With President Obama’s environmentally friendly administration in place and every major automaker promising to build alternative-powered vehicles, it would seem that the day of clean automobiles may be close at hand.

Dale Long and Scott O’Neal certainly believe that the transportation world is on the precipice of monumental change, and they hope to be in a position to profit from it.

Long and O’Neal, with initial backing from a handful of other investors, have formed Evcarco (for environmental car company) to develop a chain of dealerships that would specialize in the sales of new and used green vehicles.

They’re forging ahead in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades, trying to raise private capital and preparing for an initial public stock offering.

“We think now is a good time to put in a dealership and brand it,” Long said. “There’s a lot happening in the environmental community right now that gives this a good chance to happen.”

Long and O’Neal, veterans of the fierce competition of Dallas-Fort Worth auto dealerships, say they know what they are up against and are taking it one careful step at a time.

“We know the obstacles. We know what we’re up against,” Long said.

Selection

Evcarco, based in a warehouse-office complex in east Fort Worth, has one type of electric car available for sale — the small, two-seat, battery-powered 25 mph Zenn — and negotiations are under way with other manufacturers of similar “neighborhood vehicles.”

Evcarco has been licensed in Texas to sell new and used vehicles and is a franchised dealer for Zenn, a vehicle built in France and outfitted with an electric drive system in Canada. Long said the dealership will buy used “green” vehicles, hybrids and high-mileage conventional cars at auction and resell them.

The company is also looking at other technologies, like hydrogen-injection for conventional internal-combustion engines that promoters claim can offer big fuel economy gains, fewer emissions or both.

“We’re going to try and make a difference by having the most environmentally conscious vehicles out there,” O’Neal said.

Green is the word at Evcarco. The company’s logo is a blue globe on a light-green background, showing North America in green and with a green plant growing out of somewhere in the vicinity of the North Pole.

But whether a green focus can produce green profits is still a big question.

“I hope they’re really well-financed,” said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “This is a really, really tough game.”

With General Motors, Toyota and numerous others working on electric and hybrid vehicles, Cole said “some game-changing technology is coming down the pike. But it’s not here yet.”

Cole said truly practical, economical and mass-producible vehicles suitable for the average American driver are at best years away.

Going ahead

Maybe, but that’s not intruding on the Evcarco vision. Drawings of a dealership site hang on the wall in Long’s office. He’s continuing to research new vehicles and technologies and hitting the road looking for investors willing to back the plan with cash.

Long says the company plans to build 20 dealerships across the U.S., starting with a location in Fort Worth and then branching out to Dallas and Denton. He estimates that it will cost $1.5 million to $1.7 million to set up each outlet and stock it with new and used vehicles.

Long said he hopes to raise $3 million from private investors to get up and running and $10 million to $20 million more from a public stock offering. He said the company’s financial records are being audited in preparation for filing disclosure documents required by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

By operating out of small, low-investment and low-overhead facilities and providing the kind of personal attention car buyers might get at a luxury-car dealership, Long says Evcarco should be able to carve out viable niches in the retail auto business.

Beyond existing battery-powered technology vehicles like Zenn and some others under consideration, Long says the company is enthused about some other technological concepts.

Other technology

One is something called an ultra-capacitor under development by EEStor Inc., an Austin-area venture that claims that the device will provide much greater electric power to run an automobile and much faster recharging than the lithium ion batteries GM and other auto makers plan to use.

“Supposedly, their capacitor is ready to hit the market,” Long said. “Everybody I’m talking to thinks they’ve figured out the capacitor part of this.”

Zenn, the Canadian manufacturer, invested more than $3 million in EEstor several years back. Lockheed Martin invested $3 million a year ago. GM officials say they’ve talked to the company, which is owned by former IBM technology experts.

EEstor officials have said they have received patents but have not publicly unveiled a prototype or demonstrated their technology.

John Goodenough, a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said he is not familiar with EEstor and isn’t aware of any dramatic technological developments that would deliver the promised results.

“I would be surprised if there’s a miracle breakthrough,” Goodenough said.

Long is also high on systems that use hydrogen injected into the fuel of conventional gasoline or diesel engine that produces vastly cleaner emissions.

Long says he has closely examined two systems that will take a small amount of water, strip the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen, so that pure hydrogen can then be injected into the engine fuel supply.

But a Google search will quickly turn up plenty of experts who cast doubt on whether such systems are practical, feasible and real.

Long said the goal is to position Evcarco to get established today and take advantage of whatever technology advances come along, but he warns potential investors that “there are no guarantees.”

 


Zenn What it stands for: Zero-emission, no-noise electric vehicle 

Description: Two person, three-door hatchback made with alloy frames and ABS plastic body panels

Propulsion: 100 percent electric front-wheel drive, powered by six 12-volt, deep cycle batteries

Charging: Standard 110-volt outlet plug-in; full charge in eight hours

Brakes: Dual hydraulic system, 4-wheel disc with electro-magnetic regeneration

Speed: Limited to 25 mph by federal neighborhood vehicles regulation

Available features: Air conditioning, power locks, power windows, remote keyless entry and panoramic sunroof

Range: 30-50 miles

Price: About $17,000-$19,000

Other alternative energy cars Scorpion: www.ronnmotors.com

Wheego: rtev.net/wheego

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