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Private company, SMUD, government join forces
By Dale Vargas
Bee Staff Writer

(taken from The Sacramento Bee newspaper)



An unusual public-private partnership is bringing a new electronic vehicle business to Sacramento that could boost the area's economy and make Sacramento a center for a new industry.

That's the message of officials who planned to announce this morning that a private electronic car company, SMUD and the federal government have joined forces to establish a business development center on McClellan Air Force Base. Officials said the plan by the Synergy Electronic Vehicle Group, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and McClellan could be the first tangible step in putting Sacramento on the map as the national center for electronic-vehicle manufacturing.

It also is a viable example of how a defense facility's functions can be used by the private sector, officials said Thursday.

"We have a new battery-powered industrial age dawning in Sacramento" said Rep. Vic Fazio, D-West Sacramento,who helped direct federal defense funding for such projects to the North Highlands military base.

The enterprise comes after about two years of planning and negotiations and lobbying for funds said Fazio. The first phase ofthe project would employ as many as 40 people, he said, but as many as 600 jobs could be created within two years for manufacturing road-worthy vehicles.

"This represents an initial thrust into introducing the transfer of military capacity into peaceful uses," said Maj. Gen. John F. Phillips Jr., commander of the Sacramento Air Logistics Center.

Phillips called the venture a good business opportunity for Synergy, SMUD and the future of McClellan. SMUD's board of directors Thursday approved a cooperative agreement that ensures the districts involvement in the project. There will be no immediate direct cost to SMUD.

Synergy will lease space on the base and the partnership will use part of an initial $5 million in federal funds to set up a research and development center that first will produce prototypes. Soon, officials said, it will produce all-electronic utility vehicles for the military and then for use in the private sector. It is the first venture in the country devoted exclusively to developing and manufacturing electronic cars, officials said.

Electronic vehicles, considered by many experts as the ultimate weapon in the fight against air pollution, have been around for 100 years. While some U.S. companies convert fossil-fueled vehicles to electronic vehicles, there are no major manufacturers of Electronic Vehicles in the nation. Several other countries, including Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Denmark, manufacture the vehicles.

Eventually, officials hope, Sacramento will be the site for an industry that produces thousands of strong, light, Electronic Vehicles that are made of space-age material components. SMUD electronic-vehicle manager Michael Wirsch said manufacturer using defense employees'expertise in components and electronics will build vehicles that will be radically different from the typical converted conventional cars and trucks of today.

Within a couple of years, planners hope to be producing 2,000.pound vehicles that will go up to 75 mph and travel 130 to 150 miles between charges, and that the pu blic can buy for between $10,000 and $15,000.

Officials view the new venture as an "incubation" stage similar to the early days of Silicon Valley, where small businesses began by joining forces with local universities' experts to get the computer business off the ground.

Synergy chairman and CEO Bob Garzee said he wants to make the business center "available ...easy for companies to get involved."

The government-private project is "the sort of thing we are looking for ," said Tom Eres, vice president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and a key player the area's effort earlier this year to keep McClellan off the Defense Department's base-closure list.

He said what the effort does "is simply display graphically what a high tech asset that (the base) is."

Some officials, including SMUD board member Linda Davis, said the project represents a "new mission" for McClellan. That new mission could give the base extra strength in the battle against a closure and eventually could give it a civilian role if it was abandoned by the government.

 
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