All-electric vehicle that can handle highways debuts in Santa Rosa

[caption id="attachment_21927" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Local dealers Wheego's incentives will spur adaptation."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA –  Can incentives and rebates do for electric vehicles what they did for solar?

Jim and Barbara Bennett of Good Stuff Auto in Santa Rosa hope that's the case as they debut the Wheego line of all-electric cars in the North Bay.

The 20-year purveyors of pre-owned BMWs are currently selling the low-speed Wheego Whip as a town car alternative to gas-powered vehicles. But this month they start taking orders for its highway-safe, high-speed sibling, the Wheego LiFe.

The LiFe joins the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, both due out later this year, in the race to provide all-electric vehicles to the public.

"We think the LiFe will be the first affordable all-electric vehicle available in the country," said Mr. Bennett. "Plus, they're built in the U.S. and assembled in California."

"Affordable" is a tricky term to apply to a vehicle powered by a lithium battery, which itself costs more than $10,000.

Most EV cars cost three times that in total, putting the lowest-cost cars in the mid $30,000 range, he said. The LiFe is expected to retail for $32,995.

But California's Clean Vehicle Rebate Project has $4.1 million from the state EPA to promote zero-emission vehicles through 2015. Light-duty all-electric and plug-in hybrids earn $5,000.

Then there's a federal tax incentive of up to $7,500, depending on battery capacity. The Nissan Leaf, also currently under development, and the Wheego LiFe, both qualify for the maximum amount, bringing the sticker price to about $20,500.

The Leaf is a sedan, while the LiFe seats two. Otherwise, both cars will go approximately 100 miles on a charge, which takes about six to eight hours on a standard outlet, less on a 220 volt outlet.

According to Wheego manager of corporate communications Susan Nicholson, the LiFe was retrofitted from a gasoline model vehicle, "which we think adds to highway safety." Wheego is based in Atlanta, Ga.

Good Stuff Auto has the exclusive right to sell the Wheego line in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties.

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