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SPECIAL REPORT: DREAM MACHINES

Reinventing the Wheel

Alan Cocconi: Electric and Eclectic

October 29, 1998|JOHN O'DELL

Alan Cocconi likes speed too. He just doesn't think it has to come at the expense of all the dinosaurs who worked so hard to give the world crude oil.

He builds a high-performance electric sports car, the tZero, that is rated at 220 horsepower with a 0-to-60 acceleration of 4.9 seconds.

An electronics engineer from Caltech, Cocconi, 40, cut his teeth working as a consultant for GM on what became the EV1 electric car now leased through Saturn dealers.

But he became frustrated with what he saw as GM's unreasonable insistence on a recharging system that required construction of expensive, fixed charging stations.

"They had a weird agenda, and I don't agree with it," he says.

So he set out solo.

"You need a product that you can sell," he says, and electric cars are stymied by short range and the inconvenience of having to find charging stations.

"I think that a bare-bones performance car is more economical to build and fun to drive than a full-blown commuter car," Cocconi says. And if it's fun to drive, he figures, it will be easier to sell.

One marketing plus for the tZero is that it carries its own charging station on board, so it needs only to be plugged into a common 220-volt outlet for an hour (or a 110-volt outlet overnight) and it's ready to go.

It also has electronic traction control, a 100-mile range at a steady 70 miles an hour and an AM-FM stereo with CD player.

To assuage those who can't stand the thought of a vehicle that only goes 100 miles between refueling stops, Cocconi's AC Propulsion Inc. in San Dimas offers one unique accessory: a gasoline-fueled generator mounted in a self-steering trailer. Called the Long Ranger, it hooks up to the tZero's batteries and keeps them charged, allowing, AC's brochures say, "unlimited driving range at speeds up to 75 mph."

The car runs $80,000; the Long Ranger option adds $20,000.

The first production versions of the tZero are just now being readied, Cocconi says. He is building three of them and says one has already been sold.

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