THE AEROSPACE CRISIS : Electric Car Concept Gives Him a Charge : Environment: New dealer sees potential of non-polluting vehicles. Drawbacks include limited range, slow acceleration and conversion costs.


From the outside, William Meurer's business looks much like any other auto shop on Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood.

But there's nothing ordinary about the cars and mopeds inside the soon-to-be-completed dealership. Called Green Motor Works Inc., Meurer's shop will be Southern California's first dealership selling only electric cars, according to people who follow the fledgling industry.

Another North Hollywood firm, Electric Car Co. of America, has custom-converted about 26 gasoline cars to electric power in its garage. But Electric Car doesn't sell them in a showroom to the general public, as Meurer plans when his dealership opens next week.

Already, he has sold a car to actor Leslie Nielsen. Nielsen will pick up a non-polluting 1985 Pontiac Fiero with 18 batteries and a solar deck for extra electricity (sticker price: $22,500). The actor apparently got the idea from a similar car featured in his latest movie, "Naked Gun 2 1/2," Meurer said.

Also in stock are a converted 1986 Ford Escort ($17,850) and, for the budget-conscious, a 1984 Dodge Omni priced at $9,950. The dealership is also offering a battery-driven moped, called Eco-Scoot, for $1,995.

Still, battery-powered vehicles--one of the clean-air transit options identified by the Los Angeles County Aerospace Task Force as a prospect for defense industry diversification--have a number of well-known drawbacks.

One is a limited driving range--recharging is required every 40 to 60 miles. Another is the high initial cost of conversion. And there's the problem of slow acceleration; the converted Escort takes 29 seconds to go from zero to 60 m.p.h., compared to 11 seconds for a gasoline-powered Escort.

Air conditioning, while available on some electric-powered models, cuts back substantially on a car's range. Some of Meurer's cars, in fact, come equipped with a small dashboard-mounted fan. And without hot-running gas engines, heating is almost impossible, Meurer said.

With prices around double the cost of new vehicles of the same type with internal combustion engines, these cars aren't for everyone, Meurer conceded. But he isn't really expecting to become the Cal Worthington of the electric car business.

"I'm not a car salesman, and I don't want to be a car salesman," the 35-year-old Toluca Lake resident said. "I just want to make these cars available because the environmental benefits are so great."

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