Electric car? You already have one

This VW Chassis was the first car converted to electric by Electro Automotive in 1979.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: The House is expected to vote today on this big energy bill. It gets rid of billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies. It requires new fuel economy standards -- 35 miles to the gallon on average. And there are tax incentives in there for companies to develop hybrid-electric plug-in cars.

But you know what? You can make your own electric car right now -- without buying a new one. James Nestor reports from San Francisco.


James Nester: A century ago, electric cars outnumbered gas cars on the road. But then cheaper gas cars made them obsolete. Today, gas prices are ridiculous.

So, where's the clean, green, electric driving machine? You're sitting in it right now.

BILL LENTFER: That's the beauty of this particular thing, converting a car right now: You can do it today. And you have been able to do it for the past 20 years.

That's Bill Lentfer, an employee of Electro Automotive. Since 1979, the company has sold kits that can turn any car -- from a Rolls Royce to a VW Rabbit -- into an electric vehicle.

In the past few years, orders have gone from a few dozen to a few hundred a year, says co-owner Sheri Prange.

SHERI PRANGE: As of today, where we stand, we've put more electric cars on the road than General Motors has.

It's true. From 1996 to 2000, General Motors sold 1,100 of their revolutionary EV-1 electric cars. By 2006, GM recalled and destroyed almost every one.

STEVE MACDONALD: When Hurricane Katrina hit we all saw those tremendous rises in gas prices, it kind of committed me to doing it.

Kits average about $7,000, but Prange says the motors last forever and are up to 90 percent less polluting. Beats buying a new car.

MacDonald's converted Honda Civic beeps, whines, and fizzes. At stop lights, it's quiet -- creepily quiet.

MACDONALD: You know, sometimes people when I give them rides, they panic and think the engine might have shut off.

MacDonald says driving electric is worth the funny looks. He spends $20 a month charging his car every night through a home outlet. Gas would cost him $60 a month. And if he drove a lot more, he'd save thousands of dollars a year.

MACDONALD: I've been meaning to pose my car and myself in front of one of the gas stations, the corner gas stations we've got around here, you know, and give them the double fingers.

In San Francisco, I'm James Nestor for Marketplace.

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