An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, unless that mind belongs to double Stanford graduate Tim Miller. In his case, Oregon and urban commuters could soon benefit from his deliberation, which ended in Green Lite Motors and a prototype hybrid vehicle that gets 100 miles per gallon and reaches speeds of 85 mph.
The finished vehicle, which looks like a Toyota Prius cut lengthwise, is a three-wheeled two-seater that is classified as a motorcycle. Essentially the Green Lite vehicle takes the concept of the three-wheeled motorcycle, cages it in a steel framework, then balances the front end with proprietary hydraulics that lean the vehicle into turns and gently bring it upright after the turn. The result will be a sleek transporter that qualifies for motorcycle and commuter lanes but has the safety features of an SUV and nearly double the fuel efficiency of most hybrids.
The genesis for the vehicle came in a classic entrepreneur oracle in 2005. Miller was inching in Portland traffic, as he had for eleven years, and observed scores of single occupants for each 4,000 pound car. “We can do better than this,” he surmised.
A former executive of Intel and Citysearch, Miller, 44, had long been at the cutting edge of technology and marketing. Yet those were jobs, not vocation. “I wanted to do something that I really cared about—either to help kids or the environment,” he says. “I have a for-profit background, and there seemedto be more for-profit opportunities on the environmental side.” Given the number of children with smog-enhanced asthma, he may end up doing a little of both.
The latest data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reveal 135 million passengers cars in the U.S. spewing 75 trillion gallons of gas per year. What’s more remarkable is that the average number of miles traveled per gallon hasn’t really improved over the past twenty years. Nearly 11 million of these drivers fit the niche that Green Lite is targeting—urban commuters across the country.
A better-known statistic in Oregon is that 97 percent of Portlanders insist that 100 percent of the world’s problems can be solved with bicycles. In that mindset, Miller asked, “Can we make a car from bike components?” The business aspect made sense: a bicycle town with bike-makers galore meant a local labor pool and a close supply chain.
Green Lite Motors
Investors: Two angel investors
and Tim Miller
Team: Tim Miller (owner)
Fred Lux (design)
Robert Hill (software)
Robert Simpson (battery)
Eric Vaughn (industrial design)
Current fundraising: $500,000
Kudos: Won Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open, October 2009–$50,000.
Expected production: 2011
Miller and his team, ultimately discarded the upgraded bicycle concept and settled on safety and comfort. Bike parts would be too light for a highway commuter vehicle. The Green Lite vehicle envisions motorcyle surrounded by a pocket of steel safety cell with airbags and four-point seat belts.
Reinventing the wheel is foolhardy, just as is reinventing motorcycles. “Our strategy is to use a lot of off-the-shelf components, couple it with our unique intellectual property in the front end and bring it all together,” says Miller.
The Green Lite team combines technology and automotive savvy. There’s racecar mechanic Fred Lux; Eric Vaughn, from consumer product design and marketing firm Ziba Designs; Robert Hill, an electrical and mechanical entrepreneur; Robert Simpson, who worked with embedded processors at Tektronix for three decades, and a couple of anonymous moonlighters with experience in engineering and marketing at car manufacturers.
The car is now in its third generation as Green Lite raises a half million dollars to integrate technology they’ve developed into a fully functional prototype before an estimated 2011 production run. Ultimately, Miller hopes that production of Green Lite Motor’s vehicle could create hundreds of jobs that stay in Oregon.