Captain Awesome drives electric, of course!


Before Who Killed the Electric Car? officially hit theaters in 2006, Chris Paine and I hopscotched the country with it on a Sony press tour. Over the course of a few weeks, we hit a different city every day: local screening in the evening, press the next morning, and off to the airport to repeat the process. It was an absolute ride, dramatic and exhilarating but more than a little exhausting.

We arrived in Minneapolis, MN with no idea what to expect, but found our last stop to be one of the most enthusiastic. As we’d done nightly, we hit up the audience for local dinner suggestions, and were informed we must go to Galactic Pizza. We were beat, but promises of electric delivery vehicles and men dressed as spandexed superheroes could not be ignored.

The pizza was great; no surprise it’s been popular there for years. But the people were better, every bit as passionate and quirky as we’d been led to believe, with adopted personas like Captain Awesome and Luke Pierocker. And as promised, they were ferrying those pies around the city in funky three-wheeled Gizmo EVs, because well…it was what they could get. The perfect final note to our celluloid adventure, and a great memory. The next day, I was standing on a street corner not far away when a reporter called for my first response to what would become the Chevrolet Volt

Years later, the costumes and EVs have been upgraded to some I know well, but a recently-released video shows the gang at Galactic Pizza is still at it, and clearly still having fun. If you’re in the area, save me a slice. 

Hat tip to Brian Henderson for the video!


Chuck Squatriglia and Widget, photo shamelessly poached from Jim Merithew/Wired

Chuck over at Wired has been driving an iMiEV, and  seems to like it so far. But it appears that the novelty of seeing another EV on the road has worn off enough that he couldn’t get any love from a fellow commuter in a Tesla.

Aww, Tesla (yes, you- the gray one with a couple letters missing off the back), we all know you’re the high school quarterback of the EV scene- and I’m sure you didn’t mean to give the incoming freshman a social swirly. But maybe next time a friendly wave wouldn’t kill ya?

PS- for those who follow such things, Chuck’s family  named the iMiEV “Widget”…which is fine, as Mr. Bean could use a first name. ;o)

Mr. Bean…

Some time back, I might have crashed a private little test drive party that one of the major automotive magazines was holding on the endless blacktop swaths of El Toro Marine base, in preparation for a large spread they were doing on electric vehicles. And as I looked at the half dozen or so vehicles gathered there, I could have, maybe, been feeling cheeky enough (I know- tough to believe, given the red hair) to challenge the accompanying personnel about who was going to put a car in my driveway first. I was teasing, and they knew it – but hey, I’m as eager as anyone else to see plug-in vehicles make the leap from auto show turntable to “what can I do to get you into this car today?”

Alas, the only thing I actually brought home that day was a sunburn. In the year and a half since, three of the vehicles present have since been cancelled– but one of the automakers from that event recently became the first to come through. It was only for a week, but I say it counts. Ironically, it wasn’t one of the companies who will be putting cars in showrooms this year, but Mitsubishi- a company aiming at the end of 2011 or so for the US market- is first out there with the loaner cars.

I think it’s a great idea; properly done, pilot programs and vehicle loans are an incredibly  useful and efficient marketing and engineering tool for plug-in vehicle programs. They get people used to the technology, and in many cases, over range anxiety. And there’s no better way to vet the engineering and construction of a vehicle than to put it in the hands of regular people- anyone involved with the Impact/EV1 PrEView Drive will forever remember the time an entire car was disabled by a can of root beer. Just as important, they get people excited and talking- generating instant ambassadors for the technology and, if it’s any good, for your product. So we were nothing but excited to bring this little guy home:

And of course, he fit in just fine with our other vehicle…

“Are you my mama?”

I’ve driven the iMiEV before, so this wasn’t so much about evaluating the car as just living with and enjoying it- something my 11-year old son was only too happy to do. He insisted that we name the car, so after an impromptu facebook contest and approval by the boy we christened it, appropriately, “Mr. Bean”. And then we spent the week taking him on adventures (apologies for the amateur iPhone photography):

We wanted him to make friends, so we took him on a playdate…this is one of four iMiEVs that Best Buy is using in their Geek fleet; it happens to live at my local store. They got along famously, so much so that we decided to move along before they needed to get a room…

The next day, we headed to the local Tesla store (where Bob works) and gave the staff rides in Mr. Bean. They clearly approved- which led to a few ideas…

…we considered returning him as an “iMiEV Sport”- I think it could’ve worked, don’t you?

In the end we behaved (as far as we’re willing to admit), but did let him hang out with the neighborhood bad boy for a while.

Which may have been a mistake, as it appears he went sneaking out later that night…I’m such a corrupting influence!

Finally, we figured we had to round out Mr. Bean’s social experiences with an intellectual one…and who better to provide that than Bill Nye the Science Guy? We spun him around a little bit after an event in Long Beach, and he’s now a fan too!

Mr. Bean treated us at least as well as we treated him- handling remarkably well in all sorts of rainy driving, and easily giving us 60-70 real word range miles, even on the freeway. If I was careful, I could eke out a few more, but we mostly just ran around, managing to log about 500 total miles that week! We experimented with all three driving modes (like many EVs, there’s an “Eco” and an engine braking mode in addition to the standard drive mode) and enjoyed the strange looks we got from the right hand drive. At night, we tucked him into our garage (a picture I’ll spare you from) and recharged him with a standard 120v outlet, though Mitsubishi is also planning for both 240v charging as well as DC fast charge.

