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Could the Solar Bug bring the sun to the car market?

Steve Titus is among those entrepreneurs trying to create and market an affordable, renewable-energy vehicle – a step beyond gas-electric hybrids.

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In the local airport parking lot, Steve Titus clicks shut the lightweight fiberglass door of his fireman-yellow "Solar Bug."

It looks like another bug – a Volkswagen one – that got sliced in half by a band saw, then pinched front to back by the Jolly Green Giant.

Mr. Titus straddles the saddle-style seat and revs the Hi-Torque Pancake motor. It whirs away quietly, reaching a top speed of 40 miles per hour in a few seconds.

On display at a recent alternative-car expo here, this is Titus's second and latest rendering of a solar-powered car concept. It gets up to a fourth of its 60-mile capacity from 200 watts of roof-mounted solar panels.

Titus is among those entrepreneurs trying to create and market an affordable, renewable-energy vehicle – a step beyond gas-electric hybrids.

The ranks of potential buyers for such cars are growing by leaps and bounds, say many car-industry analysts. But don't look for them on normal streets just yet, they add quickly. Limitations of batteries and solar panels – though lessening – are still issues, among others.

Yet "fringe markets" – such as commuters within small towns, seniors in retirement villages, and users of industry fleets – are in a position to drive the first sales boomlet for such cars, analysts say.

Until then, Titus and other inventor-tinkerer types are offering a peek into the future of transportation in America – well before the major car companies.

"Garage tinkerers like Titus are the tip of an iceberg of innovation demonstrating the direction of the national, global trend," says Steven Letendre, professor of business, economics, and environment at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., who lectures widely on the future of electric and hybrid cars and solar energy.

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