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Bainbridge man reinvents the electric car

Above: Electric car developer Bob Fraik zips along Lynwood Center Road last week during  a demonstration of the medium-speed electric vehicle. Below: The composite hatchback has an 80-mile range with options for a 200-mile range. -
Above: Electric car developer Bob Fraik zips along Lynwood Center Road last week during a demonstration of the medium-speed electric vehicle. Below: The composite hatchback has an 80-mile range with options for a 200-mile range.
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If there can be a perfect car for Bainbridge Island, Bob Fraik has it plugged into his 110-volt power outlet.

Fraik is the inventor of the Electric Composite Hatchback (ECH) - the first “purpose built” medium-speed electric vehicle.

“Climate change, oil independence and green job creation. Those are the things that inspired me,” Fraik said. “I got tired of screaming at my television and decided to take some action.”

He was also tired of the stubborn response of electric cars currently on the market, many of which can barely go 25 mph and have trouble on the hills of Bainbridge.

The end product of his determination is a vehicle similar to a BMW Mini or Volkswagen Golf – small and sporty with a glass rear hatch and room for two adults and two children. The car comes with two battery options, which gives the ECH a range of over 80 miles and a battery pack life of over 100,000 miles. Longer-range battery packs allow for ranges approaching 200 miles. The ECH is also designed to exceed 35 mph, which makes all the difference, Fraik said.

Around the county, there is a movement to breach the 25 mph limit currently governing many electric vehicles. Change in Washington came when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed House Bill 1820 in August 2007. Now these zero-emissions vehicles can travel on the majority of city and county roads (up to 35 mph) without having to undergo federal highway crash testing.

“If it weren’t for the House Bill I wouldn’t be here today,” Fraik said.

“We built (the ECH) safe, and you can take this car anywhere but the highway. We figure 80 percent of all trips can be used in a vehicle like this. Really it comes down to whether you like driving on (State Route 305) or not.”

The ECH is the first vehicle “purpose built” for the new legislation, whereas other manufacturers are modifying pre-existing electric car models to go 35 mph.

“What is unique about ours is that it has been engineered specifically to our situation,” he said. “We have optimum performance. Even though we have a larger vehicle, we have a longer range and more hill climbing capability than other vehicles.”

The problem with many electric cars currently on the market, said Steve Mayeda of MC Electric Vehicles in Seattle, is that they were designed to top out at 25 mph.

“The ECH is the first one that is designed to be a true electric car,” Mayeda said. “Most of the electric cars in the past that were built from the ground up came from golf-cart builders. They weren’t strong and they weren’t designed very well.”

Currently, there are two other companies offering medium-speed family vehicles in Washington – Miles and Zenn. Both are made from retrofitted combustion-engine cars produced in China or France. The ECH would be built from the ground up locally, reducing the carbon footprint and the cost of shipping car bodies from abroad.

“You have the advantage when you are making it electric and American,” Mayeda said. “Municipalities, school districts and government companies like to deal with products that are made in America, because they know we’re getting the jobs.”

Those jobs would also be green jobs, which is one of the reasons Fraik got involved in the electric business. Even the prototype ECH was designed and engineered locally, while its composite body materials were made in Anacortes.

“We’ve already created green jobs. A lot has been spent here in Washington – developing a new vehicle is not inexpensive,” Fraik said. “Now we’re at the point to start moving this into production rapidly.”

Evergreen Electromotive, Fraik’s company, is in the process of securing financing to kick ECH production into high gear. Thus far, auto dealers have petitioned Fraik for 500 units of the ECH. If things go smoothly, the ECH could be on the streets within six to nine months with production totaling between 1,000 - 2,000 units in the first year. All of this before the ECH has its official unveiling at this year’s Seattle auto show, Nov. 5.

“We haven’t formally shown the car yet, but after the auto show, we’re going to hit the pavement running,” Fraik said.

He estimates the ECH could corner 1 - 2 percent of the domestic market for new vehicles. The timing couldn’t be better given the current concerns about energy independence and, more importantly to Fraik, greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s all about the climate change issue. I am very concerned about our legacy, what (my daughter’s) world is going to be like,” Fraik said. “We like to think we are leading, (but) we are so far behind. Where else can one person drive 70 mph in a car with low fuel economy – there is not another place on the planet where that occurs,”

“But change is happening, whether we want to be part of it or not. We’re creating a bridge product that will meet those future needs.”

To Mayeda, who hopes he can sell the ECH to his customers in the near future, the car not only takes strides toward a greener planet, it also makes sound business sense.

“It was a great drive, handled like a slot car, cornered good and accelerated tremendously,” Mayeda said. “It is probably one of the best cars we’ve ever seen. I know we could sell a lot of them.”

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For more information, and to see a video of the ECH in action, visit www.evergreenelectromotive.com.

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