Monday, July 15, 2013

Elf Electric Pedal Car: When 1 Horsepower Is Enough

ELF YOURSELF | The vehicle offers exercise or an assisted ride.
ROB COTTER, A FORMER performance engineer and top-gun tuner with Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, BMW.XE +0.53% knows how to go fast. Now he wants to make a go at going slow.
Brent Clark for The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Cotter is the founder and CEO of the Durham, N.C.-based Organic Transit, which makes the Elf: an ovoid, semi-enclosed, solar-chargeable, plug-in, bike-lane-legal, electric pedal car. Got that? With a 1-hp (750-watt) electric motor in the rear wheel hub and a lithium battery pack, or two, snugged into the center frame rail aft of the front wheels—and a plastic canopy to keep the weather off drivers—the Elf proposes a solution for urban commuters who want to leave the car at home but can't quite hack the rigors of a conventional bicycle.
"We're creating our own consumer product category," said Mr. Cotter, whose operation in a downtown storefront in the former tobacco capital is bustling. The company has 1,500 orders in hand—more than enough to reach profitability, said Mr. Cotter, a TED talker who Kickstarted much of the original funding—and soon the company's retinue of bike gurus and production staff (including some volunteers) will be moving to larger quarters downtown. Prices just went up: the Elf costs $4,995, more if you want the backup battery, the continuously variable transmission rear hub or the better solar panels.

The Elf's capacity is 350 pounds; top assisted speed is 20 mph (it goes faster downhill); and the 10-amp-hour batteries offer a range of up to 30 miles, but the batteries last longer the more riders pedal. It takes one whole sunny day to charge a fully depleted battery with 60-watt roof-mounted solar panels.
Mr. Cotter and I took a couple of Elfs for a tour of Raleigh recently, and according to the vehicle's smartphone-app instrumentation, I traveled 15.4 miles at an average speed of 15 mph; burned 586 calories (by pedaling) and displaced 15 pounds of CO2 (using solar watts). It's a start.