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: A Brief History of the Electric Car in Nevada

A Brief History of the Electric Car in Nevada

22 Aug

Before there were plans for a Tesla Motors Gigafactory in Storey County, a Faraday Future electric car factory, or an Xtreme Green Electric Vehicles factory in North Las Vegas, there was the Lectra Motors factory at 5380 Valley View Blvd in Las Vegas, that produced over 1,000 electric sports cars, sedans, and trucks from 1979 to 1982.

Lectra Motors brochure from 1980s.

Lectra Motors brochure from 1980s.

Al Sawyer and Charlie Amadon were Nevada Test Site engineers, who founded the company in response to an OPEC oil embargo that created long lines of cars at service station gasoline pumps, because of oil refinery shortages when crude oil imports were sanctioned by OPEC member nations.

Lectra Motors co-founder and CEO Al Sawyer (right) with a 2012 Nissan LEAF and 1981 Lectra Motors Centauri.

Lectra Motors co-founder and CEO Al Sawyer (right) with a 2012 Nissan LEAF and 1981 Lectra Motors Centauri.

Lectra Motors vehicles used 18 golf cart batteries for power. An efficient chassis design, electronic controller, and electric motor allowed their cars and trucks to reach a top speed of 80 mph with a range of about 50 to 60 miles before the battery pack needed to be recharged. Lectra Motors also developed a battery monitoring system, as well as an electric air conditioning system, and an electric-hydraulic braking system.

During the 1990s, Sawyer joined with scientists at the Desert Research Institute to start up the Las Vegas Electric Auto Association chapter of the national Electric Auto Association. Gail Lucas became President and promoted educational outreach around the state of Nevada. Bob Tregilus also helped start up the Electric Auto Association of Northern Nevada.

They reached out to state legislators like Bill Raggio, Randolph Townsend, and Ray Shaffer to look at laws to promote electric cars within Nevada. Lucas also worked with Dan Hyde, City of Las Vegas fleet manager, who sponsored the Southern Nevada Fleet Association, then started programs encouraging the development of alternative-fuel vehicles, that would burn fuels like biodiesel, compressed natural gas, propane, and hydrogen more cleanly in city motor pools, school buses, public transit buses, taxis and limousine services.

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway and its 1/4-mile drag strip, “The Strip”, became a popular test track for the newly-formed National Electric Drag Racing Association, whose members began racing electric car conversions during open “head to head” competitions against gasoline-powered dragsters.

Bill Kuehl and his third Pontiac Fiero EV conversion.  He set a NEDRA quarter-mile drag race record in another Pontiac Fiero that still stands today.

Bill Kuehl and his third Pontiac Fiero EV conversion. He set a NEDRA quarter-mile drag race record in another Pontiac Fiero that still stands today.

Before there was a Formula E racing circuit, NEDRA racing competitors built their electric-motor dragsters in home garages. They shared technology innovations with each other across Internet forums to showcase just how powerfully the electromagnetic torque in a souped up forklift motor could perform, spinning the wheels and launching an electric car with quick acceleration from a standing stop.

It was a big deal when an electric car filled with golf cart batteries actually won against a gas car. The Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association staged several “Wicked Watts” electric drag racing events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as part of the NEDRA racing circuit from the late 1990s to early 2000s. Electric car drag racing competitors would go “head to head” with each other, as well as gasoline-powered vehicles by competing on top of open drag race events.

Electric drag race vehicles could be allowed to enter a National Hot Rod Association drag strip because of the inclusion of electric vehicle technical inspection guidelines as part of the rulebook for the NHRA. These technical rules were written by NEDRA board members, who were already accepted members of the NHRA drag racing community.

Similar efforts were also made to introduce electric vehicle landspeed racing events to the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats near East Wendover, Utah through the Utah EV Coalition with support from the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association.

Bill Kuehl in 1985 with a rally race result ticket showing his record distance time for a Honda Civic EV conversion.

Bill Kuehl in 1985 with a rally race result ticket showing his record distance time for a Honda Civic EV conversion.

LVEVA Directors Al Sawyer and Bill Kuehl built electric dragsters and rally cars in Las Vegas that set new performance records, recognized by NEDRA and the EAA.

