January 3, 2012 | by NRG Team Voices | Climate Change, Engineering + Technology

People lucky enough to be on the roads at 7am in Burlington, Vermont might catch sight of NRG Systems mechanical engineer Paul Smith on his way to work:

Frequent Answers

The yellow car gets so much attention that he’s taped a list of “Frequent Answers” to its side.


    • I call it a ScooterCar. And thanks! I’m glad you are interested.


    • Yes, it’s legal – officially a motorcycle. The driver needs a motorcycle endorsement and helmet.  It is registered and inspected.


    • 55mph – faster downhill (especially on curvy roads).


    • Yes, even motorcycles look big. I look under semis. But with a 5-point harness, a roll bar, and a body around me, I am considerably safer than a motorcycle rider.


    • Yes, I drive it in the rain. Water sheds off the plastic windshield. Not in the snow (yet) – need a better rear tire.


    • It is not a kit – I designed and built it.


    • 150cc scooter engine (about 7hp, automatic clutch and transmission)


    • About $3000 (including a brand new scooter) and a lot of time.


    • The body is 1/8” to 1/4” thick cedar stripped planking with fiberglass inside and out – just like a canoe.


    • It weighs about 400lbs (0.2 tons), not 1.2 to 3.2 tons like cars, SUVs, and pickups, but it gets a person to work and the store – just like those other vehicles.


    • 70 miles per gallon (not nearly good enough – yet). Seriously thinking about electric (or steam!?)


    • It is not patented – I encourage everybody to copy and improve on it.


    • We simply must use much less fossil fuel, no matter where it comes from.


 Just Enough Car

The inspiration came through a conversation with a fellow engineer.

“John Miller started driving a cheap Chinese scooter to work from Starksboro, right into the winter,” Paul says. “He used to get 100 miles per gallon (or more!).  He wanted a more protected version to handle rain (and even snow) and we got talking. I’ve always thought we should be driving smaller, lighter cars with minimal impact and I decided to buy a scooter and use it as the basis of a completely enclosed car.  To add safety and convenience, I added a third wheel. And voila!”

Scooter Car in Process

The scooter car under construction.

True to his mechanical engineering background (Paul specializes in turbine control sensors at NRG Systems), he first drew up designs to encase the three-wheeled scooter on the computer, printed them out, and used them to create forms for cedar stripped planking that he then coated in fiberglass. The final scooter has just enough room for his lanky frame and a bag of groceries.

Continuous Improvement

The scooter car has been four years in the making—and is still under development. In the winter, when Vermont snow forces Paul off the roads, he brings it into his garage for upgrades. Up next? He hopes to modify the rear suspension to accept a snow tire, making it a year-round car.

And in keeping with his quest to make it even more fuel-efficient, he’s planning on switching from a very loud gasoline engine (think motorcycle and ear plugs) to one that’s completely electrical and much quieter. Better yet, this would allow him to plug in while working at NRG Systems, which is largely fueled by solar and wind power.

Now that’s a clean car.



Sarah Woodard is a Communications Specialist at NRG Systems.

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