Friday, January 15, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Wes Kimura, a Toyota-Hawaii executive, looks under
the hood of Toyota's Prius, a gas-electric hybrid car sold
only in Japan. It will be introduced in the United States
next year and sell in the low $20,000 range.

Electric cars
humming at
Hawaii auto show

Among the vehicles
featured is the world's
1st gas-electric hybrid

By Jerry Tune


The buzz surrounding this weekend's First Hawaiian Auto Show just may be the humming of electric motors.

The more than 300 cars, trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles at the annual show, which starts today at the Neal Blaisdell Center, include some innovations in electric-powered motoring.

The Prius, by Toyota Motor Corp., is the world's first gas-electric hybrid car. It includes a 1.5-liter, 58-horsepower gasoline engine and a 40-horsepower electric motor. The hybrid uses gasoline power to recharge the batteries so there's no need to stop and recharge them.

For the low speeds of city driving, the Prius runs on electricity and for highway driving the gasoline engine takes over automatically. A computer decides when to switch and alerts the driver on the dashboard control panel.

The Prius gets more than 60 miles to the gallon and carbon dioxide emissions are one-half that of a gasoline-powered car. It will be introduced into the United States next year and sell in the low $20,000 range.

The Prius is selling well in Japan, said Wes Kimura, vice president and senior division manager for Toyota-Hawaii Strategic Planning Division. "Within 10 years, we expect this to be a very popular model in the United States," he said.

Also on display at the auto show is the Sparrow, a three-wheel electric vehicle with a wheel base about the size of a motorcycle. Philip Armour, president of Darwin Motors in San Francisco has the Hawaii distribution rights for the Sparrow, manufactured by Corbin Pacific Corp., a motorcycle accessories company in Hollister, Calif.

The Sparrow, which has a top speed of 65 miles per hour, will sell for about $12,900, Armour said. It can go 40 to 60 miles on one electrical charge. "I would like to set up a relationship with an existing local auto or motorcycle retailer," Armour said.

The Sparrow, because it has three-wheels, is technically considered a motorcycle. The 8-foot-by-4-foot vehicle seats only one person, surrounded by a shell of Fiberglas injected with foam. "Its a commuter vehicle and a city runaround," Armour said.

Ford Motor Co.'s booth, meanwhile, features a propane-powered truck. The F250 model is a V-8 pickup truck and one of several Ford alternative energy vehicles available, said Tom Harlow, fleet manager at Windward Ford. Sticker price is at $20,495.

"On the mainland, they (propane vehicles) are going great guns and they have been available for 10 to 14 years," Harlow said. But limited places to purchase propane fuel have hurt sales in Hawaii, he said.

Bullet What: First Hawaiian Auto Show

Bullet Where: Neal Blaisdell Center.

Bullet When: Opens today, noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Bullet How much: Admission is $2 (or $1 with donation of can of food); proceeds go to the Hawaii Foodbank and the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association Foundation.

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