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All-electric ATV: No myth to bust on this one

A new clean-tech start-up in the San Francisco Bay Area called Barefoot Motors is developing an all-electric ATV, with help from Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame.

I had a chance to visit with the founders of a new San Francisco Bay Area clean-tech start-up called Barefoot Motors, which is building an all-electric ATV. I think is a great idea for an untapped electric vehicle product.

Think about it: Of all the potential electric vehicles out there, ATVs suck down a comparably large amount of gasoline per mile and are used primarily for short-range transport (range is a longtime achilles heel of electric vehicles). And some riders have a serious problem with the noise and the noxious exhaust fumes.

Add to that the fact that ATV riders want a combination between acceleration and power that electric drive systems are particularly good at doing, and you should be able to get a really great product from an electric all-terrain vehicle. According to barefoot, Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame agrees. He had a big hand in the prototype.

I have followed the Barefoot story for some time, but this week one of the co-founders, Melissa Brandao who was formerly with the electric vehicle company Zap, spared a few minutes on the record to give Cleantech Blog the rundown.

So Melissa, give us the story.

Brandao: Barefoot Motors is proud to be the first company to offer Earth Utility Vehicles. Our first vehicle is called the Model One. It's an all-electric, heavy-duty ATV for primarily agricultural and industrial applications. It has all the power and speed of a conventional heavy-duty ATV with the added benefits of being eco-friendly, with a lower cost of ownership driven by fuel savings, quieter, and more comfortable to ride, along with those expected perks like rebates and other incentives that are likely to be instituted in the coming years to help reduce air quality issues faster. As far as air quality goes, replacing one conventional ATV with the Model One is like taking four cars off the road. There are 1.6 million of these ATVs running around California. But because they are not in plain site they are often overlooked and forgotten by all of those that do not encounter them regularly. ATVs, unlike cars, are not highly regulated, and it will take years to change that.

Why Electric ATVs? What is better about them than electric cars?

Brandao: Electric ATVs are not better than EVs; they're just different, as off-road vehicles are different than on-road vehicles. The premise at Barefoot was to build a comparable vehicle to the heavy-duty ATVs that were currently available knowing that the one area that we would have to address is range. What we discovered is that the principle application for our vehicle did not require an 80-mile range to fit their needs. They simply need a good, reliable, heavy-duty workhorse that will work around their property throughout the day. That is the Model One's sweet spot.

What exactly is your Electric ATV going to look like?

Brandao: That is under discussion as we speak, but fundamentally it will look like an ATV with some design changes based on innovation as well as the distribution of weight and space. In essence, there's less stuff on the Model One, so there is more space to work with.

Melissa, you told me Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame had a big hand in the prototype?

Brandao: Yes, I met him at Maker Faire two years back and we have stayed in touch since then. When I introduced him to the idea of collaborating with Barefoot Motors, a green utility vehicle company, he was keenly interested for two reasons. One, he has been an advocate of alternative-fueled vehicles for a long time. He even rides an electric bicycle back and forth to work. Two, Jamie was raised on a farm and he rode his grandfather's three-wheel ATV on the property, so he understands the importance of a good utility vehicle for agriculture. In essence, this project hit home. As a prototype builder, Jamie can create elegant solutions that are simple and functional, he is the holder of several patents and he has a deep knowledge of electronics, robotics, and rapid development. In building the Model One, Jamie has been the driver behind the choice of technologies and packaging. He has kept us focused on that same principle of simple but elegant design. The proof of concept, Model One, achieves our initial performance requirements. In fact, it has exceeded expectations and it's so fun to ride, as you can see from the video of Jamie riding it. When are we going to get you on it?? (Soon Melissa, very soon).

Will it have more or less pulling power than a conventional one?

Brandao: In towing capacity we can handle 1,000 lbs. That is our baseline performance, which is on par with a conventional heavy-duty ATV.

What about range?

Brandao: Our prototype is getting about 30 to 40 miles on a charge. The big difference when you talk range is that an ATV encounters many variations in the off-road terrain, mud, sand, gravel, dirt, steeper slopes, which can skew the range figures more than it would on a standard car that drives almost entirely on asphalt.

Is there a list I can get on to buy one?

Brandao: First, check out the video clip. Then yes, please contact if you are interested in purchasing one. We are building about 150 next year. We are asking for deposits of roughly 10 percent which we will apply to the price of the vehicle. It is fully refundable at any time.

Are your battery needs much different than from cars?

Brandao: Our choice is lithium ion batteries. We feel the density and efficiency you gain is significant enough that it only makes sense in this application.

Are we going to have a naming contest for your Electric ATV? Do we need a new acronym? EATV sounds dull. How about Electric Warthog?

Brandao: Sorry, we got the name already, but I like the idea of customer interaction so you will see some clever ideas from Barefoot in the coming months!

Thanks Melissa, great story.