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Charged Up: Westport rallies for electric cars

Updated 5:54 pm, Monday, April 29, 2013

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  • Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino, right, and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, wave checkered flags to start the Westport Electric Car Club Road Rally at the Saugatuck Metro-North train station. Stepping into the BMW ActiveE car behind the flags is Bruce Redman Becker, who would go on to win the rally. Saturday, April 27, 2013/Westport, CT Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino, right, and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, wave checkered flags to start the Westport Electric Car Club Road Rally at the Saugatuck Metro-North train station. Stepping into the BMW ActiveE car behind the flags is Bruce Redman Becker, who would go on to win the rally. Saturday, April 27, 2013/Westport, CT Photo: Paul Schott

 

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The momentum continues for the electric car movement in Westport.

Several weeks after an electric-vehicle charging center opened at the Saugatuck Railroad Station, Westport notched another milestone Saturday with the town's first electric-car rally.

Organized by the Westport Electric Car Club, the rally charted an approximately 40-mile course through Westport and Fairfield. It started at the Saugatuck station and finished at the Blu Parrot restaurant on Charles Street, with a pit stop for participants to briefly attend an Earth Day event at Fairfield Warde High School.

The rally featured about 30 electric vehicles, including Tesla Model Ss, Tesla Roadsters, Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs, Ford C-Maxes, Toyota Priuses, a BMW ActiveE and a Fisker Karma.

"Recently, we've been trying to get back to electrification, and that's what this whole thing is about," said Leo Cirino, the car club's president. "The rally is a way for me, who preaches electrification, to give visibility to the fact that there are a lot of great cars, and we're going through an explosion right now. The renaissance is well on its way."

In recent years, Westport has emerged as a locus for electric-vehicle enthusiasts in the tri-state area. The solar-powered charging facility at the rail depot was built to accommodate a growing number of commuters who take EVs to the station. A few hundred yards away, another EV charging port operates in a station lot next to Luciano Park. In the town center, a charging center could eventually open in the Baldwin parking lot on Elm Street.

"There are a lot of early adopters and innovators in Westport, and I think that helps to explain the enthusiasm here for electric vehicles," said Steve Smith, Westport's building official. "We've definitely been ahead of the curve."

Smith conceived the Saugatuck charging station with Cirino and Westport architects John Rountree and Rick Hoag.

The rally was not a race, but it did have a winner: Westport resident Bruce Redman Becker, who drove his BMW ActiveE. He claimed the No. 1 spot because he finished the course in 37.5 miles, the closest to the event's prescribed distance. Rally participants were given course directions, not a map, a move Cirino said was intended to make the event more challenging.

"It drives great," Becker said of the ActiveE, after the rally. "I'm actually a big fan of electric vehicles. I'm totally convinced that 10 years from now, there will be as many electric cars as combustion cars."

Becker, president of the development, planning and architecture firm Becker + Becker, is leasing the ActiveE for about $500 monthly. He said the vehicle is economical and convenient.

"It gets 100 miles of range, so charging has never been an issue for me," he added. "I drive to Hartford and back all the time. I put solar panels on my garage, so I get all my power from the sun. And then when I park in New Haven, and it gets charged from a fuel cell, so I'm never using any carbon to get around."

Colin Tauck, a 16-year-old sophomore at Greens Farms Academy, was the rally's youngest participant. He hit the road in his aunt Robin Tauck's Tesla Roadster.

"It's tight, but it's an awesome car," he said. "It's fast, and it's cool-looking. I definitely like it."

Despite her nephew's inexperience behind the wheel, Robin Tauck did not seem overly concerned about him maneuvering the sports car.

"What 16-year-old wouldn't want to drive that car?" she said. "It's an amazing car."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott