Just as leasing is an alternative to buying, electric vehicles are being offered as an alternative to conventionally powered cars and trucks. Jack Hooker, a Dallas-based lessor, has teamed the two alternatives in opening, the nation's first electric vehicle leasing company.

Hooker, who has been in the auto business for 25 years and in leasing since 1959, is offering battery-powered Dodge Omnis and Ford Courier pickup trucks on closed-end 36-month leases as part of the Department of Energy's Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Demonstration Program. The vehicles are supplied by Jet Industries, a Texas-based company that converts conventional passenger cars and trucks into electric vehicles. Hooker said that he will also use vehicles produced by EVA, which is currently building a unit based on Ford's Granada for him.

Hooker said that since the announcement of Electric Vehicle Leasing (EVL), calls have flooded in, half from those wanting franchises and half from those wanting to lease an EV.

As for the prospective lessees, Hooker said, "they are primarily individuals or small business owners." In many cases, the individuals are professional people such as doctors or lawyers.

Powered by lead-acid batteries, the EVs involved in the program have a range of 40 to 70 miles and recharging takes from six to eight hours after deep discharge. One of the stumbling blocks to the acceptance of EVs, according to Hooker, "having to overcome the 'golf cast' syndrome. They're not golf carts. They're exactly like other cars on the street today. They have all the same accessories - air conditioning and automatic transmissions." Hooker said the pick up is quite good on the units and that he can actually "burn rubber" accelerating from a stop. The vehicles are equipped with 20 batteries operating on a six volt circuit.

While electric vehicles are still several model years off as far as the major auto manufacturers concerned, Hooker feels the time is right to get into the business. If better battery systems come along in the future, it is not as if the current models will be obsolete. "You can get into a car now and if better batteries come along in the future, we can just put those in and pull the old ones out." He also foresees the day when a customer can buy the car from an electric vehicle dealership and lease the battery pack.

Under the demonstration program lease rates will be in the $250 to $300 range, and the driver is given an early termination option and can turn in the EV for a comparable conventionally-powered unit if they are unhappy with the EV.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for the customer," Hooker said, adding that it is important that the program leaves a  positive impression on the participants. The purpose of the DOE demonstration program is to show the viability of EVs in everyday use and to bolster the acceptance of the vehicles. The program was mandated by a 1976 law and currently a number of fleets have been experimenting with EVs, aided by government grants and loans authorized under the act. Hooker said he approached the DOE with the idea of the electric vehicle leasing company as a means of getting EVs out in the public eye and generating interest in the concept. As a result, the government program is picking up the $6,000 to $8,000 conversion costs for each vehicle.

Under the 36-month contracts offered by EVL, the company takes care of all the maintenance and all battery replacements. "The only thing the customer has to provide is the electricity and the insurance," Hooker said. He added that they are currently investigating the possibility of electric vehicle fleet insurance policies for the lessees. Because the applicants are screened closely, Hooker said they are good risks and therefore should qualify for lower rates.

Within the first week of the company's late November opening, over 200 applications to lease EVs had been received. Hooker said the applicants would be screened and once selected, would be given a driver training program especially designed for EV operation. He hopes to have the first five vehicles out on the road soon and expects to lease about 80 EVs in the first year of operation.

Hooker said he also stands ready to help anyone interested in establishing franchises and noted that some major leasing companies are also intrigued by the EV concept. "We're the first," Hooker said, and as part of the pioneering role, "we're setting up the prototype of what an EV dealership should be." He estimates that during the first year there may be 10 to 20 EV operations similar to his under the franchise system and that each operation would be capable of leasing 80 vehicles within the first year. As a result, the leased EV fleet could grow to 800 to 1,600 vehicles by 1982. Hooker expects the market to take off once the major auto manufacturers begin to offer electric vehicles as part of their model lineups.

Hooker is understandably excited about being in on the ground floor of what well could be a growth industry on the magnitude of what leasing itself was in the early 70s. "It's estimated that by 1990 there will be eight million electric vehicles on the road," he said. "I hope to get my share."