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Know the West

Just charge it

  Only 50 or so electric cars are on Arizona's roads, but the Tucson Electric Power Company has opened eight free charge-up stations in the city. General Motors says it chose Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles as test markets because the cars perform better on flat terrain and in a warm climate. The EV-1, which sells for $33,900, has a 60-mile range in the city and can go 90 miles on a highway before needing a recharge. Boasts Lisa Thomas, a GM specialist in electric cars: The car goes from zero to 30 mph "faster than a Ferrari." So far, however, GM has sold only 10 cars in the Tucson area, a paltry number Thomas blames on the "stigma" associated with an electric car's performance. These days, she says, all it takes is a little retraining for drivers to enjoy driving a car you can fuel in your own garage. Each car is powered by 26 lead and acid batteries that together weigh 1,200 pounds; the batteries take two-to-four hours to recharge, which is usually done overnight. Thomas says GM helped Tucson Electric build the recharging stations so drivers could feel more confident about finding power for their cars. "It's a safety net," says Andrew Meyer, Tucson Electric spokesman.

To find out about Tucson-area charging stations, call Meyer at 520/884-3706. For more information about electric cars, call Ford at 800/ALT-FUEL, or GM 800/25 ELECTRIC, or e-mail GM at http://www.gmev.com

* Jason Lenderman