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Silence reigns at electric vehicle expo
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Silence reigns at electric vehicle expo

GLENDALE — In a stadium parking lot full of vehicles, one thing was noticeably absent — the noisy thrum of engines.

The sprawling lot had transformed into an all-in-one vehicle demo track, dealership and car show. Visitors drove through the lanes instead of sitting in post-game traffic.

Families zipped around on scooters, bikes and skateboards, professional drivers took thrill-seekers around the lot and car enthusiasts checked out a small fleet of flashy, custom-built cars.

Apart from the screech of tires, the vehicles made little noise. No exhaust fumes lingered in the air, and exhibitionists did not have to worry about running out of gas in the middle of the event.

Every vehicle was electric.

Electrify Expo took over State Farm Stadium last weekend, showcasing battery-operated vehicles in nearly every category all in one visit.

“The curiosity level for electric cars, trucks and everything else electric is skyrocketing,” said BJ Birtwell, founder and CEO of Electrify Expo. “The consumers get to basically try everything out there.”

While many people were shopping the major brands for their next car, the expo had displays built around Arizonans’ recreational lifestyles. Organizers showcased numerous modes of transportation, helping consumers find vehicles to traverse the desert and cruise golf courses.

“The environment is great for EVs,” Birtwell said. “It’s come to be known as Battery Valley.

Demos for alternative modes of transportation attracted the most attention.

There was a line out the door of Lightship, an all-electric self-propelling RV, children begged their parents for an electric dirt bike from Rawrr and golfers and retirees sized up Phantom’s solar-powered golf carts.

Lightship RV: Road tripping, pulling trailers

Despite the heat, a crowd of visitors squeezed into the Lightship RV on display, marveling at the trailer that looked more like a spaceship than a vehicle.

Founders Ben Parker and Toby Kraus, who previously worked at Tesla, with their team designed the RV’s aerodynamic edges, wide tinted windows and shining silver exterior, giving it a look as futuristic as the technology.

“I like the design better than a regular RV,” said EV enthusiast Tami Altergott. “If I was really going to consider investing in something, that’s what it would be because we like to go camping, and we like the outdoors.”

Parker and Kraus recognized that trucks and RVs are integral to America’s road-tripping identity and wanted to create an electric RV to complement electrified trucks.

Parker said the Denver- and San Francisco-based company has solved the “Achilles heel” of electric trucks and RVing: limited mileage from hauling extra weight.

“Most trailers are dead weight. The truck is doing all the work,” Parker said. “But in our case, the motor helps the trailer propel itself so that from the perspective of the truck, the trailer is weightless.”

Lightship has a self-propelling motor, making it float on the hitch. The 26-foot-long roof is fitted with solar panels, creating a near-infinite battery life as long as the sun is out.

Instead of relying on a generator or a power hookup, the panels power the air conditioning, appliances and other utilities.

“It’s not going to be a problem in Arizona,” Parker said. “If it’s sunny outside, you can run your air conditioner off the grid almost perpetually.”

Lightship believes RVs are underutilized, as they can sit in a driveway 50 weeks out of the year when not in use. So they designed their RVs to serve as a home solar system when stationary.

Owners can use Lightship as backup power during outages or to save money on their energy bills and buy less from the grid.

“Now, instead of your RV being something you use three or four weekends a year, you’re using it every day,” Parker said.

Motorbike: Designed for off-road travel

Nine-year-old Levi Carmichael’s birthday is over a month away, but he already knows what’s on his wish list.

After taking laps around the demo track, his smile obviously even behind his protective helmet, he hopes to convince his dad to buy a Mantis Mini, a small electric motorbike from Rawrr, a Los Angeles-based electric two-wheeler brand.

Designed for young and smaller-framed riders, the Mantis Mini is an off-road bike with a detachable battery. Despite its small size, the bike can still reach up to 53 mph, a prospect that thrilled Carmichael.

“It was so fun,” he said. “Whenever you hit the gas, it felt like you were going to fall off, but besides that it was awesome.”

The dirt bike quickly outshone his bicycle at home.

“It’s between a motorcycle and an e-mountain bike,” said Edward Ying, a senior consultant specialist in social media and social commerce for Rawrr. “It was designed for off-road.”

While the mini is available for pre-order, Rawrr offers larger bikes, like the 72V Rawrr Mantis.

The bikes’ detachable batteries make it easier to take bikes on outdoor adventures while protecting the environment.

“We want to go green and with gas, especially if you go on the dirt, there is a lot of pollution,” Ying said. “Electric is convenient, you don’t need to find a gas station if you want to go for a long day trip. You just need to bring a couple of extra batteries.”

Solar golf carts: Arizona is a good market

From cruising between holes at golf courses to traversing resorts and retirement communities, golf carts are an Arizona staple. But outside metro Phoenix, recreationists trade their carts for off-roaders to explore the desert.

Phantom, the California-based electric vehicle brand, created a golf cart to suit the city and wildlands while embracing EV technologies.

Parked in the middle of the expo grounds, visitors examined the camo-print exterior of the Solar 2+2, a four-seater golf cart and off-roader all in one vehicle. Their electric carts are lifted and fitted with tires to travel off-road and reach 23 mph to cruise the roads.

They have rechargeable lithium batteries, which take eight to 10 hours to charge from zero to 100%. With the solar panels on the roof, the battery’s charge can last longer during sunny days on the greens.

“With the weather being so nice year-round, Arizona is definitely a big market to reach,” said Tommy Pease, a sales specialist for Phantom. “There are a lot of golf cart communities out here. People take golf carts to pick up their kids.”

The company is working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to make them street-legal across the country.

Traveling beyond electric cars

All of the brands at the Electrify Expo recognized the need for electric products across the industry, not just cars.

Phantom offers electric alternatives in several categories, like scooters, bikes, skateboards and even an electric suitcase that can follow its owners around the airport.

“I don’t think electric bikes or scooters are going anywhere,” Pease said. “The demand is going to get greater and greater, especially with the youth.”

Many of the products featured at the expo could help people convert to an electrified lifestyle or accompany gas-powered cars to make their lives easier and reduce emissions

Lightship can complement gas-powered trucks, whose range and gas-milage decline from the added weight of a typical RV. Recreationists can load dirt bikes from Rawrr on their cars, carrying a few extra batteries instead of containers or gasoline on a road trip.

“If electrification is going to be a real thing, then all of America needs to have lines of great electric products built for it and be ready at the price point that people are used to paying,” he said. “If electrification is going to take off, EVs need to meet people where they’re at.”

Hayleigh Evans covers environmental issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to [email protected].

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