Bill Kuehl’s 1985 Pontiac Fiero electric race car conversion still holds a NEDRA record that was originally set in 2001 for the Modified Conversion/144-volt DC category by using lead-acid batteries to achieve a speed of 71 mph in just over 18 seconds on “The Strip” quarter-mile race track:

http://nedra.com/record_holders.html

NEDRA electric car racers boosted their drag racing performance records when they got hold of some new lithium-ion batteries, by taking out the cells from Black & Decker power tools and carefully welding hundreds of them together into high-performance battery packs.

During the new millennium, Bill Dube’s Killacycle reached record speeds at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip for an electric motorcycle. Dennis Berube’s Current Eliminator electric dragster won bracket racing titles against gasoline-powered dragsters by being able to dial in his 1/4-mile times precisely with a tuneable electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack.

Several of the NEDRA racers began attending the Burning Man gathering each year in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. They popularized the use of electric “art cars” to convey their friends quietly and cleanly over the playa.

During February 2011, the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Readiness Task Force (EVIRTF) was formed by NV Energy, NDOT, and REA250 with support from the Nevada State Office of Energy. Invitations were sent out, recruiting participants from all levels of government, universities, businesses and other non-profit organizations to meet at the offices of the Desert Research Institute in northern and southern Nevada. Their goal was to prepare the state of Nevada for electric cars by emphasizing the development of recharging station infrastructure, educational outreach, codes and standards compliance, and the propagation of fleet and consumer information.

Rudy Garcia of VERDEK LLC (center) led EV charging station infrastructure efforts for the NV Energy shared investment program. Also in picture are Tom Polikalas (left), SWEEP's Nevada representative, and David Gibson (right) of the Nevada Governor's Office of Energy

Rudy Garcia of VERDEK LLC (center) led EV charging station infrastructure efforts for the NV Energy shared investment program. Also in picture are Tom Polikalas (left), SWEEP’s Nevada representative, and David Gibson (right) of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy

After initial meetings online and and in person over the next three years, over 150 participants were invited to join. The group was later renamed the Nevada Electric Vehicle Accelerator (NEVA) program in 2012, with an objective to promote a shared investment project sponsored by NV Energy and the Nevada State Office of Energy, to establish a preliminary network of public charging stations around the Las Vegas valley and in the Reno-Carson City areas of the state.

A Fisker Karma plugs in at a Gaudin Motorworks dealership in southern Nevada.

A Fisker Karma plugs in at a Gaudin Motorworks dealership in southern Nevada.

Local automotive dealerships owned by third-generation families named Ackerman, Heinrich and Findlay responded positively to NEVA outreach efforts to help promote electric cars. Gary Ackerman had opened a Fisker Karma dealership, based on his association with Henrik Fisker. Local southern Nevada dealerships promoted the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, BMW i8, Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid, Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Focus EV, Ford Fusion Energi, Ford C-Max Energi, and other new plug-in electric cars as they became available.

Findlay Chevrolet promoted a 2011 Chevrolet Volt by featuring UNLV logos including the Rebel mascot while plugging into a ChargePoint station at North Las Vegas City Hall.

Findlay Chevrolet promoted a 2011 Chevrolet Volt by featuring UNLV logos including the Rebel mascot while plugging into a ChargePoint station at North Las Vegas City Hall.

BMW shipped in 25 BMW i3 electric cars to provide test drives to CES attendees.

BMW shipped in 25 BMW i3 electric cars to provide test drives to CES attendees.

Gaudin Ford Sales Representative Tim Duncan showcases a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid car during the Las Vegas Science & Technology festival.

Gaudin Ford Sales Representative Tim Duncan showcases a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid car during the Las Vegas Science & Technology festival.

The first Tesla Motors service facility opened in Las Vegas during 2013 and began supporting the new Model S sedan.

Prospective buyers for a Tesla Motors Model 3 line up outside the Tesla Motors service facility during 2016 in Las Vegas to place a $1000 deposit to buy a 2018 Model 3 electric car.

Prospective buyers for a Tesla Motors Model 3 line up outside the Tesla Motors service facility during 2016 in Las Vegas to place a $1000 deposit to buy a 2018 Model 3 electric car.

A local Las Vegas Tesla Owners Group was formed by Don Carrier, Matt Watson and Michael Lemke. After three years, the organization now has 180 members on its mailing list, who hold monthly luncheon meetings in Henderson and Las Vegas Summerlin communities.

