Make us your home page

St. Petersburg electric car dealer is plugged into the latest trends

ST. PETERSBURG — Bruce Taylor thought he would end up buying a Chevrolet Volt until he drove by the new Suncoast Electric Vehicles store at 2401 Fourth St. N.

"I didn't even know these were available," he said as he checked out a red Wheego Whip LSV. "I'm very pleased to see this in St. Petersburg. This is an option that wasn't available about a week ago."

While the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF aren't readily available in Florida yet, St. Petersburg has one of the 30 Wheego dealerships in the nation actively selling electric cars.

Taylor, who bought his first electric car in 1990, is a serious customer. He's not the first to walk into the newly opened 2,000-square-foot store that houses three cars and two trucks. Since the car appeared at the Tampa Bay International Auto show in Tampa last month, a dozen people have placed orders for the Wheego LiFe, a highway car that can travel 100 miles at a speed of 65 mph on one eight-hour charge. It costs $32,995 and qualifies for a $7,500 tax credit.

The LiFe, has a lithium iron battery. (Think back to that periodic table from ninth grade: Li for lithium and Fe for iron.)

The Wheego Whip LSV (low speed vehicle) travels 40 miles at up to 35 mph on an eight-hour charge. It costs $22,785 and qualifies for a 10 percent tax credit.

"We have about 12 to 15 people a day who walk in," said Richard Nimphie, owner and manager of the electric car dealership. "Fifty percent who come in are very, very interested."

There are no complicated charging stations or solar panels that need explaining. A simple yellow cord runs from a 120-volt, three-prong plug in the garage to plug into another outlet, which replaces the gas tank access of the Wheego.

"With us, it's just a question of do you have a plug in your garage?" Nimphie said.

Taylor hasn't placed an order, but he definitely wants to check out the highway car when it hits the store during its grand opening, Jan. 21-24.

The activity and interest has been better than Nimphie expected. After 39 years in retail automotive sales, including a stint as the operating partner for Lexus of Tampa Bay in Tampa and Lexus of Clearwater, Nimphie decided to, uh, shift gears.

"I wanted to get in a business that was cutting edge and making a difference," he said. He considered various eco-friendly car companies but decided to buy the rights to a Wheego franchise after three visits to its Ontario, Calif., plant and one to its Atlanta headquarters. Wheego is led by CEO Mike McQuary, a MindSpring co-founder. Of the 30 dealerships nationwide, just one other is in Florida, in Palm Beach.

"St. Petersburg has a very green attitude," Nimphie said, pointing to the number of residents living downtown who can walk most places they need to go. He sees the Wheego Whip as the perfect car for such urban dwellers.

"It's 18 inches longer than the Smart Car. It has more headroom," Nimphie said. "We had a customer who is 6 feet, 9 inches who sat in (the Wheego) the other day and he had a little head room to spare."

The two trucks at Suncoast Electric Vehicle's showroom have also turned some ecologically minded heads. They are made by California-based Vantage, a company that has been in business 11 years, a dinosaur in the electric car world.

The trucks travel 40 miles on a charge and go up to 35 mph. With a payload of 1,500 pounds they are in line with many major manufacturers' pickups.

"This would be great for a local delivery vehicle, it could be for a college campus, it could be for a municipality," he said.

"I think more and more people are seeing the price of gas going up and they know that something different has to be done," said Taylor, the electric vehicle veteran. "I think change is coming in the perception of these cars."

The attitude is changing, the technology is changing, the prices are changing, but electric cars are actually not new. Clara Ford, wife of Henry, drove one around Dearborn, Mich., from 1916 into the 1930s.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or


Suncoast Electric Vehicles

2401 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg

For more information, call (727) 451-7050, or go to

St. Petersburg electric car dealer is plugged into the latest trends 01/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 1:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tonight: Hear ideas for remaking downtown Tampa interchange


    TAMPA — New concepts for rebuilding the downtown interchange will be discussed at a Florida Department of Transportation community meeting Monday night.

    The Florida Department of Transportation renamed its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan is now known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  2. Target raising minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020


    NEW YORK — Target Corp. is raising its minimum hourly wage for its workers to $11 starting next month and then to $15 by the end of 2020 in a move it says will help it better recruit and retain top-quality staff and provide a better shopping experience for its customers.

    Target Corp. is raising its minimum hourly wage for its workers to $11 starting next month and then to $15 by the end of 2020
[File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]
  3. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?


    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  4. Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?


    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting Zika. Cases of the virus are down dramatically in Florida.
  5. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]