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Tim Echols Has Sea Turtle Wrapping On One-Of-A-Kind 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. Commissioner Tim Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission replied to one of the photos with a video of one of his own. His electric vehicle, a Panoz, has a unique wrap that represents what it’s used for. It’s used for promoting his advocacy for rescuing sea turtles. I asked him to send me more information and he was kind enough to answer some quick questions.

Q&A With Commissioner Echols

JC: Tell me more about this unique electric vehicle!

TE: You may have heard the Panoz name used in conjunction with his Chateau Elan brand or his custom-made cars, the Panoz Esperante and Roadster. His final project before he passed in 2018 was creating an electric car company called Green4U. After he passed, his family closed the EV operation, and they gave me one of the prototype low-speed EVs.

JC: I have heard of the Panoz car. How did Don get his start?

TE: Don Panoz is not just any entrepreneur. His science acumen allowed him to venture into areas many entrepreneurs probably would not tread. It started way back in 1961 — as an owner of a couple of pharmacies, he co-founded Mylan Pharmaceuticals where his research group created the “patch” most commonly used for time-released doses of nicotine today. He perfected that patch while living in Ireland through his Élan Corporation. That company was the first Irish company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

JC: How did he get into cars?

TE: The same entrepreneurial phenomenon happened in his racing venture. His son Danny talked him into investing in 1989 in what became called Panoz Auto Development. Don created Panoz Motor Sports Group, a company that bought or built racetracks like Road Atlanta in 1996, then Sebring International Raceway in 1997, and Mosport International Raceway in Canada in 1998. He needed those tracks so that his racing series, the American Le Mans Series, would have places to race.

Panoz Esperante

Eventually, he bought IMSA, the International Motor Sports Association. And with those racing series came opportunities to make specialized racing cars through companies he started like Élan Power Products, Élan Motorsports Technologies, Élan Precision Products, Élan Composites, and DeltaWing Racing Cars. The France family of NASCAR eventually acquired the tracks and the race series.

Tim Echols’ Panoz EV

JC: How did he venture into EVs?

TE: Not many people know that Don created the first successful hybrid race car in 1998, the Panoz Q9 GTR-1. It featured a traditional ICE engine paired with an electric motor and included regenerative braking. The car won its class in 1998 at the first Petit Le Mans in 1998.

Panoz Deltawing

Panoz then acquired an ultra-economical car chassis and body design called the DeltaWing Vehicle Architecture (DVA) that has a combined fuel economy of 56.4 mpg (miles per gallon). He shelved that design and began going to China in his private jet looking at their technologies in batteries, battery management systems, and body design. Eventually, he struck deals which included bringing over these tiny low-speed EVs which I have.

JC: What was his vision of his electric car?

TE: Don wanted to assemble small vans and commercial vehicles that could be used by the post office and the delivery companies and even ride-share — but he died too soon. I remember meeting with the Postmaster General, Megan J. Brennan, who had gone to MIT, for Don and trying to convince her to do a pilot project here in Atlanta with Don and our utility. She eventually decided to go in another direction. Don had already imported from China a number of “rollers,” or the bodies of different vans and trucks, and he intended to use a Georgia Tech designed electric motor with a lithium-titanate battery chemistry and manufacture the chassis in his factory, which he was already doing for his race cars. He even had a carbon-fiber shop ready to go for different bodies and components.

JC: So how did you wind up with one of the tiny cars?

Tim Echols with his second Panoz EV in front of the Georgia State Capitol

TE: After his death, his son, Danny, gave me one of the tiny cars to use for parades and campaign outreach in neighborhoods. I was trying to decide on a wrap for the car, and my wife came up with the Sea Turtle transport idea. We had a Twitter contest to see which design to go with and the rest is history.

JC: So do you actually rescue sea turtles?

TE: Not technically in that car, but I am very 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 have just secured a 2MW battery to serve as backup on the island during hurricanes. That will allow the turtles to stay in the tanks and not have to be moved since the pump is required to keep them alive. The Tybee Marine Science Center, which I am raising money for, provides a “classroom by the sea” for children and has a number of fish and turtle tanks on its property. My car is a regular on both islands.

JC: But what about the picture of you holding the turtle in your car?

TE: That is one of the plastic models that the Marine Science Center uses. All the sea turtles stay in tanks unless they are being transported in special vans. We made that photo having some fun one afternoon at the Center.

JC: And Don Panoz’s dream for EVs?

TE: His wife and heirs must have felt that the time just wasn’t right and they shut the company down and discontinued the operations. I am the only one with a registered and tagged EV from his former business. I consider it an honor to have it.

JC: What is the future for EVs in Georgia?

TE: As some know, I was responsible for adding $24 million of EV make-ready money to the utility’s budget. That money has allowed many to get chargers that might not have. And I am working with our EMCs to encourage them to buy a Tesla for their membership to try out. In fact, I held a go-kart race for EMC presidents and all the “losers” had to budget for an EV in their next year’s budget. Slowly, they are fulfilling that fun pledge they made to me and getting them. But the big thing is the SK Innovation battery factory being built that will supply batteries for the electric Ford F-150 Lightning.

JC: Why is that important to you?

TE: Besides being a huge employer in my own county (Jackson), the Ford F-150 is THE vehicle in my opinion that will convert Republicans to EVs. And we need them to be on board to restore a state tax credit and provide other incentives for EVs here in our state.

JC: Thanks for sharing about this.

TE: My pleasure.

All photos are provided by Tim Echols and are used with permission.

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Written By

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok


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