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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 18, 2010 7 years ago

It's electric

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

Pete Hansen is one of the best-kept secrets in Sarasota. The jack-of-all-trades pulls up to Pastry Art in his newly converted all-electric Scion, throws the car in park and pops the hood. In a matter of five minutes, a group of men has gathered around the car to listen while Hansen explains how he’s replaced the gas-guzzling motor with an electric motor and nine 8-volt batteries. He wired it up so that it still accelerates from zero to 60 mph in six seconds flat. And, get this  — the batteries, which cost about $1.10 a day to charge, only need replacing every 10 years.

The self-taught converter was struck with inspiration about four years ago, when most Americans began to boycott buying gasoline on certain days because of steep prices. Hansen wanted to come up with a viable solution to the problem, hence the commencement of his electric-car conversions. He’s since converted about 35 cars.

When Pastry Art Bakery Café owner Forrest Shaw witnessed an electric conversion on a car a few years ago, the need to reduce his carbon footprint as both an individual and a business owner started creeping up on him. Last August, he started talking with a customer about making his business greener. The customer fetched Hansen’s business card from his car, and the wheels were set in motion.

Shaw’s rusty, old beat-up ’66 Volkswagen Squareback had spent the last 10 years stuck in the bushes with trees growing out of the windows. Nevertheless, he envisioned it as the perfect delivery vehicle for Pastry Art To Go.

“When he showed me the car, the whole idea of bringing in the HuB and G.WIZ stemmed from just standing there staring at it,” said Hansen, who is on the board of sustainability at G.WIZ.

As Hansen, aka “the mad scientist,” Shaw, “the coffee-buzzed entrepreneur” and Rich Swier, “a guy from the HuB,” looked at the car and tried to figure out how many new parts it would need, they decided it would be more work than purchasing another Squareback for their project. They located and purchased a similar 1968 yellow-and-white Squareback on Craigslist and mapped out the process to build Sarasota’s first electric car.

Hansen is so handy that he can convert a car by himself in just four hours. He’s also built an electric skateboard that zooms along at 30 mph, and he is currently working on an electric bicycle prototype.

But he and Shaw are hoping businesses will take advantage of electric-car conversion classes at G.WIZ; they hope participants learn how the process is done and then spread the word around town. Captain Curt’s, on Siesta Key, has already inquired about converting its first electric car.

Classes cost $100 and will be held at G.WIZ starting Thursday, April 15 and continue for four weeks.
Thursday classes will run about 45 minutes and consist of basic chalkboard work. Saturdays will consist of “shop class,” where attendees can grease up their fingernails and learn how the conversion is done.

“The goal is to give small businesses an affordable solution to gas,” Hansen said. “Through G.WIZ, we can teach classes on how to make electric cars and let G.WIZ keep the money. And people can learn hands-on by converting Forrest’s car.”

The cost of converting a vehicle is about $5,000. The bigger and heavier the vehicle and the more advanced the system, the higher the cost will be. Some systems can cost as much as $30,000.

“We want to try and raise $10,000 per year for G.WIZ,” Hansen said. “I’d like to see 10 businesses each year get an electric car. Pastry Art is super forward-thinking. Florida is great for this because everything is flat here and you don’t have to worry about the cold freezing the battery.”

Hansen lights up a cigarette and starts toward his car.

“These are the only emissions I put out,” he says.

Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].

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