The Eltra team can tell you a thing or two about “Who Killed the Electric Car,” as they have lived it – many times over. With the advent of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition, Eltra is proving that their vehicle may have been ahead of its time, but it is still very much alive and well.
Eltra began developing and patenting their electric vehicle technology over 15 years ago,and they currently hold three patents. Team leader, Carolyn Johnson, is an expert in environmental compliance. As an Environmental Specialist for a Department of Energy contractor, Carolyn attended an EPA convention in 1993 in Florida that was to be the catalyst for the team’s venture into the field of electric vehicles.
Inspired by a speech that she heard at the convention about the movement toward electric vehicles, Carolyn returned to her home in Las Vegas and shared what she learned with her then-husband Ron Johnson. As it turns out, Ron had already been mulling over an idea for a zero emission vehicle for a few years. Destiny seemed in their corner when a year later, Ron’s business was acquired by Mikohn Gaming and the pair was able to use some of the earnings to begin their electric car venture.
Ron began working on the motor in 1994. In 1999, they received the rest of the money that they needed to further the development of their electric motor. And, by early 2000, Eltra Systems had completed the build of their zero emission vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Eltra had the opportunity to present their technology to Ford, but the meeting never came about, due to the auto manufacturer’s distractions over liability issues with the Firestone tire incidents and 9/11. Thus, their first disappointment.
Work continued until 2002 when the loss of investor/venture capital interest in EV/HEV technology caused their work to stop.
Carolyn says of that period in time, “The mandates for electric car development were rescinded due to lack of technology, although we had this technology. We felt that we just were unable to get the publicity and interest.Funding has been our greatest challenge, and has kept us from building a business to design prototype sustainable products.”
Over the course of their development, Eltra has spent over $1,200,000 on their vehicle technology, with over 50% of the monies being self-funded. In 2002, the Eltra team had to set their vehicle development aside, due to funding issues and a previous indifference from the automotive industry to alternative technologies. Since that time, they have returned to working for other people.
Carolyn, who holds multiple degrees including an M.S. in Technology from Eastern Illinois University, is the Environmental Officer for Las Vegas Valley Water District in Las Vegas, NV. She leads the environmental team in operations at LVVWD in support of hundreds of sites from Ely to Laughlin NV including pump sites, ranches, well sites, LVVWD support, and water treatment facilities
Ron is no stranger to innovation. In his previous company, Current Technology Systems, he developed and manufactured video amusement and associated gaming equipment. Some of this company's customers included the largest casino gambling companies: Harrah's, Caesars Resort, Hilton, Bally's and Circus-Circus Properties. He has recently been involved in development of a new control system for the Offset Printing Industry and the design of Eltra’s new series hybrid electric bicycle.
In 2007, Carolyn learned of the Automotive X PRIZE through an article in “Wired Magazine.” She resurrected the team beginning with Ron, and together they began assembling a team comprised of previous Eltra Systems employees, associates of Ron’s from his other technical developments, family friends, and even a volunteer that came from reading their website. None of the team members are paid, but they are all dedicated to succeeding.
The new Eltra Hybrid is planned to be a conversion of a production vehicle with dual traction motors utilizing Eltra’s patented motor technology to achieve 120 to 140 MPGe. Eltra intends to manufacture a complete drop-in cradle conversion system that allows select production vehicles to be converted in just a single day. Currently, Eltra is also finalizing the development of the E-Flyer True Series Hybrid Electric Bicycle and expects to begin production and marketing in 2009.