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Wilmington electric-car plant rolls out first Ebox

AutoPort's new Ebox electric car debuts in Wilmington

AutoPort Inc. held a party today (that was Monday) at its Port of Wilmington, Del. headquarters for its first commercially-produced eBox, a Toyota Scion converted to electric power, with a "Vehicle-to-Grid" system developed by University of Delaware Prof. Willet Kempton, that sells extra electricity generated by the car to the power company when it's not in use.

Privately-held AutoPort trained a dozen workers to build the cars with a $94,000 state Blue Collar Jobs grant, said state spokeswoman Nikki Boone.

Gov. Jack Markell used the occasion to sign Senate Bill 153, which allows power companies to buy excess power stored in electric cars at commercial prices, reducing a homeowner's monthly bill. Markell drove a prototype eBox in an earlier stage of its development, Dick Johnson, the privately-held company's head of business development, told me. Pepco Holdings Inc., which owns Wilmington's power utility, funded eBox research with a $250,000 grant two years ago.

"We took a Toyota Scion XE 2006 and rebuilt it with an electric motor and battery system and drive train from AC Propulsions in San Dimas Calif.," Johnson told me. "We have orders for about 20 of these" from the state and the University of Delaware. AutoPort needs about 100 to be able to run an assembly line at a volume that would significantly reduce the cost. The company is looking for fleet customers.

AutoPort, headed by Roy Kirchner, employs nearly 100 (up from 70 last Spring). Most are involved in shipping Ford trucks to the Iraqi police and GM vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Center City-based international steel trader Barry Bernsten told me he's about given up on Philadelphia as manufacturing site for the small electric car planned by his firm, BG Automotive. He says he's negotiating for sites in Massachusetts and Rhode Island after Pennsylvania officials gave him the cold shoulder. After delays, he's hoping to begin production of the converted Asian-built cars, at around $16,000 apiece, this Spring.

As my colleague Mike Armstrong wrote here today, C&T Car Co. of South Korea is also considering Philadelphia as a manufacturing and retail site for its low-power electric cars.

Roll them all together, and they won't replace either the GM or the Chrysler manfacturing plants that closed in Delaware over the past year. But it's a start.