Tim Echols Wraps Sea Turtles on Unique Panoz EV (Q&A)
While I was still in San Francisco, I got to play tourist and take cool and interesting photos of a friend’s Tesla Model X. Georgia Public Service Commission’s Commissioner Tim Echols responded to one of the photos with a video of his own. His electric vehicle, a Panoz, has a unique wrapper that represents what it’s used for. It is used to promote his advocacy for sea turtle rescues. I asked him for more information and he was kind enough to answer a few quick questions.
But does your electric car save sea turtles? 🐢 pic.twitter.com/leQ1sGLRjr
– Tim Echols (@timechols) June 12, 2021
Questions and answers with Commissioner Echols
JC: Tell me more about this unique electric vehicle!
EN: You may have heard the name Panoz associated with its Chateau Elan brand or its custom-made Panoz Esperante and Roadster cars. His last project before his death in 2018 was to start an electric car company called Green4U. After he died, his family shut down the EV operation and they gave me one of the prototype slow EVs.
JC: I heard about the Panoz car. How did Don get started?
EN: Don Panoz is not just any entrepreneur. His scientific acumen allowed him to venture into areas that many entrepreneurs are unlikely to enter. It all started in 1961 – as the owner of a few pharmacies, he co-founded Mylan Pharmaceuticals, where his research group developed the “patch” that is most commonly used today for delayed nicotine doses. He perfected this patch while living in Ireland through his Élan Corporation. This company was the first Irish company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
JC: How did he get into cars?
EN: The same corporate phenomenon happened in his racing company. In 1989 his son Danny persuaded him to invest in the so-called Panoz Auto Development. Don founded the Panoz Motor Sports Group, a company that bought or built circuits such as Road Atlanta in 1996, Sebring International Raceway in 1997, and Mosport International Raceway in Canada in 1998. He needed these tracks so that his racing series, American Le Mans Series, would have places to race.
Eventually he bought IMSA, the International Motorsport Federation. And with these racing series, opportunities arose to manufacture specialized racing cars through companies he founded such as Élan Power Products, Élan Motorsports Technologies, Élan Precision Products, Élan Composites and DeltaWing Racing Cars. The French NASCAR family eventually acquired the tracks and the racing series.
JC: How did he get into electric vehicles?
EN: Not many people know that Don created the first successful hybrid racing car in 1998, the Panoz Q9 GTR-1. It had a traditional ICE motor paired with an electric motor and included regenerative braking. The car won its class at the first Petit Le Mans in 1998.
Panoz then acquired an ultra-economical car chassis and body design called DeltaWing Vehicle Architecture (DVA), which has a combined fuel economy of 56.4 mpg (miles per gallon). He put that design on hold and started traveling to China in his private jet to see their battery, battery management system and body design technologies. He eventually closed deals that included taking over those tiny, low-speed EVs that I own.
JC: What was his vision of his electric car?
EN: Don wanted to assemble small vans and utility vehicles that could be used by the post office and delivery services and even ridesharing – but he died too soon. I remember meeting with Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, who had gone to MIT about Don and tried to convince her to do a pilot here in Atlanta with Don and our utilities. Eventually she decided to go in a different direction. Don had already imported a number of “rollers” or the bodies of various vans and trucks from China and intended to use an electric motor developed by Georgia Tech with a lithium titanate battery chemistry and manufacture the chassis in his factory, which he was already doing for his racing cars. He even had a carbon fiber shop for various bodies and components.
JC: How did you get one of those tiny cars?
EN: After his death, his son Danny gave me one of the tiny cars that I could use for parades and campaigns in the neighborhood. I tried to decide on a foil for the car and my wife came up with the idea of transporting sea turtles. We had a twitter contest to see what design to use and the rest is history.
JC: So are you actually saving sea turtles?
EN: Not technically in this car, but I’m involved with both the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center. The latter is a sea turtle hospital with 29 tanks and I just secured a 2 MW battery to be used as a backup during hurricanes on the island. This allows the turtles to stay in the tanks and not have to be moved as the pump is required to keep them alive. The Tybee Marine Science Center, which I am raising money for, has a “seaside classroom” for children and has a number of fish and turtle pools on its property. My car drives regularly on both islands.
JC: But what about that picture of you holding the turtle in your car?
EN: This is one of the plastic models the Marine Science Center uses. All sea turtles remain in tanks unless they are transported in special vans. We took this photo on an afternoon in the center with some fun.
JC: And Don Panoz’s dream of electric vehicles?
TE: His wife and heirs must have had the feeling that the time was simply not right and they closed the company and ceased operations. I am the only one with a registered and labeled EV from his previous business. I feel honored to have it.
JC: What is the future for electric vehicles in Georgia?
EN: As some know, I was responsible for adding $ 24 million to the utility’s budget for EV preparation. This money has made it possible for many to get chargers that may not have one. And I’m working with our EMCs to encourage them to buy a Tesla so their membership can try them out. In fact, I was running a go-kart race for EMC presidents and all the “losers” had to budget an electric vehicle in their budget for the next year. Slowly they keep their fun promise they made to me and they get it. But the big thing is that the battery factory is being built by SK Innovation, which will supply batteries for the electric Ford F-150 Lightning.
JC: Why is that important to you?
EN: Aside from being a huge employer in my own county (Jackson), the Ford F-150 is, in my opinion, THE vehicle that Republicans will convert to EVs. And we need them on board to restore a state tax credit and create other incentives for electric vehicles here in our state.
JC: Thanks for sharing about this.
EN: My pleasure.
All photos are provided by Tim Echols and used with permission.