging they have a range of 45 miles. The solar panels mounted on the roof provide a secondary trickle charge that takes the range up to 60 miles, Kopach said. “It’s free energy going into there,” he said.
These aren’t hot rods: 25 mph is pretty much the top end, and some are programmed to go even slower. They’re actually built by golf cart manufacturer Cruise Car in Sarasota, Fla., and marketed by Solar EV as the distributor. There are smaller six-person versions, suitable for Tiger Woods and his paparazzi, one would presume. And smaller ones make great urban runabouts for the police and municipal fleets. But their tiny roofs aren’t as friendly to solar panels.