April 11, 2009


Competition powers electric car company in Cortlandville

Team converting Chevrolet Aveo for chance at $5M prize

ElectricPhotos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Darrell Carter, left, and Joe Masterpaul look over the electric motor that will power the Chevrolet Aveo.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Darrell Carter has entered an electric car into an international competition in which he is competing for a chance to win $5 million.
Carter’s Cortlandville-based company, USA Electric Cars, has been accepted as a registered team for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize Competition, which features multiple phases and will conclude in 2010.
Progressive announced the company’s acceptance Wednesday into the competition that will feature 120 contestants, including teams from Germany, Finland and Thailand.
“I think I probably have as good a chance as anybody,” Carter said. “I haven’t seen what the other competition is.”
Carter and his teammates, Joe Cook and Joe Masterpaul, are converting a 2009 Chevrolet Aveo into an electric car by installing a battery pack and an electric motor in the rear of the car to provide power. The car will still use a gasoline engine in the front hood, but that will only be used to charge the battery pack, Carter said.
The car should get 150 miles to a gallon of gas, he said.
Carter expects to finish building the car in the next three months.
Regardless of whether he wins the contest, Carter said he plans to expand his company and begin producing electric cars to sell on the market.
If he wins the $5 million purse, Carter said he will first pay his teammates for their time and investments, then use the rest to kick-start his business and begin mass-producing the cars.
“My hope is that I can start everything in Cortland and keep it here,” Carter said. “I would like to see something in Cortland that has to do with manufacturing again.”
Carter is a former construction worker who has dabbled in fixing cars and studying electrical engineering throughout his life.
Cook is an engineer who owns BK Precision, a machine shop in Cortland, and supplies Carter with parts designed for the electric vehicle. Masterpaul helps Carter by working on the body of the car.
Carter’s 4,000-square-foot shop is located behind West Road Plaza, a shopping center in Cortlandville, which Carter owns. He purchased the property and built the shopping center through BL Carter Construction, a construction company he formed in the 1980s.
Carter formed USA Electric Cars about a year ago after he had heard about the Automotive X Prize, which Progressive Insurance Company later agreed to sponsor.
He is entering the converted Chevrolet Aveo into the competition’s mainstream class. The cash prizes will be awarded to “those that can design and build production-capable, 100 miles per gallon energy equivalent vehicles that people want to buy and that meet market needs for price, size capability, safety and performance,” according to a news release from Progressive Insurance.
The competition also includes an alternative category, which will have two winners who will each receive $2.5 million.
Registered teams, such as Carter’s, will undergo design judging based on a detailed data submission with information on vehicle features, production capability, safety and business plans, according to Progressive.
Contestants’ business models must show that the group would be able to produce 10,000 cars by 2014.
“It’s a big challenge,” Carter said. “I may not reach that goal, but I want to get to the point where I’m producing at least a thousand per year.”
Contestants that pass the design judging will become competing teams and move on to the performance testing phase of the event. This will include competition events that will begin as early as May f 2010, according to Progressive.
Carter said the cars will be raced on roads with other cars to simulate typical highway and city driving scenarios. Because the drivers must maintain the speed limit, the winning car will be the one that maneuvers best, Carter said. There will also be one race on a racetrack, he said.
Carter said he began building his first electric cars about five years ago and now works full-time in developing his converted Chevrolet Aveo for the contest. He has no formal training in automotive work, but has worked on cars since he was a child, when his father and he used to put larger engines in smaller cars to increase their power.
Years ago, Carter took a couple of electrical engineering classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College, and he has taken other engineering courses online.
Carter started BL Carter Construction Company in 1978. He oversaw the construction of houses and apartments in Cortland and later moved on to commercial and industrial buildings, he said. He purchased the property for West Road Plaza in 1986 and built the shopping center in 1989, he said.
Carter retired from construction in the mid-1990’s and later decided to use his experience in cars and electrical engineering to develop and energy-efficient, electric car.
“I just decided I really didn’t want to go back to construction, so it gave me more time to work on vehicles and electric vehicles, which always interested me anyway,” he said.
Carter has completed one electric car, a Dodge Intrepid, and the Chevrolet Aveo is his second model. The Intrepid was too heavy, he said, weighing 4,000 pounds once it was converted to use electricity. It worked fine for city driving but had trouble on highways because it did not accelerate well. It could reach 65 or 70 mph but could not maintain that speed for very long, Carter said.
The Aveo only weighs 2,400 pounds and should be able to maintain a speed of 95 to 100 mph, Carter said.
When Carter started building his first electric car, most electric vehicles could not travel more than 50 or 60 miles per gallon of gas, and owners of the cars had to plug them in at night to charge them.
Carter said the cars he is designing are charged by a gasoline engine while a person is driving it, so they never have to be plugged in to a charger.
“My thing’s always been to create something that has pretty good gas mileage and you don’t have to charge it up at night,” he said.


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