Electric ATV Easy on Environment and Budget

Powerful, light, and quiet, first commercial models will come to market this year

by Paul Franson
Debby Zygielbaum
Debby Zygielbaum, vineyard manager at Napa's eco-friendly Robert Sinskey Vineyards, liked the unit so much she has placed her order.
Napa, Calif. -- Although electric cars are still impractical for most users, a new electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV) could be just the ticket for many growers and wineries. Barefoot Motors of Sebastapol, Calif. hopes to deliver 50 of its new Model One electric ATVs by the end of the year, many to anxious grapegrowers in the wine country.

The company held a demonstration of its second prototype-along with the earlier version-Wednesday at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, a leader in sustainable agriculture. Jamie Hyneman, the co-host of Discovery Channel's science show, "Mythbusters," was along to lend star power, but legitimately: he was involved in the design of the unit. "It's an elegant design," he says, "just a battery, speed control and motor."

Jamie Hyneman Jamie Hyneman, co-host of Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters," helped to design the Barefoot ATV
The ATV is based on a conventional gas-fueled chassis, with the engine, transmission and fuel tank removed and replaced with a compact battery pack and an electric motor controlled by a sophisticated electronic system. The ATV is designed to have performance comparable to a 650 to 800cc gas ATV, and weighs 100 pounds less than the gas model. It also has a lower center of gravity, contributing to stability and performance.

It certainly had plenty of power in trials, and when Mythbuster Hyneman raced the prototype against a gas ATV for his television show, the electric ATV won. The Model One's top speed is 25 mph, but that's unlikely to be used often in most farming applications. It can tow 1,100 pounds and carry 500 pounds.

Aside from saving money and polluting less, the ATV is very quiet. Debby Zygielbaum, the vineyard manager at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, finds that this allows her to talk on her cellular phone while riding, something impossible with a gas ATV. It's also more pleasant for the operator.

As with any electric vehicle, the first question is "How long can it operate?" The company claims a range of 20 to 35 miles depending on use, and it can be recharged in two to three hours at 220 V or twice that long at 110 V if fully discharged, using an on-board charger. An optional quiet on-board generator can be used in the field or during transport, and can also power accessories.

The power train uses AC induction motors (the front motor is only used in four-wheel drive) that generate 6 kW or 45 hp at 7,500 rpm. Torque is an impressive 105 ft.-lbs.

The batteries are 24 new-technology 3.3V, 100 ampere-hour lithium iron phosphate cells. Head designer Ely Schless, who has long experience with electric vehicles, says, "These batteries blow me away. We're the first to adapt them to a commercial use."

He's been waiting for the batteries since 1992. They come from a Chinese company and have ideal characteristics for this use. Unlike those in the Toyota Prius, for example, these are designed for constant use, not surge. They also should be good for 2,000 to 3,000 recharging cycles.

The Model One ATV is 83 inches long by 48 inches wide by 48 inches high, and has a wheelbase of 51 inches. It weights 825 pounds. The company warrants the machine for six months, bumper-to-bumper; 12 months on the battery pack.

The price is $15,000, about one-third more than a comparable ATV. The company anticipates electricity costs of 3 cents per mile compared to 27 cents per mile for gas at $4 per gallon. Upkeep and maintenance costs are also considerably lower. Co-founder Melissa Brandão projects a payback compared to a gas ATV of just under four years.

The company plans to build the machines in Ashland, Ore. Co-founder Max Scheder-Bieschin says it is seeking its first round of outside investment.

Barefoot requests a 10% deposit to place a reservation; Sinskey has already ordered one after trying it out. For more information, go to barefootmotors.com or phone Melissa Brandão at (707) 490-8339.
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