2008-12-04 / Business

Local man has the drive to put more alternative fuel vehicles on the road

By Daniel Wolowicz camarillo@theacorn.com

WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT—CalMotors President Mike Kasaba gets the feel of a 356 Electric Speedster in the warehouse of CalMotors in Camarillo. CalMotors designs and engineers prototype vehicles and specializes in hybrid electric and electric-only power trains. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT—CalMotors President Mike Kasaba gets the feel of a 356 Electric Speedster in the warehouse of CalMotors in Camarillo. CalMotors designs and engineers prototype vehicles and specializes in hybrid electric and electric-only power trains. Mike Kasaba has made a career out of recognizing the potential of an emerging technology and turning it into a moneymaking reality.

A big winner in the Internet boom a decade earlier and the founder of a California-based utility company that sells solar energy to industrial users, the 42-year-old Kasaba wants to bring his true passion—environmentally friendly vehicles—to America's roadways.

Kasaba, a resident of Topanga and the president of CalMotors in Camarillo, has been working since 2002 to develop affordable hybrid and electric power trains with enough range and reliability to put the combustion engine on blocks for good.

A graduate of Illinois State University, Kasaba said his company's focus is the creation of the vehicle's "central nervous system," the computer that controls the engine. In essence, the system allows the vehicle to run more efficiently and to last longer.

CalMotors is applying its expertise to projects that include a diverse clientele, from highend foreign car companies to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Accelerating

electric motors

With the help of CalMotors technology, Ruf Automobiles— a Germanybased company licensed by Porsche to retrofit its cars with high-performing electric motors—released earlier this year the prototype of a zero-emission Porsche with a torque twice that of a traditional engine.

Although starting cost for the electric Porsche is $300,000, Kasaba said the prototype delivers an electric motor with muscle-car power and is another step in the evolution of the zeroemission powertrain.

More importantly, Kasaba said the highend sports car continues to stoke the everincreasing public demand for hybrid and electric vehicles. He said that a market's enthusiasm for an emerging product is as important as the new technology that makes it possible.

"What's going to propel the market is the excitement around electric vehicles," Kasaba said. "It makes people more tolerant of what they can't get out of an electric vehicle."

Kasaba said electric vehicles are creating the same type of excitement within the auto industry as muscle cars did in the 1960s and Japanese cars did in the 1990s.

Like most automakers, Kasaba said it's unlikely electric cars will be able to compete head to head with industry mainstays such as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry for the next decade.

"Electric vehicles have a long way to go before their range, reliability and cost are truly competitive with the average car out there," said Kasaba, noting that billions of dollars have been poured into the development of the combustion engine by automakers worldwide since it was introduced more than 100 years ago.

'Dysfunction of

the Big Three'

The innovation of a more environmentally friendly engine has been slowed considerably by the Big Three automakers, Kasaba said.

"This industry is kept down by the dysfunction of the Big Three," said Kasaba, who adamantly opposes the U.S. government's proposed $25billion bailout of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

Kasaba pointed to the fact that because there are so few automakers, both in the U.S. and abroad, the competition between the carmakers made idea sharing nearly nonexistent.

That closetothevest mentality is changing, he said.

That's due in large part to the fact that the small automakers, similar to the Internet startup companies of the 1990s, see an advantage to sharing technology for the industry as a whole.

"If you were to get rid of those Big Three, we would have a renaissance period in the automotive industry," Kasaba said. "Nimble, small, efficient companies like ours and others would take over this industry and would make the United States a leader in clean-vehicle technology."

A growing number of boutique automakers are emerging throughout the U.S.

According to Paul Scott, a board member for Plug In America, a Californiabased national advocacy group for electric vehicles, six electric engine automakers have set up shop in California in the past five years.

What's next?

Santa Monica-based Miles Automobiles is one such emerging car company.

CalMotors is working with Miles to help develop its engine.

The project is headed by CalMotors' chief engineer Brian Huff, a Newbury Park resident.

Huff, recruited by Kasaba while completing his master's degree in mechanical engineering, said he enjoys his work because he is given the chance to work on a project from start to finish.

"I like that we get to go from start to finish rather than one piece of the development," Huff said. "We start from a concept and get to drive something in the end."

Projects overseen by Huff include the development of an electric motor for offroad excavating vehicles used by the U.S. Army and Air Force.

Kasaba said the defense industry is an emerging market for companies developing electric drivetrains. Motors typically used in most military vehicles aren't built with low emission standards in mind.

"They run on diesel; they're hydraulic; they're very loud," Kasaba said. "We're replacing those dirty powertrains with fuel-cell electric powertrains, making them perfectly clean."

Kasaba is in the midst of raising capital to launch his newest invention, The Ride, a three-wheel competitor to the Segway. He said the batterydriven vehicle is intended for police departments, the military, large industrial plants, college campuses and other businesses that cover large areas and require the transportation of employees.

Kasaba said because The Ride has three wheels, it's safer than the Segway and would cut down on injuries.

"What Segway did was establish the need. What we did is create a good product that meets the need," he said.

Once financing is set, Kasaba said he plans to use a Midwest manufacturing facility to make around 12,000 of the electric vehicles per year.

What keeps Kasaba motivated each day?

"It's taking an idea and, in the end, being able to drive it," he said. "And in the end, you're feeling really good that you're moving technology in the right direction for the environment and, I think, the right direction for our country."

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