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Electric Car Trek Nearly Short-Circuited in L.A.

January 29, 1993|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A determined young German thought driving through Los Angeles would be the easy part of his attempt to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in an electric car, considering he had already crossed Siberia in the dead of winter.

But Robert Mohr didn't count on the California Highway Patrol stopping him on the San Diego Freeway after he had driven in the city for only one day.

His crime?

His car--a sort of enclosed golf cart on steroids--could not reach the minimum 45 m.p.h. speed required on state freeways, he says.

Being stopped for driving too slowly on L.A.'s traffic-clogged streets was bad enough, Mohr said, but he became infuriated when the officers shouted at him to keep his hands in plain view.

"They were really rude--shouting and everything," said Mohr, 26. "One was being a good cop and the other was being bad."

Thus, the ecologically minded German, who left his home in Bonn four months ago to see the world while making a statement about how electric cars can reduce pollution, got his first taste of driving in the City of the Angels.

CHP officials said they could not confirm such an incident and Mohr has no proof of the encounter--he talked his way out of a ticket after the stop last Friday as he entered the San Fernando Valley, he said.

Mohr stopped Thursday at an electric car dealership in North Hollywood to recount adventures on his trip, make repairs to his Danish-built Kewet El-Jet car and to rest up for the Latin American leg of his trip, which he will begin today.

The trip thus far has been paid mostly by money he saved as a college student in Germany. But he said he also relies heavily on the support of sponsors, such as Green Motor Works Inc. of North Hollywood, the American distributor of Kewet cars.

During his pit stop at Green Motor Works, Kathy Hanis of the Hollywood Guinness World of Records Museum presented Mohr with a certificate in honor of his attempt to enter the well-known Guinness record book. She said he will be given a place in the book if he completes the journey.

Mohr recalled that his family and friends initially didn't put too much faith in him or his car.

"When I took off they said, 'You will probably get to Austria but not through the Ukraine,' " he said.

But he has defied such pessimistic predictions by traveling nearly 11,000 miles through Germany, Australia, Hungary, the Ukraine, Russia, the former lands of the Soviet Union, Japan and Australia, where he packed his car into a cargo plane destined for Los Angeles International Airport.

He plans to drive through Mexico, Central America and south to Brazil before catching a boat or plane back to Europe, hoping to complete his trip in Vienna in March or April.

"I don't know if I have luck or just good technique," said the blond, boyish Mohr.

The trip has been slow-going, mostly because the car travels only about 60 miles before requiring a recharge--a process that takes about three hours. He averages about 180 miles a day.

But Mohr said he doesn't mind all the stops because it gives him an opportunity to plug into the local culture.

"I stop every two hours--I have to--and I relax," he said.

The run-in with the CHP was only the latest in a string of mishaps on his slow but environmentally friendly drive around the world.

In Russia--where he drove while wrapped in blankets because his car has no heater--he hit a pothole that broke the bearings in his steering wheel. On his arrival in Los Angeles, he was still driving with the shaky steering.

Crossing what used to be the Soviet Union, Mohr said he had to be pushed or towed about 10 times because his car kept running out of power before he could find the next electrical outlet.

"The batteries were made to work between zero and 50 degrees," he said. "It was 30 degrees below zero there."

Throughout most of his drive, he said, he has kept himself entertained with a portable stereo radio and tape player--until it broke and he had to entertain himself for about two months. "I just talked to myself and sang," he said.

When he got to Los Angeles, he said, he realized he had to make some modifications to the recharging mechanism in his car--from the 220-volt electrical system used in Europe and Asia to the 110-volt system used in North America. "You have this damn 110-volt system," he complained. "No one else uses it."

Despite the traffic, the strict law enforcement and the "damn 110-volt system," Mohr said he likes driving Los Angeles streets.

"You do have bad traffic," he said, "but your freeways are good--six lanes!"

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