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First green dealership ready to roll

By   /   Friday, September 5th, 2008  /   Comments Off on First green dealership ready to roll

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By the end of the month, Central Coast residents will have the opportunity to commute to work without using a drop of gasoline or emitting any pollution.

That’s because a new electric car dealership, Green Rides, is coming to San Luis Obispo – the first dealership of its type in the Tri-Counties.

Todd Madeiros, Green Rides president and chief executive officer, said he expects his dealership to thrive in San Luis Obispo with its many neighborhood streets and small-sprawl city layout. The personal and commercial vehicles, which look a little like large toy cars, can reach a top speed of just 30 miles per hour.

“These are typically people’s second, third or fourth cars in some cases,” Madeiros, 36, said. “They keep their traditional cars that they can go on the freeway with … and then they have a ZENN car, as an example, to tour around Pismo Beach or wherever else they might be going.”

Since June 2007, Madeiros has been selling electric vehicles from eight manufacturers at his dealership in Campbell, which is next to San Jose. He chose San Luis Obispo as his second location because of the area’s focus on environmentalism, its desirable demographics and its small city stature.

“In the Bay Area, there are a lot of little communities like Campbell, Palo Alto, etc., but you need a freeway to get to each one,” Madeiros said. “San Luis Obispo seems much more conducive to get to these little communities, even more so than the Bay Area. I think San Luis Obispo will be as good if not better in some ways than Campbell.”

Madeiros plans to sell all the same types of vehicles at his new location, which, in addition to small personal vehicles, include scooters, all-terrain vehicles, commercial trucks and golf carts.

He said some limits to the electric vehicles that may turn off some buyers. Aside from their slow speed, they can also only travel 30 to 50 miles on one charge – and each vehicle takes between four to eight hours to recharge at a normal electric outlet. The battery also needs to be replaced about every five to six years and can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500 to replace, Madeiros said.

“I really haven’t seen anything in the marketplace that makes me think it’s going to be anything other than a glorified golf cart,” John Masterson, president of Western Automotive Consultants in Ventura, said of the all-electric cars. “Until they can get an electric car to charge in two to three hours or a minimum 300-mile range, I don’t think it’s going to be a commercially viable thing to have.”

The batteries in hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius, generally last to the 100,000-mile mark and cost about $3,100 to replace.

The good news for Madeiros’ dealership, however, is that aside from the battery, brakes and tires, the electric vehicles essentially need zero maintenance. And of course, $4-a-gallon gas is no longer a worry.

Nonetheless, Madeiros said some customers turn away from his dealership and say, ‘“I might wait until I can buy one car that can do it all,’” Madeiros said. “We’re still a few years out.”
The closest to doing it all is the all-electric Tesla Roadster, which sells for $109,000, can reach freeway speeds and gets 220 miles per charge.

Before Madeiros jumped into the car business, he worked at eBay for eight years as its managing director of international. After purging himself of all the PowerPoint presentations in his head, he said he decided to turn his longtime car hobby into a business.

Green Rides has been humming along at its Bay Area location since last June, selling about 15 units a month to customers within a four-hour radius of Campbell. With his San Luis Obispo location, which he has yet to settle on, he expects to attract potential buyers from Santa Barbara County and possibly even further south.

Some of his hottest items are his scooters, which sell for less than $3,000 and can reach a maximum speed of 30 mph. With California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and University of California, Santa Barbara, so close by, Madeiros said scooters may be particularly popular among college students.

Companies also are hot buyers of the electric vehicles, as they need to move employees or clients around various points of their businesses.

“I think companies are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint first and foremost. A lot of times they’re looking for things to be a little quieter, whether it’s … landscaping vehicles or transportation vehicles or hauling people around from one campus to another,” Madeiros said. “So it’s really just more earth friendly and sound friendly. And they also like that it’s a good image for them.”

If his San Luis Obispo dealership is a success, Madeiros said he plans to open a third dealership just a little further down Highway 101.

“In some ways, San Luis Obispo is kind of a prototype; it’s like a hybrid model, no pun intended,” he said. “We’re actively seeking a franchisee in Santa Barbara and we hope to have that start sometime next year.”

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