Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Little Sparrow That Could - Only Carry One Person ; Tiny Electric Three-Wheeler Is Expensive, but in Hot Demand

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Little Sparrow That Could - Only Carry One Person ; Tiny Electric Three-Wheeler Is Expensive, but in Hot Demand

Article excerpt

Look at a Sparrow, and you know it's different. Even the name is the antithesis of a brawny Detroit ideal.

But this little three wheeler has a mammoth mission - to change the way America thinks about transportation.

In this case, that means thinking about a single-seat electric car that sells for $14,700. If that doesn't sound like a bargain, consider this: Corbin, the motor-cycle-parts company based in Hollister, Calif., that makes the Sparrow, has a two-year waiting list. "We haven't had to do much convincing [or marketing] to sell the Sparrow," says company president Tom Corbin. "They just send in orders."

To understand the Sparrow, start with the genesis of the idea. On a business trip to L.A., Mike Corbin, Tom's dad and the founder of the motorcycle-parts business, was standing on a freeway overpass at rush hour. Below, he saw several lanes of cars stuck in traffic. Next to them a few cars - and motorcycles -zipped by in the nearly empty carpool lane. He decided electric cars were the solution to wasted idling. Then lightning struck. All those drivers were alone in cars that were too big. The key to America's traffic problems, he thought, was single-seater vehicles that could use carpool lanes.

"If you look at the national statistics," says Tom, "87 percent of America goes less than 18 miles one way to work each day. And 93 percent of the time they're alone. So really a one-person vehicle is an ideal way to travel to and from work."

"We're not proposing that this is a primary-purpose vehicle," he says. "We're saying keep your family car, keep your sport-utility, but in certain instances, the Sparrow can do a lot more than your full-size vehicle."

The Sparrow's mission is to keep it simple. Its efficiency is based on small size and light weight, not high technology. It uses basic lead acid batteries and standard brakes. It has a heater, CD player, and power windows, but no A/C.

In financial terms, it seems hard to justify $15,000 for an auxiliary vehicle with a range of 60 miles and enough luggage room for four large pizzas. The price was set to correspond with "what people will pay for a nice motorcycle," says Corbin. …

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