Las Vegas Tesla Owners gather for a monthly luncheon meeting.

Las Vegas Tesla Owners gather for a monthly luncheon meeting.

The first Tesla Motors Supercharger station outside California was installed in Downtown Las Vegas on the corner of Bridger and Eighth Street, in conjunction with an electric car-share program being developed by the Downtown Project.

Tesla Motors Supercharger station in Barstow, CA provides fast recharging site for Tesla Motors owners driving between LA and Las Vegas.

Tesla Motors Supercharger station in Barstow, CA provides fast recharging site for Tesla Motors owners driving between LA and Las Vegas.

It became a right of passage for new Model S owners in southern California to test the Supercharger network by making an interstate run between LA to Las Vegas and back, usually spending time at a Strip resort overnight that also included a charging station in its guest parking lot, thanks to the efforts of the shared investment program.

ChargePoint dual-port CT4000 with two SAE J1772 AC Level 2 plugs at Luxor Valet parking lot.

ChargePoint dual-port CT4000 with two SAE J1772 AC Level 2 plugs at Luxor Valet parking lot.

MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts Limited, Cosmopolitan, Four Seasons Hotel and Las Vegas Sands Corporation collaborated with Tesla Motors to provide high-power fast charge stations for Tesla vehicles, as well.

Travis Johnson of NV Energy plugs the Mandalay Bay ChargePoint station.into a Chevrolet Volt for the first time.

Travis Johnson of NV Energy plugs the Mandalay Bay ChargePoint station.into a Chevrolet Volt for the first time.

Other NEVA participants included the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 357, whose Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee under Madison Burnett and Robert Buntjer helped train electricians to install and service EV supply equipment statewide. Buntjer studied with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) in Chicago to became a “Trainer of Trainers” for the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP)instituted by the non-profit organization nationwide.

EVITP trainer Robert Buntjer and NEVA Outreach Coordinator kick off workshop in Las Vegas.

EVITP trainer Robert Buntjer and NEVA Outreach Coordinator kick off workshop in Las Vegas.

NEVA funded one-day EVITP workshops in both the northern and southern parts of the state that were open to building inspectors, architects, EV drivers, and any other interested parties during 2012 and 2013.

A big "thumbs up" from attendees at a NEVA EV Safety Training presentation at Clark County Fire Station 21, including Marie Steele, Manager of Electric Vehicles and Renewable Energy at NV Energy, and Stan Hanel, NEVA Outreach Coordinator

A big “thumbs up” from attendees at a NEVA EV Safety Training presentation at Clark County Fire Station 21, including Marie Steele, Manager of Electric Vehicles and Renewable Energy at NV Energy, and Stan Hanel, NEVA Outreach Coordinator

NEVA also teamed with the Clark County Fire Department, Nevada State Firefighters Association, the Nevada Traffic Incident Management organization, and the National Fire Protection Association to develop safety training procedures and classes for first responders coming upon a damaged electric car after a traffic accident. Clark County EV safety training efforts were led by Richard Brenner of the Hazardous Materials Emergency Planning Department.

During 2015, a Nevada Electric Highway project was announced by NV Energy and the Governor’s Office of Energy, with a goal to connect Las Vegas to Reno by locating DC Fast Charge stations every 100 miles along US Highway 95. The Beatty station is up and running at this time, with stations at Tonopah, Hawthorne and Fallon expected to come online by the end of this year.

Beatty Supercharger Installation now active on US Highway 95.

Beatty Supercharger Installation now active on US Highway 95.

Tesla Motors has also established proprietary SuperCharger stations along US Highway 95 in downtown Las Vegas, Tonopah, Beatty, Hawthorne and at the Atlantis Resort & Casino in Reno. These SuperCharger stations complement other existing SuperCharger stations at the Tesla Motors Gigafactory and also along other sites on US interstate highways I-80 and I-15 in Nevada.

The Governor’s Office of Energy is seeking funding and planning more DC Fast Charge stations along other rural state highways, as electric car manufacturing within the state, consumer EV purchases, and visits by green ecotourists continue to grow.

Terrible Herbst has installed a dozen NRG eVgo DC Fast Charge stations at service stations and convenience stores in the Las Vegas valley.

Terrible Herbst has installed a dozen NRG eVgo DC Fast Charge stations at service stations and convenience stores in the Las Vegas valley.

