Solar surge

by Latoya Burnham

solarcarprofileA local retailer of specialised solar powered electric vehicles here and across the Caribbean is currently negotiating to bring an even more “commercial” type of road worthy car to the market.

Neil Dickson, one of the directors of Solar Creativity Caribbean Ltd, told Barbados TODAY that since he had been personally travelling around the island in one of the vehicles the company has seen a huge jump in sales.

In partnership with his brother James, and with Sir Charles Williams as a shareholder, Dickson said of driving his yellow car: “That vehicle has given me so much exposure. It was very difficult because before we actually imported that, I was trying to sell vehicles based on brochures and when you actually have a tangible product, an example of the quality vehicles I am selling then it helps enormously and purely because I am driving around in that vehicle, it has really put solar transportation on the map and a lot of people have expressed interest in it.”

He further divulged: “For the first quarter or this year, actually it was in March, because we sold a couple of vehicles we had in last year and then we sold some solar chargers, but for the month of March I sold seven vehicles in that one month. Two to the Dominican Republic, one to Mustique … and four here in Barbados. So March, in terms of sales, we doubled in that one month what we did for the whole of last year.”

The company is the vendor of “road legal, solar powered electric cars and utility vehicles in Barbados and suppliers to the Caribbean” and also sells “non-road legal solar vehicles for commercial and leisure purposes”. It also sells the solar panelled canopies that allow existing electric golf and utility vehicles to be converted to solar.

“Since I have been driving around in that for the last two months, sales have picked up enormously, not only here but regionally. We’ve sold vehicles to Mustique, the Dominican Republic; we’ve sold our solar chargers regionally as well to other islands in the Caribbean — St. Lucia, Bahamas, all over really. So it has really picked up and exceeded my expectations.

“Regarding our vehicle sales here, that has picked up as well. I’m getting huge amounts of interest for our golf cart star vehicles which are road legal. They are basically like golf carts but you can drive them on the road and like for residents in Sandy Lane, two of the owners in Sandy Lane have bought vehicles off me, and I’ve also got some customers in Royal Westmoreland. It is basically like a resort vehicle that you can drive within the resort and on the road as well to the supermarket, the beach or on the golf course as well. It’s very versatile.”

In fact, the response has been so favourable that Dickson disclosed they were already looking at the next logical step, a different kind of road legal vehicle.

“That’s in the pipeline. I have already applied for the distribution rights to a vehicle that is a lot more enclosed, that has maybe further range, faster, has a higher top speed and also is more of a complete car. As opposed to [what we have now], it is a vehicle you can drive throughout the whole of Barbados.

“I am actually negotiating with the manufacturer at the moment to get the distribution rights for that. So we do want to expand our portfolio, we don’t just want to focus on enabling electric vehicles, we want to move into other vehicles as well which will compliment our portfolio,” he revealed.

Asked about the safety of the vehicles they currently sell, several models which really resemble golf carts, Dickson said with the Tomberlin model he drives and others sold, he advises to stick to secondary roads with slower speeds to maximise the vehicle’s range, rather than the ABC Highway.

Efficiency, which is one of the main features, he said has also help with the sales.

“The Tomberlin that I drive, I drove 500 miles in the first month that I had it and it only cost me $70 on my electricity bill. It has an efficiency of 119 miles per gallon. So the current cost of petrol is approximately $11.60, if you take that and put it into electricity cost for charging my vehicle, I should achieve 119 miles. So it has the efficiency of 119 miles per gallon. If you are driving 300 miles per week, then the estimated [return on investment] should be about six years and that is dependent on the cost of fuel. If the cost of fuel goes up you would achieve that RNI a lot quicker.

“We are striving to reduce our oil import bill [in Barbados] and for 2011 our total fuel import bill was nearly $900 million — 33 per cent of that was consumed by the transportation sector. So about $297 million, which is a huge amount.

“There are 140,000 licensed vehicles on our roads, so if we can try and substitute some of those gasoline vehicles for solar electric vehicles we can significantly reduce our fuel import bill,” he maintained.

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