They're plugged in

BURBANK — While most of the nation is paying record-high prices for gasoline, a Burbank family hasn't been paying a dime at the pump.

Carl Wurtz's family members use a homemade electric car for 90% of their driving.

“The last time I bought gas was in April,” Wurtz said, as he maneuvered his 1997 Ford Aspire around the neighborhood streets. “It's so fun to drive. It's like riding in a golf cart that goes 75 mph.”

Wurtz decided to build the car in 2006 after seeing the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” a documentary about the disappearance of electric cars from the market.

“The film explores oil companies' involvement with the big automakers and the threat that the electric car poses,” he said. “Because they use less parts and need no maintenance such as oil changes, there is a big incentive not to sell them.”

Large automakers stopped selling electric cars in the mid-'90s partly because of the expense of developing battery technology, said Taryn Sokolow, owner of Environmental Motors in Glendale, which sells electric cars.

“It does seem very suspicious to me that car companies wouldn't come up with a way to market the electric car,” she said. “So, I think it is great that Carl has taken the matter into his own hands .?.?. I know the basics about building one, and I wouldn't do it.”

Although he majored in music at USC and had little engineering knowledge, he was determined to make the project happen. He flew in about $12,500 in parts from a New Hampshire company and got to work.

“I learned from the movie about different ways to convert cars, and I read a book about the subject matter a few times cover to cover, but that can only help you as far as pulling the engine out,” he said. “So during the time I was building it, there was a lot of frustration, and it was a major time sink.”

It took 15 months, which couldn't end too soon for his wife, Peggy.

“I was skeptical when he told me about the project,” she said. “I told him that he didn't know anything about cars — he doesn't even wash the family car. I kept asking him while he was working, 'When is it going to be done?' But Carl can really do anything he puts his mind to.”

Now Peggy Wurtz doesn't have to stop for gas on her way to her job at Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Century City. All she has to do now is plug the car in.

“There are extra outlets in the garage, so I just plug it in when I get to work,” she said. “People stop me to ask questions all the time. They can't get over the fact that all you have to do is charge the battery.”

The converted Aspire now has 830 pounds of batteries. It takes about eight to 10 hours to charge the car, which runs for about 45 miles.

“It's not the kind of car that you can take on a road trip, [but] it's great for local commuting or as a second car for people,” Carl Wurtz said. “I really wanted it because it is environmentally conscious, and since I couldn't buy one, I just decided this was the only way to do it.”


?ALISON TULLY covers City Hall and public safety. She may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at alison.tully@ latimes.com.

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