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Local News

September 24, 2013

Solar car makes it debut in Newburyport

NEWBURYPORT — Autumn is approaching the Halloween season of the light-hearted slogan: “My other car is a broom.”

How about, “My other vehicle is an Elf.”

Conrad Willeman recently began operating an Elf, a solar-powered vehicle that can travel close to 20 miles per hour.

It’s said that there are only seven other Elfs in Massachusetts, and Willeman appears quite pleased that he is one of the early owners. Cost is about $5,000.

“I can take this to Market Basket and put the groceries behind the seat,” said Willeman, a resident of Barton Street who is an advocate of most things green. “I can drive around local streets like a bicyclist, except this has more protection and goes faster.

“It’s early in its development, but it’s appealing because of solar power and your ability to pedal it yourself. You can let the battery do the work or you can pedal — or both.”

The vehicle is made by Organic Transit, a fledgling manufacturing firm in Durham, N.C., that touts the Elf as offering “eco-urban mobility.”

The founders of Organic Transit are as green as the infield at Fenway Park, and their three-wheeled product appears to be appealing to customers who are interested in reducing their use of fossil fuels.

One slogan on the Organic Transit website refers to it as, “Elf, electric pedal car” and another marketing slogan is “Rides like a bike, drives like a dream.”

The vehicle weighs about 150 pounds and comes with headlights, direction signals and a state-of-the-art braking system. It is considered a bike and does not have to be registered or possess a license plate. Insurance companies appear reluctant to insure it.

The Elf, about 5feet high, carries only the solitary driver, and Willeman says it can travel 20 to 25 miles without requiring the battery to be recharged.

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