Sales of solar cars picking up in Sun City - East Valley Tribune: News

Sales of solar cars picking up in Sun City

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Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2008 1:21 am | Updated: 9:39 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

SUN CITY - Skyrocketing gas prices and Arizona’s nearly constant sunshine mean one thing for Classic Golf Cars owner Jack Santoro: solar-powered golf cars.

The Sun City businessman has begun to capitalize on the relatively new technology and expects that someday solar-powered golf cars will replace their gas and electric counterparts.

Santoro sells the solar-powered golf cars, along with gas and electric golf cars, at his shop. Many people are still unaware of the potential benefits of solar power, he said.

Not only is solar power less expensive than ringing up electric bills from daily charging or $3-plus per gallon gas prices; solar cars also have comparable features to gas and electric cars, Santoro said.

“The speed is the same, about 24-25 miles per hour,” he said. “The features are the same.”

However, the solar cars have more than a few advantages over their gas and electric counterparts.

“Your range is going to be longer because as you’re driving, it’s charging,” he said. “Life expectancy of the batteries will be longer because the (solar) panel is constantly charging the batteries.”

Batteries last an average of two years longer in solar cars. At about $900 every five years for a new battery in non-solar cars, Santoro said the savings add up.

“The battery life will be extended to about seven years,” he said. “It’s worth about $200 in batteries alone.”

While electric cars have about 30 miles per eight- to 10-hour charge, the solar cars get about 50 miles per six-hour charge and supplement the charge using sunlight on daily outings, he said.

“With a conventional car, you’re going to charge it about every single day,” he said. “With a solar car, you may charge it every third day.”

Solar cars channel energy from the sunlight to the car’s battery, which powers the electric motor. The extra energy from the sun means external charging is needed less often, saving money on energy bills.

“The solar cars charge about 15 percent of power that the car needs into the batteries,” he said. “While you’re out for three or four hours, your car is charging. When you come home and if you need to charge your batteries, the running time of the charger is decreased. Therefore, your electric bill is decreased.”

Santoro began selling the energy-efficient cars, which have solar panels mounted on the rooftop, about two years ago. The Chinese-made vehicles were first introduced in Florida about four years ago. He said the abundant sunshine in Arizona made it an easy choice for him to sell the solar models, after he heard how well they were working for Floridians.

The solar cars are comparably priced to gas and electric versions with similar features. The Cruise Car solar model Santoro sells is about $8,500. In comparison, gas-powered cars he sells range from $7,500 to $10,000, he said. Solar car buyers will also receive a government tax credit of about $990 per car.

Santoro said many consumers steer clear of the solar-powered cars because they are afraid of the battery dying unexpectedly and running out of power.

“You’ll know it,” he said. “The car will slow down and even if you were to come to a complete stop, if you were to sit there for 15 minutes the battery would recharge itself somewhat just to get you creeping along. With routine recharging you’ll never run out of power.”

The car has a battery gauge as well, he said.

Santoro said sales have increased in the two years he’s sold the solar cars, and he expects sales to continue to rise given the push toward environmentally friendly products in recent years and ever-increasing gas prices.

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