February 16, 2019

Palm Beach Daily News

More funds key to road

Three-wheel prototype runs on electricity, reaches 30-plus mph.

By M.M. Cloutier, Special To The Daily News
Monday, May 03, 2004

Daily News Photo by Ruth Cincotta
(enlarge photo)
Erika Pollitzer, creator of this three-wheeled electronic vehicle, and investor Kane Baker of Palm Beach demonstrate their street-ready prototype, a neighborhood electric motorcycle. Further design refinements are planned.

A couple of years ago in the North End, Palm Beacher Kane Baker took a ride on the prototype of a newfangled three-wheeled electronic vehicle.

Then he opened his wallet.

Baker is among a handful of private investors, among others, hoping the covered street-legal vehicle, which can seat up to four and drive up to 30-plus mph, will revolutionize the way people get around in resorts, gated communities, theme parks and other venues. The vehicle's creator, West Palm Beach-based Resort Vehicles, Inc., needs $3 million to set up a manufacturing and showroom facility and start producing the zero-emission vehicle with its partner, a Pompano Beach-based recreational vehicle company.

At the helm of Resort Vehicles and its board of directors is Erika Pollitzer, the sister of longtime Palm Beacher and jewelry designer Helga Wagner, who also has invested in the as-yet-unnamed vehicle.

Pollitzer's vehicle, to be available in a wide array of colors, is steered by handlebars by a driver who sits motorcycle-style; behind is room for three passengers, one in tandem with the driver, the other two on either side. Pollitzer said rickshaws were her initial inspiration before she approached a London-based automotive designer 10 years ago to help put her electronic-vehicle concept on paper.

"I took the multiple capacity three-wheel configuration of the rickshaw and converted it into an innovative, state-of-the-art lightweight vehicle designed to be used in resorts for families on holiday, residential communities, new urban city developments and neighborhoods," said Pollitzer, a native of Austria and a self-described environmentalist. "It is sufficient for short distances and is environmentally clean, fun, quiet and inexpensive to run."

With an overnight charge in a standard household 110-volt outlet, the vehicle has a range of 75 to 100 miles on flat terrain, and 50 to 60 miles if there are hills and several starts and stops. With no windshield or windows — Pollitzer said rain shields will be available — and a weight of about 1,000 pounds, the vehicle has tail, front and brake lights, plus a trunk that can hold eight full grocery bags. Tentatively retail priced between $8,000 and $9,000, it can be outfitted with a variety of upgrades.

Already, there are buyers lined up, according to Dave Bamdas, vice president of Riva Motorsports in Pompano Beach, which designed the vehicle prototype two years ago and has invested in the venture. Riva, which provides motorsports products such as such as jet skis to more than 1,000 resorts and rental agencies in the United States and Caribbean, has received both verbal and written commitments from several of its clients, Bamdas said.

"With the commercial accounts we have, this is a shoe-in for us — these guys are waiting for a vehicle like this," Bamdas said. "Then there's the retail market for people who live in gated communities, for instance. Why should a 130-pound woman jump into a giant SUV to go a few miles to the market or a friend's house?"

Studies show 75 percent of trips people make by car are short distances, most six miles or less. With 90 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in urban areas stemming from gasoline-powered cars, governing bodies for years have pushed for a wider use of zero-emission, street-legal electronic vehicles; there are now federal and state tax credits for consumers who purchase them.

With the mounting cry for zero-emission vehicles for short trips on lower-speed-limit roads, it's no wonder Pollitzer has competitors already producing and selling. Daimler Chrysler's four-wheeled "GEM" electronic vehicles, which Pollitzer called a "glorified golf cart," can be seen at CityPlace, where they're driven by security and parking personnel. Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iococca, who brought us the Mustang and minivan, now has a four-wheeled electronic "Lido" line of vehicles, which look somewhat like small versions of Chrysler's PT Cruiser.

Those and similar electronic vehicles on the market are classified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission as neighborhood electronic vehicles (NEVs) or low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and are restricted to roads posted no higher than 35 mph, among other regulations.

Pollitzer's three-wheeled vehicle is classified as a neighborhood electronic motorcycle, which offers more flexibility. For instance, the vehicle is permitted on roads with posted speed limits of up 40 mph and it need not have seat belts, although Pollitzer said she was adamant about including some sort of safety harness.

But perhaps what most differentiates Pollitzer's three-wheeled vehicle is its appearance.

"A lot of the vehicle's advantage is the look," said adviser Walter Palmer, former national accounts director for Augusta, Ga.-based Club Car, a leading manufacturer of golf carts and light utility vehicles, and currently sales manager of Professional Golf Cart in Vero Beach. "Even if you set this three-wheeled vehicle next to a moped, the tourist is going to choose it because of the safety — it's stable — and if someone has kids, there's room. Based on the room in the marketplace for this kind of vehicle, the time is now."

The road to now started a decade ago.

In 1994, Pollitzer, then living in London, approached an auto designer, Keiji Omaki, in the automotive department of the Royal College of Art. After she and Omaki, who continues to offer guidance, had the concept on paper, Pollitzer took it to an international travel expo in London, where it piqued hotels' and resorts' interest.

In 1995, Pollitzer formed Resort Vehicles International Ltd. in London with automotive experts intrigued by the project, and within a year, they raised seed capital from an English industrialist and owner of a collectibles company.

By 1997, with a subcontractor, they built a space-frame chassis on wheels, which was then extensively tested at a mechanical engineering university in England.

Having identified the Caribbean and U.S. sunbelt states as opportune launch pads, Pollitzer incorporated Resort Vehicles Inc. in West Palm Beach in March 2000, when she received private funding from an Austrian television producer. Her London company licensed all intellectual property to the new Florida company to manufacture and market the vehicles in the U.S. and Caribbean.

Pollitzer quickly partnered with Riva, which, through its equity investment in Resort Vehicles, is now part owner. Once Riva completed the prototype, Pollitzer took it to various South Florida resort communities and sparked numerous preconstruction orders.

In 2002, Baker's ride convinced him the vehicle was worth an investment.

"It provided me with a very outdoor experience as opposed to being in a rigid box like a regular car," Baker said. "It also gave me the ability to transport three people besides myself, plus equipment. It's something you look forward to driving."

Baker's investment, the amount of which was not disclosed, has allowed Riva to refine the vehicle's specs with computer-aided design, resulting in a more sleek and aerodynamic conveyance than the prototype. It also allowed Riva to map out assembly strategies and source materials, and determine costs of production and distribution.

Now, $3 million is the stumbling block in the way of actual production.

"It could take another six to eight months to arrive at that kind of financing, but I think with the right approach, we'll be able to get that kind of money," Baker said.

Said Palmer, "I've met a lot of people over the years, but Erika's due diligence and research and development in Europe, here and the Caribbean is amazing… Now that Erika has backers and the prototype is finished, this will become a reality. It's time for this kind of vehicle."