EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 9, 2013

Andover man makes electric cars work

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — You find two types of people who have a high passion for automobiles. The first is the typical car guy. He just likes big, powerful machines. You’re likely to see a car guy driving a fast, flashy auto.

The other type is his opposite, the militant environmentalist. Instead of enthusiasm for cars, his high passion is a zealous disapproval of them. The militant environmentalist blames autos for wrecking the entire earth.

But even environmentalists like the benefits and advantages of personal transportation. So you see them driving autos, too. You’re likely to find a militant environmentalist in a small, quiet, low-impact car. He is passionate about it precisely because it is not big and powerful.

Art Iworsley breaks both molds. Art drives a Smart Electric, which is the most ecologically friendly automobile you can own today. The miniature, two-seat Smart is as small as you can go and still call a vehicle an automobile. The Smart Electric runs on batteries alone. No gasoline gets anywhere near the car. It has a miles-per-gallon equivalent, or MPGe – a government concocted measure of what gas mileage for the model might be – of 122 miles per gallon in around-town driving.

The little electric is brand new, introduced by Smart in May and starting at a list price of $25,000. Officially the model is called the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, sold in the United States by Mercedes-Benz. Smart began as a joint undertaking between Mercedes and the European wristwatch company Swatch. The brand has sold gasoline-powered micro cars in the United States since 2008.

Art Iworsley, an Andover resident, purchased his Smart Electric three weeks ago at Smart Center Boston, a part of Herb Chambers Mercedes-Benz in Somerville. He bought a convertible version, with a fabric top that peels back and stacks behind the two seats and removable side rails atop the two doors. Art’s Smart is white, with zesty green accents like slashes surrounding the windshield and outlining the doors. The car is stubby and sprite. Art is unquestionably passionate about it.

But not the way a militant environmentalist might be. In fact, Art’s interest and enthusiasm for autos runs closer to the passion of a car guy. That’s not to say that Art doesn’t also live responsibly, tread lightly, care about the environment and pitch in. He does a lot to pitch in. But he has an admiration for autos, not a dislike of them. It’s just that, instead of leading him to a fast, flashy car, Art’s appreciation brought him uniquely to his new little electric.

Students at Andover High School greet Art as Coach I. He is a retired phys-ed teacher in the Andover schools and currently assistant track coach at the high school – after a long stint as head track coach. I don’t know how he performed as a runner back when he competed himself, but it’s easy to see Art Iworsley leading a pack. He’s just not one to follow. Art thinks for himself, comes up with independent ideas and then acts on them.

He likes self-sufficiency, too. For example, even as a kid, he felt a hankering to build his own house – just because it seemed right to him.

“In the summer of 1976 I bought this land,” he told me as we looked out from his kitchen. “In the summer of ‘77 I put my tent up.” He built the post-and-beam house from timbers hewn by a company that supplied materials to do-it-yourselfers like Art. But before Art, the company made kits only for one-story homes. Art wanted a second floor. When he showed the company his sketch, the outfit custom cut his timbers, and eventually converted to making kits for only two-story homes.

Similar independent thinking led Coach I to the Smart Electric.

First, while watching traffic, he realized how many of us drive more car than we need.

“I counted 100 cars. Ninety-five of them had no passenger,” Art recalled. Clearly smaller cars were sufficient to transport a driver alone, creating less roadway crowding and congestion. Pushed by that realization, he bought his first Smart in 2008. In 2011, he traded up to a convertible version of the Smart. That was the car guy at work: “I’d always wanted a convertible,” he explained.

He went electric after recently test-driving a Leaf, the Nissan all-electric automobile. Dan Enxing, a neighbor who owns Subaru of Nashua in New Hampshire, loaned Art the Leaf for a two-week trial. The Smart Electric Art purchased in May was the first model registered in Massachusetts, he believes.

I think electric drive appeals to Art’s penchant for self-sufficiency. He can plug in at home to recharge and never have to stop at a gas station. Even better, right now he’s finishing the installation of solar panels on his house, to make electricity from sunlight. That could eliminate electric bills while putting homemade energy in his Smart.

“When I plug my car in, I can say I’m being powered by the sun,” he said.

For Art, the Smart Electric isn’t an ideological statement, it is simply practical. Accordingly, the practical solutions he applies to overcome the limits of all-electric automobiles can be a model for other ordinary drivers to follow, which could make electric drive more popular.

For example, he is having a fast-charge station installed in his garage, so he won’t have to wait long for a full recharge of the Smart’s batteries. And naturally the Smart Electric serves only for personal use and only within a limited area. Art’s family owns other, conventional cars for times when the Iworsleys need to haul more passengers or cargo than the little electric can manage, or when they want to travel farther than the Smart Electric’s 60- to 70-mile range per battery charge can carry them.

To deal with range anxiety – fear that your electric car might not make it home before its juice runs dry – Art researches public charging stations where he can top off the batteries. And he ferrets out plugs. Art does weekly volunteer work at the Museum of Science in Boston, about the farthest he drives his electric Smart. Deep in the lowest level of the museum’s parking garage, he found four standard wall plugs where he can grab some power while he’s at work in the museum.

“I do it just in case I want to stop someplace on my way home,” he explained, “so I don’t have that anxiety that I might be running out of power.”

In other words, he tinkers around, tries different ideas and approaches, and makes his Smart Electric work for him as well as it can, just like any good car guy.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.