While city officials last week were touting and test-driving an electric car they plan to have assembled here, the auto's promoter acknowledged that he has a criminal record, his company is bankrupt and the Texas attorney general is suing him.
After heralding the Liberator, which its backers claim can go 100 miles without recharging, officials said they were undeterred by the fact that promoter Edmond X. Ramirez Sr.'s American car company of Dallas had filed for bankruptcy in May, the second time in five years.
Officials acknowledge that Ramirez had served time 16 years ago for bank robbery and passing bad checks and say they knew all along that the Texas attorney general as suing Ramirez for the alleged illegal sale of unregistered securities. New charges of contempt forallegedly continuing the sales were filed this spring.
"We believe," said Berkeley assistant city manager Walt Toney, "that people can reform. We're satisfied that the man is not a crook."
The city -- along with the newly formed California Electric Car Co. which paid for exclusive licensing of the Liberator in California -- is seeking $1.5 million in Housing and Urban Development money and $5 million in bank loans to build an electric car assembly plant here.
Once established,the plant would employ an estimated 400 Berkeley residents and, under a proposed agreement, would return 12 1/2 percent of its pretax profits to Berkeley.
At a jubilant press conference late last week, company executives, Ramirez and city officials boasted that by next year the plant would be in operation. Some 10,000 electric cars of the future with 24 six-volt batteries would be built each year, selling for $9,000.
"We are probably the most innovative city on the planet Earth," cheered Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport.
"I think it's the first shot in the new industralization of America. The internal combustion industry is dying," declared Dr. Richard Jenner, director of Berkeley's business incentive program.
"I've been a professional economist for many years," he said. "There are many very upright individuals who have backgrounds somewhat similar to Mr.Ramirez's. The point is, that was in the past. All these years he's doggedly been trying to pursue this product."
But while the hoopla continued,Harold Abramson, Dallas attorney for the trustee of the bankrupt Amectran, said he haf filed a complaint seeking to enjoin Ramirez from promoting his car.
Likening himself to an early Henry Ford, with a brilliant idea but plagued with problems, Ramirez claims the poor publicity has been generated by people "who want to use may past as a wedge to discredit my company." He said people "misunderstood" the reason Amerctran declared bankruptcy several months ago. It was , he said , solely for the purpose of reorganization.
"In the last few years, there's been an enormous, involved effort to keep my company out of the market," he claimed.
"The enemy," he says, is the federal Department of Energy, which he accuses of testing his electric car and of havning "squelched" the results.
"Maybe there's been a misunderstanding," said a polite Kendall Willson, DOE resource manager for electric and hybrid vehicles.
A DOE employe did take a ride in the Liberator, Wilson explained, but he never tested it, Ramirez "can call it what he wants," Wilson said, "but there was no report."
In July, The California Electric Car Co. and the city of Berkeley conducted their own tests, but their results have not been made public. The Dallas bankruptcy court granted Berkeley's Jenner permission to test-drive the car and ordered him to furnish the trustee and the California Electric Car Co. with his written results. Jenner said he has not completed the report yet.
The California Electric Car Co., whose partners include crooner Pat Boone and Chaz Haba, a Beverly Hills businessman, conducted a test by comparing the sleek Liberator with Haba's Cadillac Seville and his 450 SL Mercedes. In a race from 0 to 30 miles per hour, Haba says, "The electric vehicle had the edge."
The auto was named the Liberator by backer Boone because, he has said, it will liberate Americans from oil dependency.
Calls to Boone were returned by Haba, who offered this explanation: "Pat Boone is a very staunch Christian. He has very strong convictions, as well. He believes the electric vehicle is going to be a powerful tool in freeing ourselves from being dependent on oil.
"It amazes him how ready the technology is and that nobody [other than Ramirez] is doing it."
In fact, industry experts contend there are about 30 electric car companies (most of them very small) operating in the United States. General Motors expects to have its electric auto ready by the mid-1980s.
California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb also has offered his support for Ramirez's vehicle. He drove the Liberator this summer in Beverly Hills and, according to an aide, offered to seek an endorsement for the car from the state's Economic Development Commission, which he chairs.
"There's no question that the car meets all the specifications necessary for it to meet and that it performs as Ed Ramirez claims it does," said Jenner.
In a brochure, Ramirez gave reporters last week, his expectations are described. If his electric car succeeds, "Ramirez will be the easy equal of Ford."
After Bereley, he says he will set up plants in other cities around the country.
At the Electric Car Council in Washington, executive John Makulowich remained cautious: "It's one thing to produce a one-of-a-kind car. It's another thing to mass-produce it."