Longboater’s electric runabout is turning heads | Rowboat key
Steve Penn is really looking forward to driving these days.
He likes to climb into his two-seater in the open air, turn it on and hit the road to the shops, or over the bridges to Bradenton or downtown Sarasota.
And while Penn’s love of two-lane tarmac might not be an unusual sentiment on an island filled with engine machines that end in -rrari, -ghini, and -rsche, his is probably unique, even in the formal Miriam-Webster sense. word.
He drives an Arcimoto, an American-made three-wheeled electric runabout. Instead of making a molar, deep bass sound as it accelerates to the speed limit, on Gulf of Mexico Drive and past the only gas station in town, any nearby cyclists or joggers could hear from him a sweet, high-pitched, distant-jet-engine-reminiscent-groaning sound of Penn’s engine.
So it’s not the sound of a V-8 or a V-12 under the hood that draws crowds everywhere it goes. The tangerine orange color, sporty look and Penn’s smile in the cockpit probably play an equal part in attracting the curious.
“I went to the tennis center to get my racquet fixed, and a gentleman there on his bike jumped up and started asking me questions,” Penn said of a recent experience that replays often. A lap?’ I have to say I probably drove two dozen people.”
Penn, 68, retired after a career at a company that makes pharmaceutical packaging. He said he and his wife first entered the electric car world when they bought a Tesla in Connecticut and loved the experience. But in Longboat Key, the prospect of hooking up a 220-volt charger in their condo parking garage was not feasible, which is not unique to the surrounding community.
With a car (a Subaru) in Florida and no real way to efficiently charge their Tesla here, Penn turned to the Oregon-based company he had started researching months earlier and placed an order, which was performed in January.
Arcimoto, which currently sells in Florida and five other states, offers a line of electric vehicles that can easily charge on typical 110-volt electric current. Some models are strictly fun; others are built for business. There is even a version with emergency lighting for first responders.
Penn’s is the fun utility vehicle model, which starts at around $18,000. It’s street legal (he enjoyed using windshield wipers for the first time the other day), has a top speed of around 70 mph and a range of around 100 miles. There’s a small compartment in the back with enough capacity to carry a few bags of groceries, and Penn is expecting an accessory to carry a pair of golf bags soon.
Its two seats are arranged in tandem fighter jet style, with dual shoulder belts that must be buckled to turn on the car’s systems. There’s a stereo, a digital instrument panel and a transparent polycarbonate roof that lets the sun in.
It is part of a state regulatory space between motorcycles and traditional cars and trucks. The seats are heated and Arcimoto is working on air-conditioned versions.
Penn hired an electrician for about $500 to install a small charging box in his garage parking spot and pays his condo about $10 a month for the electricity it uses. He’s on the road three or four times a week running errands or just having fun.
Penn said he doesn’t consider himself an environmentalist, but added there’s a reality to the automotive math that many Longboat Key residents do on a daily basis.
“You don’t have to get out of a two-ton vehicle to get a bag of groceries or a cup of coffee,” he said.
When he’s on the road, Penn says, he drives defensively, even though his car draws a lot of attention. The little car accelerates briskly and can veer and spin from lane to lane like a sports car. But it has no side windows or doors, leaving the driver and one passenger feeling a bit exposed, something Penn says he’s getting used to.
For Penn, the addition of the Arcimoto just makes sense in terms of practicality and responsibility to the world.
Oh, and there’s this thing that draws a crowd.
Penn said not too long ago he was in another area of Longboat and was pointed out by a woman who said she was intrigued by the car.
“I took her in the car and drove her home, and she said, ‘My husband would like a walk too,'” Penn recalled. “And when she opened the garage door, there’s a convertible Bentley. So I said to her husband, ‘I’ll take you, but you have to give me one.'”
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