All you need to know about electric cars

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Ah, autumn in Santa Monica. Crashing waves creating a soothing backbeat, cool breezes fluttering through carefully coiffed hair, ice tinkling in pricey cocktails at restaurants with outdoor patios, and electric cars, uh, humming, in an air-conditioned auditorium.

Yes indeedy, it’s time to pack the family into that three-row, nine-passenger Ford Excursion and head to the beach, because the AltCar Expo is back in town!

The free event -- running next Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium -- is to gas guzzlers what the Newport Folk Festival was to electric guitars. It’s the Woodstock of green wheels, a tumult of peace, love and power plugs. It’s like the county fair without fried dough and livestock, but with lots of electrical engineers!

Attendees can poke through 150 exhibitors’ booths, learning about electric motorcycles, solar panels, gasoline-free taxis and green investing. When they get bored with that, they can head outside for rides and drives in electric-car conversions like the eBox by AC Propulsion, plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius conversions, the Honda Civic GX natural gas car, and low-speed fully electric vehicles. There will also be electric motorcycles, cars that run on biodiesel, some that run on hydrogen fuel cells, others than run on propane, and some, like the beloved Toyota RAV-4 EV, that run only on electricity and the enthusiasm of their devoted followers.


Not for driving but on display will be an assortment of strange and unusual alternatively lifestyled -- er, powered -- vehicles, including an electric delivery truck, Tesla Motors’ electric Roadster, an air-powered Porsche, and, drumroll please, the first West coast appearance of the new production prototype of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car. Lovers of irony will appreciate this nugget: Word is that the Volt will be displayed alongside the legendary Chevy EV1 electric car, which is being trotted out of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s vault.

GM’s much-anticipated ‘moon shot’ of the future will be showcased next to GM’s much-lamented ‘moon shot’ of the past. Considering the level of enthusiasm electric vehicle lovers are known to express, the tete-a-tete should make for some intense moments for GM staff there to babysit the Volt.

In addition, there’s a full slate of panels, with speakers like Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California EPA; Chris Paine, director of the film ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’; and Stephen Ellis, head of marketing for Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell program. Programs will cover public transit, greenhouse gas regulation in California, and, at 1:30 on Saturday, a battle royale between advocates of electric cars, plug-in hybrids, natural gas, propane, ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. There is no Vegas line on this one, folks, but we promise blood will be spilled (almost).

(Full disclosure time: This newspaper is a sponsor of the event. More disclosure: two members of your ever-lovin’ Up to Speed staff will be appearing at the event on Saturday. But not at the cage death match mentioned above.)

On-site parking is $8. But if you really want to be green, try pedal power -- there will be free valet parking for bicycles for the duration of AltCar. Oh, and readers outside the Southland have a chance to catch the show on the road next month in Austin, Tex.

UPDATE: the Tesla Roadster, originally slated to appear at AltCar, will no longer be at the event.

--Ken Bensinger