Local firm designs electric car

Martin Eberhard is tired of having to choose between a car that’s fun and fast and one that’s easy on the environment. So he’s designing his own.

Eberhard is the CEO of San Carlos-based Tesla Motors, which has spent the past three years developing the first all-electric sports car. If everything goes according to plan, Tesla’s first models could hit the streets next summer.

His design is, in part, a reaction to the predominance of Priuses and other hybrids that still rely on petroleum — not to mention the reputation all-electric cars have for being slow and for running out of juice too quickly.

“I’m an electrical engineer. I know what an electric motor can do if you design it right. There’s no reason they have to be wimpy,” Eberhard said.

Eberhard is no stranger to technological innovation. He founded NuvoMedia, creator of the Rocket eBook, and made a healthy chunk of change when Gemstar/TV Guide International bought the company in 2000. Much of Tesla’s $60 million in venture capital comes from techie sources, including PayPal co-founder Elon Musk and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“It’s very clear to me that I’m not the only one who is interested in a car that’s fun and beautiful and environmentally friendly,” Eberhard said.

He hasn’t set a sticker price yet, but promises it will be neither outrageously expensive nor remarkably cheap.

Eberhard’s timing couldn’t be better. While Bay Area commuters watch in frustration as gas prices continue to rise, filmmaker Chris Paine is releasing a documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which documents GM’s recall of its immensely popular — and all-electric — EV1.

Meanwhile, officials from Redwood City-based CalCars recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they showed Congress how to force the Prius and other hybrid cars to operate in all-electric mode. Since 2002, CalCars has been selling kits that allow hybrid owners to “hack” their cars, according to spokesman John Davi.

“A plug-in hybrid is a nice mix,” Davi said. “It’s cheaper, cleaner and based on domestic energy sources, and it’s enough to power your commute.”

Although CalCars officials are happy to teach people how to change the settings on their hybrids, they are fighting to force car companies to make that option available in the showroom.

“Our whole goal is to get auto makers to sell these. We don’t want to sell conversions forever,” Devi said.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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