Our week went by faster than we’d have liked, but we clearly had a blast getting an “EV fix” until the next time. Not that Mitsubishi wasn’t kind enough to leave us with a little consolation prize…


Looks like that sunburn was worth it after all…

PS- Mr. Bean went next to play with Paul Scott and Zan Dubin Scott, who wrote about their experience here.

The Hero and the Sidekick

PrintFor a while now, I’ve been writing an auto column for a relatively new magazine called CocoEco. The magazine itself is everything I’m not- up on the latest trends, chic, polished, girly…but they’ve been kind enough to not only include a voice like mine, but have given me relatively free reign on the car stuff. Past articles covered the smart (gas version), Tesla Roadster, and Mini E- the latter two of which several folks have asked me to re-post here at some point. But the latest issue just came out today, and includes the Mitsubishi iMiEV! To see the original article, go to (pg 104) but since I can’t link directly to the article, I’m also including it here.

Our intent is to mix it up a bit on the cars- PZEVs, hybrids, PHEVs, EVs, etc, as well as to  balance between high and lower-end, and between currently available and what’s coming. So if there’s something on your wish list, let me know!

And a special thanks to Dave Patterson not only for getting me behind the wheel, but being good natured about me calling him  a jackass…

The Hero and the Sidekick

Dave Patterson can be a humble guy. “Everyone wants to see the iMiEV, I’m just the jackass that comes with it”, he says, without a trace of sarcasm. Where it goes, he tends to go. I’ve known Dave as Mistubishi’s electric vehicle champion for several years since meeting him at a depressingly small alternative fuels auto show in Santa Monica. As unassuming as the car he loves, he informed me then that it was his mission to bring their new EV to the United States- notable, since that wasn’t his job. Officially, Dave is the Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs, focusing largely on the emissions of small performance-oriented cars like the Evo that his company is most known for. But as he’s chaperoned his elongated jelly bean of a car around the country, he’s learned first hand that if given the chance, people will love something non-polluting just as much.

In automotive world, Mitsubishi acts much like the proverbial middle child, carving out ways to be noticed against companies like Honda and Toyota. In this case, that involved being one of the first automakers to announce its entry into the electric vehicle market after years of the entire industry stonewalling against them. While the iMiEV (“i-meev”) was originally intended solely for the Japanese market, it quickly gained a following here as well. Dave’s self-appointed challenge is to amplify consumer demand so it reaches the ears of those who run the program and affects their decisions. In the meantime, there was a car that needed driving, and I was just the girl to do it.

Dave flipped me the keys and had me drive to the Thai restaurant that was the thinly-veiled excuse for my visit (hey, I’m a simple girl). Afterward, we went on an extended drive. If the Tesla Roadster is the sleek leather pants of electric cars, the iMiEV is your favorite pair of blue jeans: familiar, reliable, easy. This isn’t to say that the car isn’t fun, because it is- but it doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Its 47kW, 64hp motor isn’t huge- but then, even with seating for four, neither is the car. It accelerates confidently- even a bit faster than I expected, easily achieves highway speeds, and handles adequately- but it doesn’t claim to be performance-oriented. The prototype I drove gets about 70 miles of range per charge on less than $2 of electricity, though Mitsubishi is hoping to increase that somewhat by the time the car goes into true production. Like other electric vehicles, it can be charged at home in a few hours. In short, it’s the microwave oven of cars- not what you’d take on a trip to Vegas, but a highly capable, totally pleasant daily commuter vehicle with room for errands and trips to soccer. And because it uses space efficiently enough to feel roomier inside than it appears on the outside, it’s easy to maneuver and park in the most compact of spaces.

Mitsubishi remains open-minded, even slightly irreverent about the deployment of the iMiEV, entertaining consumer demand wherever it lies. In one such example, a carbon-neutral utility in New Zealand called Meridian Energy had been trying to bring electric cars to the Kiwis for a year. But even with a national commitment, their market simply isn’t large enough to attract the attention of most automakers. Knowing an underdog when they see it, Mitsubishi stepped in and sent a demo fleet to help Meridian move their research and education efforts along while waiting for production cars. Unsurprisingly, the Kiwis fell in love with the endearingly pod-like cars and didn’t want to give them back- people around the world suggested that they shouldn’t, crafting all sorts of wild PR stunts around the iMiEV. In the end, the cars were returned- but not before a crowd of people showed up to cover the cars with handwritten notes of praise.

Closer to home, Dave got his wish, at least in part. Mitsubishi announced just last month that they will indeed bring the iMiEV to the US by 2012. They don’t have all the answers yet (pricing, for example, hasn’t been announced), but nor are they allowing themselves to be paralyzed by that fact. For now, they’ll be starting in Portland, another area looking to make its mark in electric transport- but if history is any indication, they’re open to other areas that make themselves heard. Sounds like an invitation if I ever heard one.

There’s no question that the stakes are high for Mitsubishi- every innovative program lives in a fishbowl to a certain extent, and the attitude of those involved reflect their awareness that they need to get it right. And for Dave, this program is deeply personal- his self-deprecation aside, he’s clearly a true believer hoping for a happy ending. He’s so refreshingly earnest that I can’t help but root for him, but it’ll be a while before we know if simply being a force for good is enough.

At the end of the day, I begrudgingly got back into my own car and left Dave and his iMiEV standing in the driveway, the hero and the sidekick… But I’m still not entirely sure which was which.