Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Thomas L. Quinn, above, director of the Hawaii Electric
Vehicle Demonstration Project, showed where the electrical
plug-in is located on the battery-powered Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.

Electric cars start
isle test drive

The Hyundai SUVs will be
tested by the city, state, HECO
and the Air Force

By Diana Leone

They look like dozens of other sport utility vehicles on the road, except for a few details: They're quieter than your refrigerator, refuel with electricity and have no tailpipes.

The city, state, Hawaiian Electric and Hickam Air Force Base took possession of 15 prototype Hyundai Santa Fe electric sport utility vehicles yesterday.

Each participating entity will get the use of three vehicles (with Hickam getting six) for two years.

The white SUVs, valued at $100,000 each, are prominently labeled as test electric vehicles.

At the end of their two-year test drive here, Hyundai Motor Co. is likely to begin full-scale production of the perfected SUVs, said Moon-Sik Kwon, a Hyundai senior vice president.

At an unveiling ceremony, officials proclaimed that Hawaii is on the forefront of electric car technology because it is installing a series of 18 recharging stations on Oahu.

"This partnership is to build vehicles that will give the environment cleaner air at a critical time," said Dean Perry, president of Enova Systems, the California-based company that developed the vehicles' drive system and batteries.

"Unless we find alternate fuel for vehicles, we have a very bleak future indeed," said Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Gov. Ben Cayetano tried out one such car.

"This is a very proud moment for us," said Gov. Ben Cayetano. "We thank Hyundai and Enova for their faith in demonstrating this project in Hawaii."

"What a car! It's very smooth, very quiet and the power was pretty good," Cayetano said to Kwon when he returned from a spin around the block.

HECO has installed seven high-speed recharging stations so far and promises to provide free or reduced-price electricity during the test period. Tom Quinn, director of the Hawaii Electric Vehicle Demonstration Project, will be in charge of collecting monthly data for Hyundai.

Under the hood, the Santa Fe shows an uncluttered space with surprisingly few hoses and wires. Under its frame, a container holds 27 nickel-metal-hydride batteries -- like cellular phone batteries, but bigger -- that store power to go up to 100 miles.

At rapid-charger stations, a full charge takes about 30 minutes. If you refuel via a 240-volt plug (electric dryer size) at home, recharging can take up to eight hours. At current residential electric rates, that would be about $3 per charge, or about $9 to go the distance of a tank of gas, Quinn said.

Hickam's Col. Stephen Ribuffo said the Air Force looks forward to "giving these vehicles a thorough shakedown."

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