Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Plugged in on Society Hill

Took a drive in Barry Bernsten's prototype C100 electric car at noon today, an electric-green sedan, bigger than an Austin Mini, powered by a whirring electric motor and six fat 6-volt, 435-amp/hour batteries that you might have bought at Pep Boys -- four in the trunk, two where the engine ought to be.

We tooled around the Society Hill block were Bernsten, a steel wholesaler, has lived since 1976. I asked how he refills -- it only goes 60 to 120 miles between plug-ins, depending partly on how fat you are. He jumped on the sidewalk, whipped out a rubber cable, jammed one end into a receptor where the gas cap ought to be, and plugged the other into a three-prong outlet by the real estate office at the corner of Second and Delancey, across the street from the old Man Full of Trouble tavern. "Fill 'er up."

It's a little noisier than my son's girlfriend's silent Prius, but it's also a lot cheaper, if Bernsten delivers at the $16,000 to $18,000 he's advertising. The Chinese-built body is fitted with an American drivetrain, which Bernsten says meets federal Low-Speed Vehicle standards. It's still not street-legal in Pennsylvania -- Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks, is proposing a law to change that -- but you can drive them in Jersey, Delaware and most other states at up to 45 mph.

Bernsten's BG Automotive Group Ltd. wants to mass-produce this city car. He's been scouting plant sites in southeast PA and in Delaware, and he says he's gotten inquiries from Tennessee and other states. He'll need cash -- he says he's talked to HSBC and Citibank -- they're waiting for federal loan guarantees.

Til then, Bernsten's fitting together a couple more prototypes, and passing the word: "We'll have it on display at the Franklin Institute for Earth Day."