SAN JOSE, Calif. — Is there a Triac in your future? Maybe — if your conscience has evolved to a deep shade of green and you have $25,000 to spare on a three-wheeled, gasless electric vehicle with a 100-mile range.
I drove one recently with Mike Ryan, president of Green Vehicles, the Salinas, Calif., company that makes them. A prototype, one of just a dozen made so far, it had a stick shift that will be replaced in the upcoming Triac 2.0 with an automatic transmission.
It's no Tesla, but that's the point, Ryan says. The Triac is a less costly vehicle for an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
"It's centered around what we call the Green Core. They want to better their environment and lower their carbon footprint. We want to do that within the limits of sustainable manufacturing, careful materials selection and affordability," he said.
A computer science and electrical engineering graduate from the University of California-Berkeley, Ryan co-founded Green Vehicles in 2007 with intellectual property lawyer Ehab Youssef after selling a small chip company to Broadcom and dabbling in real estate for a while. "I was looking for something I was passionate about. The environment is top on my list," Ryan said.
Analyst John Gartner of Pike Research said, "We see the market really taking off in 2011, thanks to all the investment being made by companies like General Motors, Mitsubishi and Nissan." He said the biggest restriction is cost, but he expects the price to come down over the next few years.
Paul Scott, vice president of the San Francisco-based Plug In America, said "the market is quite robust" for lightweight commuter vehicles like the Triac. "It's going to look different, that limits its appeal somewhat, but given the efficiency of those vehicles — they are very lightweight — you're going to get a lot of people wanting to buy those as the cost of gasoline goes up." And there's a $7,500 federal tax credit and California rebate of up to $5,000 for qualifying electric vehicles, he noted.
In my test drive, the Triac handled uneven streets well. It has a roomy passenger cabin despite its small size. It's zippy. And it felt good to have weaned myself from the gas pump, if only for 10 or 15 minutes.
The Triac has a range of 100 miles, due to its lightweight and powerful lithium-ion battery made by Leyden Energy in Fremont, Calif. The two companies have California Energy Commission grants totaling $5 million to make the batteries and vehicles in California. Leyden says the battery can operate at up to 140 degrees without degradation of the cells, eliminating the need for a battery cooling system.
Range is a touchy subject among electric-vehicle makers. "The reason I say an 'honest' hundred miles is there has been a tendency in some cases for folks to overestimate their range by calculating it in an advantageous situation, say, 30 mph on a flat surface with no stops," Ryan said. " 'Honest' means this is what drivers will actually experience driving it around."