Area cities selected for electric car program

Four San Gabriel Valley cities have hit the jackpot.

Through a lottery, the cities of Diamond Bar, Glendora, Azusa and West Covina were chosen to participate in BMW's pilot program for its first all-electric vehicle, the Mini E.

Each of the municipalities received two of the 200-horsepower Mini Cooper look-alikes at just $10 a month for each. Only 450 of the two-seaters were produced.

At the end of the one-year lease, participants will provide feedback to BMW. It is expected that an all-electric vehicle will be mass produced by 2012.

The study is being conducted in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey. Non-municipal lessees will have to dish out $850 a month for the all-electric vehicles, which can travel up to 150 miles on one battery charge and reach a top speed of 95 mph.

"We thought it would be a win-win situation for everyone," said Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers, who said it would save the city approximately $500 to $800 on gasoline this year. "For us, it shows our green side as we're trying to be as green as possible. It also allows us to delay purchases for some new vehicles."

The lottery for the cars was coordinated through the Air Quality Management District and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

According to AQMD Governing Board representative Michael Cacciotti, who represents the Los Angeles County Eastern Region, about 15 cities expressed interest in gaining the vehicles.

"Every exhaust from cars, trucks, whatever vehicle, it releases these terrible things, things that cause cancer, asthma, premature deaths," said Cacciotti, a South Pasadena city councilmember. "Everytime you drive, you're putting that stuff in the air. Alternatives are fun to drive and exciting, and we're going to be saving billions in healthcare costs a year."

He added that the industry is moving much too slowly toward this new technology, which holds many benefits such as low maintence costs, and less reliance on foreign oil.

"Long term, there's a revolution going on around the world and we need to act fast," he said, adding that the United States is falling behind China and Europe.

Cacciotti met with BMW officials a couple months ago and received two Mini E's for the city of South Pasadena. At the same time, he was guaranteed six more. As more became available, additional cities were chosen from the lottery.

West Covina has added the two shiny new cars to its fleet. The Mini E's are being used exclusively by the city's building and code inspectors on a daily basis.

Glendora, on the other hand, is reserving the cars for its two water conservation officers, who go door-to-door and pass out pamphlets encouraging a 10 percent reduction in water use.

Although the city of Diamond Bar hasn't yet put the Mini E's into full use, they will eventually be used for local business-related trips for all city staff and will be on display during city events.

The dark silver car with pale yellow door and dashboard paneling runs on a 573-pound lithium-ion battery that occupies the entire backseat and most of the trunk area.

The city of Diamond Bar currently uses solar-powered charging stations through the AQMD. A full charge takes approximately 26 hours.

But all lessees for the pilot program receive free installation for a high-voltage wall box that reduces charge time to about three hours. Diamond Bar expects to have the new charger installed by this summer.

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