The owner and chairman of Miles Automotive is Miles Rubin, whom Hirsch calls a "78-year-old visionary." Rubin is a former top executive of companies in a variety of fields: clothing, direct marketing, steel, manufacturing and optical systems. He was not available for an interview.
Hirsch says Rubin decided to sell electric vehicles after he attended a conference on hydrogen power. He concluded that a more immediate remedy had to exist to address the energy and environmental problems posed by automobiles, Hirsh says.
"Electric is one part of the answer, not the entire answer," he says.
Miles Automotive is taking a low-key approach and trying to avoid China "hype," Hirsch says. The company is fully capitalized and does not have to sell itself to investors, he says.
Hirsch, 46, of Malibu, Calif., has managed nonprofit groups and operated online businesses. He acknowledges that Miles Automotive executives are "not even car guys." The company acquires the vehicles as finished products, says Ben Texter, Miles Automotive's operations manager.
The first Miles vehicle is a small electric wagon called the ZX40. It has an advertised top speed of 25 mph and a range of 40 miles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the ZX40 is the first Chinese-made vehicle larger than a motorcycle that has been certified for sale in the United States. It qualifies as a low-speed vehicle.
The government sets safety standards for such vehicles, including lighting and seat belt rules, but they are more limited than for regular cars and trucks. The vehicles do not require airbags, for example.
Federal regulations allow the use of low-speed vehicles on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Most states also regulate the use of low-speed vehicles.
Hirsch says the ZX40 is mainly a fleet vehicle operated in such areas as college campuses and military installations. The company anticipates shipping 5,000 to 7,000 of the vehicles in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, he says.
It is priced at $14,800, according to a Miles ad in Automotive News. The highway-capable vehicle, called the XS200, will sell for about $28,500, the ad said.
Dealers are eager to offer something new as an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, Hirsch says. Miles expects to have about 40 dealers on board by the time the highway-capable vehicle is available -- perhaps late next year.
Scott Donahoo, a multifranchise dealer in the Baltimore area, has signed on with Miles. He says he keeps a ZX40 on his lot for buyers to evaluate. He plans to sell the ZX40 out of his Ford commercial-vehicle business to malls, colleges and local governments.
No one wants to spend "hundreds (on gasoline) idling around campus," Donahoo says.
It makes sense that the first vehicles from China should be electric, he says. They have no emissions and far fewer moving parts than vehicles with internal-combustion engines. Thus, Donahoo says, emissions and reliability hurdles are easier to overcome.
Says Donahoo: "This has the possibility of being huge."
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]