Terrible Herbst service stations and convenience stores have installed a dozen DC Fast Charge stations, co-located with gasoline refueling pumps, at strategic recharging locations around the Las Vegas Valley. The NRG eVgo DC Fast Charge stations were donated by Nissan and BMW as part of a “No Charge to Charge” program that offers two years of free electric vehicle charging with an “EZ Charge” credit card to buyers of a new Nissan LEAF or BMW i3. The DC Fast Charge stations are equipped with both CHAdeMO and SAE Combo plugs for both Asian and US/European DC Fast Charge standards. Electricity can be purchased by any owner of an electric car equipped with a DC Fast Charge port at $5.95 for a hookup fee and 20 cents a minute for the service by inserting a traditional credit card into a card reader port.

The buyer can also enter their phone number to receive a texted receipt of the purchase information, including charging time, kilowatt-hours consumed, and final dollar amount.

Green Alliance of Nevada, Green Chips, Clean Energy Project, Sierra Club, Downtown Project, First Friday, SYN Shop MakerSpace and other organizations have supported educational outreach for electric cars.

Larry Gareffa with his custom EV conversion of a 1965 Mustang Fastback.

Larry Gareffa with his custom EV conversion of a 1965 Mustang Fastback.

LVEVA members presented EV conversions that featured an electric DeLorean DMC customized by the Brandys family, a 1965 Mustang Fastback developed by Larry Gareffa and family, as well as a Pontiac Fiero, Subaru Brat, Ford F150 pickup, and many other specialty vehicles built by LVEVA members at community events. Their educational efforts continue to spread the word about electric car technologies.

Bob Brandys shows his DeLorean DMC EV conversion during Mini Maker Faire in Las Vegas.

Bob Brandys shows his DeLorean DMC EV conversion during Mini Maker Faire in Las Vegas.

Green Alliance of Nevada includes a Drive Clean Energy Las Vegas committee led by Annette Bubak and Rudy Garcia, who staged an alternative-fuel vehicle caravan during their annual GreenFest Earth Day celebrations.

GF_DCELV_14_2

2016 marked the fifth year in a row that Las Vegas was one of over 200 cities participating in the National Drive Electric Week program, founded by the Electric Auto Association, Sierra Club, and Plug-in America.

National Drive Electric Week event at NV Energy Pearson campus "Juice Bar" during 2012.

National Drive Electric Week event at NV Energy Pearson campus “Juice Bar” during 2012.

Over 30 electric cars usually turn out for the rally during the day with more than 100 attendees overall. An Electric Juice Bar Crawl event allows visitors to ride in a caravan of different electric cars and tour local public charging facilities at Clark County Government Center, City of Las Vegas, City of North Las Vegas and the NV Energy campus to see how accessible these stations are throughout the area.

Ready to Roll! Michelle Abbate of Local Motors drives out 3D-printed electric car, built during SEMA trade show in 2014.

Ready to Roll! Michelle Abbate of Local Motors drives out 3D-printed electric car, built during SEMA trade show in 2014.

Local Motors and Xtreme Green Electric Vehicles established electric car development and manufacturing facilities in southern Nevada.

Xtreme Green Vehicles manufactures three-wheel, electric security vehicles as well as electric ATVs.

Xtreme Green Vehicles manufactures three-wheel, electric security vehicles as well as electric ATVs.

The Tesla Motors Gigafactory staged an open house in Storey Country during 2016 to showcase the first operational part of its lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility, while smaller automotive factories also set down Nevada roots after the Great Recession.

The first section of the Tesla Motors Gigafactory in Storey County is completed and unveiled to the public during 2016.

The first section of the Tesla Motors Gigafactory in Storey County is completed and unveiled to the public during 2016.

During September 2016, Faraday Future began moving earth and grading the land at Apex Industrial Park in North Las Vegas for its electric car manufacturing facility, that the company plans to complete by 2018.

Top-down view of single-seat electric race car concept by Faraday Future, based on its Variable Platform Architecture.

Top-down view of single-seat electric race car concept by Faraday Future, based on its Variable Platform Architecture.

Over the last forty years, electric car pioneers have brought passion, fun, and joy to Nevada while continuing to contribute to the growth of electric car infrastructure throughout the state.

NEVA blog posted by Stan Hanel, Outreach Coordinator

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