As the weather gets warmer and gas prices creep upward, the buzz of motor scooters sailing up and down Asheville’s streets is becoming more common. Far more fuel-efficient than cars and trucks, scooters, which are best suited for short trips, offer motorists some relief from the pain of $4-per-gallon fuel. But for some, it’s about cleaner air as well as cheaper travel.
Asheville resident Jenn Franks, for instance, is an ardently green scooter commuter. About a year ago, she decided to trade in her Subaru Outback for an electric cycle that emits zero global-warming pollution. The 130-pound eGO is made of brushed aircraft-grade aluminum.
“I don’t have a gas budget,” Franks explains. “I have a music budget.” Aside from riding to her part-time job at Treasured Pets, she uses the eGO to travel around town to hear live music. It’s quiet, sports bumper stickers bearing environmental slogans, and she estimates that it costs about a dime a day to operate. It will travel up to 25 miles before it needs recharging, and it has a top speed of about 24 mph. A low-end eGO costs about $1,500; Franks got hers from Asheville E-Scooter on Patton Avenue. The shop also carries three-wheeled, two-passenger electric vehicles for rent or purchase.
Of course, when it comes to two-wheeled vehicles, an old-fashioned bicycle is still by far the most environmentally friendly option. But the eGO seems pretty green—and it appears to be a better choice, environmentally speaking, than its gas-powered counterparts. (It takes about 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity to travel 25 miles on an eGO, and in the Asheville area, that will generate about one-third the carbon-dioxide emissions as a 75 miles-per-gallon, gas-powered scooter produces in order to travel a comparable distance, according to Xpress’ calculations.) And for folks who care more about the cuteness factor, the eGO ranks pretty high in that department, too.
Franks, meanwhile, has a plan for supporting local artisans through something called “eGO tourism.” To learn more, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preparing for the alt-fuel future
Parked outside the entrance to Asheville’s Crowne Plaza Resort on June 19 was none other than a BMW Hydrogen 7. This is the same car in which Brad Pitt made a splashy entrance at the Hollywood premiere of Ocean’s Thirteen last year. But don’t get too excited: Brad was not in town. Instead, the car—one of only about 100 prototypes released worldwide—was there for an alternative-fuels conference hosted by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium.
What does the unveiling of the BMW Hydrogen 7 mean for those of use who aren’t movie stars? For now, very little. Since the infrastructure isn’t in place yet, the current cost of hydrogen makes gas look like a bargain: The auto industry is calling it the “fuel of the future.” To hear industry insiders tell it, though, we’re moving toward hydrogen-fuel-cell technology, and in the meantime, cars like hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles and other alternatives are steadily gaining momentum.
As this shift takes place, however, the West Virginia-based consortium may be the only organization nationwide that’s asking a critical question: Does anyone really know how to work on these cars? Apparently, what’s under the hood of a hybrid or fuel-cell car is very different from the guts of a car or truck with an internal-combustion engine. There are details—like the fact that a hybrid has to be towed with all its wheels off the ground—that even an expert mechanic might not know. The alternative-fuels consortium focuses on providing training for this new wave of technology, mostly through courses at community colleges across the country. The group has worked with such diverse entities as NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and Walt Disney World.
Mark Quarto, a specialist in alternative-fuel vehicles who works for General Motors Corp., believes the technology will come on fast. “We are going to have to embrace it—we don’t have a choice,” he told a room full of technical students, fleet managers and others in the auto industry during the conference. Quarto also offered a glimpse of what’s to come: According to a high-ranking GM executive who “let something out of the bag,” Quarto said, “GM’s plans are to have 80 to 85 percent hybrid by 2020.”
Asheville was chosen as the conference site because it’s so far ahead of the curve on alternative-fuel vehicles, says Judy Moore, media-relations coordinator for the consortium. Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy gave an opening address during the conference, highlighting the city’s progress on alternative fuels.