June 10, 08
New ElectriCar Four-Seat Plug-in Hybrid Kit Car to Sell For $20,000

AJim Milner plans to change the world with two prototype cars, designed in Vancouver.

One is his ElectriCar, a four-door, four-seat, plug-in hybrid car ready to hit the highway in about a year. The first 100 cars will be sold as “kit cars,” assembled and driven away one at a time, for between $20,000 and $30,000 each. Mass production will come later.

His other invention is the AirCar, a Jetsons-style car that runs on gasoline, and is designed to drive the highways at up to 85 mph and fly at 200 mph for up to 1,000 miles. It’ll probably cost a driver-pilot about half a million dollars.

The ElectriCar runs now, experimentally, while the AirCar hasn’t left the ground. It’s still in the modeling stage.

Milner knows the AirCar is a fantasy trip but still expects to sell working flying cars in about three years or so.

“I’ve wanted to build a flying car for 30 years,” said Milner, 65, who has quietly designed his prototypes at his Vancouver home along the Columbia River.

Milner declined to say publicly how much he has invested in his inventions, but it is considerable. He believes the investment will pay off for him and his partner son, Chris, of Bethesda, Md.

In these days of soaring gasoline prices, however, it’s the ElectriCar that Milner is pushing hardest.

“The flying car will change the world for one-tenth of 1 percent of the people,” he said. “But the electric car can change it for 10 percent of the people.”

Both prototypes will be available for public viewing during a spring rollout at Pearson Field, 1115 E. Fifth St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 14. Milner will talk about the vehicles then. Many other airplanes will be shown and aircraft parts will be laid out in a swap meet at that time.

Milner was a United Airlines pilot from 1969 to the mid-1980s and has spent more than 35 years in the aviation industry, working also as a flight instructor. He made enough to finance his inventions by running an aviation school from 1972 to 1997 and then organized a nationwide computer-based testing business for aspiring pilots.

Three years ago he sold that business, LaserGrade, retired and went to work on the designs. A native of Canby, Ore., he has lived in Vancouver since 1991.

“There are a half-dozen electric cars that are being built by small groups like we are,” said Milner. “Fortunately, a lot of them are like Tesla in California, which is doing a two-door, zero-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, testosterone vehicle, a sports car. Subaru is building a two-door, two-seater, and that seems like a good effort, and Mitsubishi is building a vehicle.”

The ElectriCar is unique because it is a family car, he said. It will resemble a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord.

“We’ve driven it on Lower River Road up to 60 mph, and it drives well, real stable,” he said, patting the low-set, silver-colored vehicle. “It’s easy to drive, lightweight at just 1,250 pounds.

Milner figures the time is ripe for an electric family car as gas climbs toward $5 a gallon and beyond.

“The electric car is really what has the possibility of changing the world,” he said. “We decided to do almost the Volkswagen of electric cars. Comfort and good gas mileage. It’s coming along.”

Built of fiberglass on a steel frame, the ElectriCar will cover 100 miles on two hours of battery power, he said. It can be recharged at night in the garage. To travel more than 100 miles, the ElectriCar will come equipped with a 10 horsepower, gasoline-powered generator to recharge on the run. An hour’s charging will consume a gallon of gas.

“The gasoline generator will come on when the batteries get low and then charge for an hour,” he said. “And then you’ll have another hour of running time on battery.

In effect, the ElectriCar will require no gasoline for short runs and will achieve about 120 miles per gallon on long trips, he said. “We’re aiming to have the gas efficiency above 100 miles per gallon, because that number gets people’s attention,” he added.

“Right now we’re using two 48-volt direct-current motors that put out 40 horsepower. We have lead-acid batteries. I’m pretty sure we’ll change to AC (alternating-current) motors because they are more efficient. But DC motors are easier to come by and cheap,” he said.

If the many problems associated with electric cars can be solved, then it can be powered off the grid by electricity from coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, solar or wind, he said. That will cut down on America’s dependence on oil.

Historically, electric cars have had issues with high battery costs, limited travel distance between battery charges, charging time, and battery lifespan. But Milner says he’s close to solving all those problems, and the era of the electric car is about to emerge full-blown.

“I think that’s the way the world is going to go,” he said. “I am a lot more frantic about getting this electric car visible and out there, so we can show we’ve solved these problems.”

The AirCar is a tougher challenge, he said.

The car needs to be compact to run on the highway with its wings folded, yet be readily convertible to fly. It needs two rotary engines to develop 320 horsepower to fly 200 mph and a separate 40 horsepower engine for ground speeds up to 85 mph.

It needs to have its weight distributed and its controls set up to work both on the ground and in the air. It needs adequate wing size yet compact structure to meet highway standards. It needs to minimize drag on the ground to increase gas mileage.

He expects the AirCar will achieve about 13 miles per gallon in the air. He is uncertain about mileage on the ground. Economy won’t be its strong suit.

Over the past 75 years, Milner said, there have been more than 100 U.S. patents issued for flying cars, from gyroplanes with foldable rotors to vertical takeoff vehicles. None has been a commercial success.

The problems can be solved, he said. But the AirCar won’t appeal to everyone. It will be out of reach for the family budget.

The flying car is an exciting idea whose time will come, he said, but the time of the electric car is here.