by Dan Scanlan for the Florida Times-Union, February 7, 2013

Southside Nimnicht brings aboard Wheego electric coupes.

A huge building once home to gas-guzzling Hummers has a new electric lease on life.

Under a huge metal “H” at its entrance, tiny 2-seat Wheego electric coupes now sit as Nimnicht Buick GMC becomes one of about 25 dealers across the country to sell them.

 
The 118-inch-long coupes have been at Wheego of Jacksonville at 11491 Philips Highway for a few weeks. They also will be at this weekend’s Jacksonville International Car and Truck Show, parked among 27 car lines in the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

The Wheegos are part of a plan to use the former Hummer dealership, closed since GM shut the division in 2010, for something greener and cleaner, Nimnicht general manager Jackie Lynch said.

“It is ironic we are doing it out of the Hummer building, and we are looking at putting other things in there, possibly electric motorcycles and bicycles,” he said. “With the fluctuation in the gas prices, we just saw an opportunity. If gas gets to $4.50 a gallon, people will start trading in those Hummer-type vehicles, and what better fuel economy than no fuel at all. We will tag it as ‘Never buy gas again.’ ”

Bubble microcar
Headquartered in Atlanta, Wheego builds cars that resemble Mercedes-Benz’s 2-seat micro-compact Smart fortwo but are electrified versions of China’s Shuanghuan Bubble microcar. Wheego’s bodies and frames are imported from China, then electric drivetrains and batteries are installed in Ontario, Calif., for a 73 percent American content, Lynch said.

The Whip LSV is designed to operate on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. It has keyless entry, power windows and mirrors and a stereo system. Its sealed lead-acid batteries can be charged from a 110-volt outlet in 10 hours for a 40-mile estimated range. Base price is $18,995, with air conditioning a $1,995 option. The LiFe can do up to 65-mph and has four-wheel disc brakes, a stereo and air bags for $32,000, with air conditioning also a $1,995 option. Lynch said it takes about 22 hours to charge on 110 volts, but 220-volt charging stations to cut that to five hours are sold for $700 to $800. Its lithium-ion batteries offer an estimated 100-mile range, and Lynch said overnight recharging costs less than $3 on utility bills.

Lynch said Nimnicht chose Wheego because the company is self-sufficient and has taken no federal loans, unlike others like California’s Tesla. And the Wheego LiFe will have some all-electric competition in the U.S. in 2013 from models like the Nissan Leaf, Smart Electric Drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Fiat 500 EV, Toyota RAV4 EV, Audi A3 E-Tron, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV and Tesla Model S.

dan.scanlan@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549

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