EV company to build cars in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - "You are here to see the future," said Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, kicking off a news conference that featured Gov. Ed Rendell's announcement of 200 new jobs coming to the Pittsburgh area when South Korea-based CT&T Co. establishes one of two production and distribution centers.

By all appearances, the future will be shiny, but also rather small.

Three of the company's "Neighborhood Electric Vehicles" (NEV) were the centerpiece of the event at CMU's Gates Center for Computer Science, brightly colored two-seat cars that recharge through a standard 110-volt plug-in.

Intended for short trips at lower speeds, the NEV reaches a maximum speed of 40 mph, but can travel 80 miles on a single charge. Recharging the battery takes two hours but that time may be drastically reduced in the near future.

"We are focusing on a niche market," said James Park, CT&T vice president, adding that the NEV is not intended to compete with hybrids or "full-speed, big brother" electric cars in development, such as the upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

CT&T is one of the world leaders in the manufacture of small electric vehicles such as golf carts.

CMU has been developing new technologies that can be used in electric cars; the school has a garage built to charge exactly the kind of cars that finally arrived.

With it come up to 400 jobs for the state, half in Pittsburgh, half in the Philadelphia area. CT&T will establish facilities that will manufacture as well as market, sell and repair the cars in other areas of the country, beginning with Greenville, S.C., and Riverside County, Calif.

"Seven or eight" sites throughout the area are being considered, said Dennis M. Davin, director of Allegheny County Economic Development. Land near Pittsburgh International Airport as well as along the Mon Valley has been considered, he said. One of the requirements of the site is easy river access.

Noting that the aluminum-sided NEV is "the first electric vehicle to pass [federal] crash tests," Mr. Rendell said the arrival of CT&T in Pennsylvania "is a benefit to the purchaser, a benefit to the environment and a benefit to the economy."

"It's no secret that many of the world's largest automotive manufacturers are developing plug-in electric vehicles, so the fact that CT&T has chosen Pennsylvania is very exciting news for us, because it gives us an early presence in a promising market," the governor said.

Price for the base model is $12,000, with higher-end models offering moon roofs, MP3 audio capability, heated seats and other features. Federal and state tax credits, at least through 2010, could result in rebates of up to $5,000 or $6,000, and the monthly usage charge for electricity would be around $7, officials said.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said the region has plenty of space available for CT&T's needs, which would be around 20 to 40 acres of land. The little car has been developed as a family's second or third vehicle, or something for students or business delivery.

"We all know this won't replace the car you have now," Mr. Onorato said.

It's also been marketed with an eye toward police and fire use. One of the three cars at CMU was tricked out as a police car, complete with flashing lights.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, wearing an appropriately pale-green necktie, said he sees the city using electric cars someday.

"Our city employees use a motor pool.... We are looking at hybrids [as replacements], but maybe we'll just jump straight to electric."

CT&T exports to China, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Japan and has a contract with the state of California to provide 4,000 NEVs to police organizations. They will be used as downtown parking supervision vehicles.

There was certainly a fun factor to the news conference. The two-seaters come in bright, metallic paint finishes and since there is no transmission, pick-up is almost immediate.

True, the NEV isn't going to go very fast, but that didn't keep Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Onorato from jumping behind the wheel for a quick and very quiet test drive.

"For the record, I haven't driven a car since 1990," said the governor, declining the invitation.


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