CITY HALL — The man who was once targeted by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office for allegedly selling electric cars without permission is now doing business with City Hall, and last month delivered a fully electric pickup truck for use in the city’s fleet.
Last year, City Hall lawyers spent about six months trying to prosecute Paul Pearson for manufacturing electric cars without a license. In June, prosecutors dropped the charges, and any hard feelings from the case appear to have been overcome.
“I’m very happy [we] have turned an alleged miscreant into a valued resource for the city,” said City Councilman Kevin McKeown.
Pearson’s arrest in December of 2008 was based on an undercover California Department of Motors investigation that was carried out with the cooperation of Santa Monica code enforcement officers. Officers posed as potential customers and arrested Pearson for allegedly indicating he would convert a car from gas to electric for a fee. The DMV initially said Pearson didn’t have authorization to retrofit cars but later changed its policy and stopped requiring a state license for car conversions.
The incident attracted widespread media attention and became the subject of a documentary, “Govt. vs. Green.”
After experimenting with electric cars for several years, Pearson, a former mechanical effects engineer in the movie business, last year started a company, Gas To Electric, that specializes in converting regular vehicles into zero-emission cars that run entirely on battery power.
The vehicle he delivered to City Hall is a converted Ford Ranger that outperforms most other all-electric trucks.
Rick Sikes, Santa Monica’s fleet superintendent, said the appeal of Pearson’s truck is that it can travel faster than the other 13 electric pickups in the fleet, which max out at 25 miles per hour. Pearson said his truck tops out at 73 miles per hour and has an optimal speed range of 35 to 45 miles per hour.
The truck will be used for park maintenance, Sikes said, and if it proves reliable City Hall could give Pearson additional contracts.
“We probably have over 100 pickup trucks and they could potentially all be electric,” he said.
Santa Monica is the first city to purchase one of Pearson’s conversions, but the entrepreneur has plans to expand his business. He said he’s working on another Ford Ranger he plans to use as a demonstration vehicle to seek contracts from other Southern California jurisdictions and hopes to present a proposal to the region’s air quality management district to contribute funding.
Pearson said it cost $80,000 to convert the Ranger to electric for Santa Monica because it was a prototype. The cost to do future vehicles would be around $22,000 on top of the expense of providing a factory-standard vehicle, he said.
Sikes said Pearson was offering a deal.
“We actually got quotes from other people that build the same thing and his was the best,” he said.
Pearson, a Santa Monica resident, started tinkering with electric cars at his workshop off of Pico Boulevard but moved his operation to Van Nuys after his run-in with the DMV and City Hall.
He said he’s hoping to move his company back to Santa Monica as soon as he can.
“This is the kind of business we want to attract, encourage and place in Santa Monica so we can have that sustainable local economy,” McKeown said.