SEBASTOPOL and FORESTVILLE -- There are plenty of folks who believe the future of driving belongs to electric cars. There are others who are sure of it.

Electric Auto Shop is the brainchild of Michael Mack, a long-time electric car professional -- he’s held positions at CPI International, US Electricar and Zap Power Systems.

“Electric cars are taking off, and there are plenty of designers, but where are the service and repair people? There will be a real need for technicians, and high school is the place to train them,” he said.

He devised courses converting a Chevy truck to an electric vehicle.  While showcasing his offerings at the Educating for Career Conference in Sacramento Mr. Mack met Switch Vehicle partner Peter Oliver.

[caption id="attachment_77028" align="alignleft" width="400"] Students in the engineering program at Tustin High School (above) built and raced this Switch electric Go Kart in an energy invitational. The Switch program has also been run in two Sonoma County high schools and more are proposed.. Below, All the internal components of the Switch Vehicle are easily seen.[/caption]

“This is not a Tesla,” said Mr. Oliver of the three-wheeled Switch. “Our goal is to manufacture the most efficient, easiest to maintain and most fun to drive car at the lowest possible price point.”

From a single chassis it’s possible to build a moon buggy or three-passenger car. A Switch costs about $17,000 fully assembled.

To speed the car’s way into consumers’ hands and onto the roadways, the partners developed a kit that can be assembled by the owners. And Mr. Oliver created a class to show them how.

“It made a lot of sense for me to partner with Switch,” said Mr. Mack. “The kids were spending too much time disassembling the internal components  of the truck for conversion. But they can build a Switch from scratch.”

Electric Auto Shop, with a kit from Switch, found a receptive audience among both shop teachers and pre-college math and science instructors.

“It’s the perfect culmination of my high school engineering program,” said Ed Hernandez, a teacher in Tustin who worked with Project Lead the Way, a leader in STEM education and Coastline ROP, experts in career technical education, to develop a four-year course.

“After three years of engineering basics, the students finally get to answer the question ‘why am I learning this?’ We built a Switch Vehicle Go Kart this year and raced it in the UCI Energy Invitational. Next year we’ll build two Switch vehicles,” he said.

The students’ math and chemistry skills are challenged as well as their hands-on mechanical dexterity. They learn about energy and get a good grounding the environmental advantages of electric vehicles, said Mr. Mack. “But most of all, they love building the cars.”

Windsor and Maria Carrillo high schools in Sonoma County have participated. Stephen Jackson, director of career development for the Sonoma Office of Education and Pat Biagi, Curriculum Specialist, would love to see Electric Auto Shop in at least eight other local high schools.

The drawback is cost. Although Switch is generous with discounts for schools, the chasse plus battery pack plus teacher instruction runs about $25,000 initially.

After that the vehicles can be disassembled and built over and over under the trained instructor. Included in the price is a one-week, hands-on training class that isapproved for California continuing education (CE).

Still, that initial cost represents a big hurdle to cash-strapped public schools. Mr. Mack and the Sonoma Office of Education are working jointly on a sponsorship program.

“We hope to attract corporate donors who would like to underwrite worthy, green projects that also impact youth in a positive manner,” said Ms. Biagi.

Meanwhile, Switch Vehicles hassold six Chassis Lab (Switch plus the curriculum) to schools in North Carolina, New York and California.

”We’re about to deliver our first Chassis Lab to the California prison system later this month,” said Mr. Oliver. Switch has four more Chassis Labs on order for schools.

“We’re already working on the next generation of vehicles. They’ll be larger, but completely green. No fiberglass, suitable for manufacturing in the third world, on gas-starved islands, for example. And of course in schools,” he said.

For more information on Switch Vehicles visit www.switchvehicles.com. For information on Electric Auto Shop visit www.electricAuto Shop.com