Panoz, DC in Electric-Car Deal?

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1999 DC Smart carThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Don Panoz is negotiating to build electric vehicles for DaimlerChrysler in a new plant in south Georgia.

Panoz is the real estate and pharmaceutical billionaire currently building Panoz AIV roadsters and Esperante coupes in northeast Georgia. In addition to his fledgling car company, Panoz owns Chateau Elan, a resort and winery near Winder, Ga., and owns a handful of racetracks including nearby Road Atlanta.

The newspaper predicts the electric vehicles would be used in tandem with the city’s mass transit to provide some relief for Atlanta’s traffic.

The Journal-Constitution reports that Panoz’s new company, eMotion Mobility, would be responsible for building as many as 5000 electric vehicles in the joint venture, which it reports will be made public at next month’s Frankfurt auto show. However, DaimlerChrysler officials were unaware of the project when contacted by the paper on Friday.

The vehicle in question is said to be a version of DaimlerChrysler’s Smart car, the two-seat city car launched with big hype in the late 1990s. Smart sales have struggled until recently, though, and the project has gone through several leaders. Currently, the Smart division is run by Andreas Renschler, the young Daimler executive that led construction of the firm’s Vance, Ala., assembly plant and the launch of the M-Class sport-utility vehicle.

“We’d import the cars and do the final assembly here, putting in the battery and electric drive,” Panoz told the AJC. “We’re looking at locations from Savannah to Jacksonville.”

Once imported, Panoz plans a unique system where vehicles would be available from mass-transit stations for use by multiple drivers. Those drivers could subscribe to the service and reserve vehicles online, using computer-chip-embedded cards to gain access and record usage of the car. Subscription costs haven’t been decided, the paper reports, but the network is said to be in preparations for a launch in late 2002.

While most manufacturers are moving away from pure electric vehicle and toward hybrid gas/electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, at least a few enthusiasts are looking forward to driving a Panoz-built Smart.

“This is one of the brightest developments on the electric-car frontier. Everyone about it is excited,” the paper quotes Dave Goldstein, director of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C., as saying.

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