Lori Lovely

Happy Fourth of July greetings from Toronto, Canada. Yeah, I know: How un-American to spend Independence Day outside the country. Ah well.

Dr. Valerie McCray runs White Dog Motors, an exclusive importer of Malaguti, Italjet, Peugeot and Kymco scooters from Italy, France and Taiwan.

Since I"m footing it in my favorite North American city, I thought I"d leave you with some "green" transportation ideas. Yes, I remember what I said about the joy of driving in other countries, but the wonderfully cosmopolitan city of Toronto is like Paris and London in that public transport is usually sufficient for places you can"t reach by foot. Everyone walks up and down Yonge Street, the world"s longest street at 1,168 miles, from quayside eateries to fabulous shopping at Eaton Centre, and plenty of rockin" clubs - both naughty and nice - in between. Suffice to say, the annual trek to Toronto for the Molson Indy CART race is always a treat.

Scooters are us

I always say "when in Rome Ö" as I jostle other tourists on a crowded Yonge Street or catch the subway, but if you simply must have motorized transportation, scooters are a "green" option, perfect for zipping through Toronto traffic or dashing from paddock to pitlane at Toronto"s Exhibition Place without the hassle of having to stop to sign autographs: relief for Canadian favorites Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani and Paul Tracy.

Dr. Valerie McCray and her 15-year-old son Ryan are bringing the convenience and fun of two-wheeled European transport to Indianapolis. Their new downtown storefront, White Dog Motors, is the exclusive importer of Malaguti, Italjet, Peugeot and Kymco scooters from Italy, France and Taiwan. The under-50 cc scooters don"t require titles or licenses. With the restrictor in place, most average 30 mph; without it, they"ll hit 45-50 mph. Prices begin at $1,800, with a limited edition Ducati replica running the tab up to $2,900, and the Peugeots on order tipping the financial scales between $3,500 and $4,000.

"They make sense for the downtown community," says the former clinical psychologist. Or for strapping on the back of a motorhome, she might add. So far McCray"s scooters have attracted customers ranging from wide-eyed pre-driver"s-license-age teens to 55-year-old businessmen, but she hopes to broaden her customer base to race teams and vacationers. "People who travel abroad recognize scooters," McCray offers as an explanation of the demographics. "They"re used to seeing people on Vespas in Europe. When they buy a scooter here, it perpetuates that vacation feeling."

Selling scooters in Indianapolis is a far cry from teaching at the University of Michigan. McCray moved to Indianapolis to be near her parents during her mother"s illness. Within seven months she lost her father, mother and grandmother. Still reeling from the loss, she and Ryan decided to use the inheritance check to open the business. "It"s been a healing experience," McCray says. "It"s a new beginning, thanks to my family."

But she admits that she hasn"t completely left the realm of psychology. She frequently guests on radio talk shows and is working on a book about sexual abuse. Plus, she counsels "more couples here than I did in private practice.

"Everybody wants a scooter," she adds with a smile. McCray hopes that Midwest consumers will associate White Dog Motors with scooters.

Green on the horizon

Sometimes you just need a car, but you want to appease your eco-conscious. While the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius gasoline/electric hybrid cars are front-runners in the trend of higher fuel economy/lower emissions automobiles, others are taking notice, with some manufacturers extending their hybrid technology to current makes, and others heading back to the drafting table.

Honda has already developed a hybrid version of the Civic, which should get about 50 mpg. Ford plans to offer a hybrid version of its Escape SUV in 2003, targeting 40 mpg. Daimler Chrysler has a hybrid version of the Jeep Liberty, and GM plans a hybrid truck and SUV by 2004.

Green innovations for combustion engine cars include the integrated starter-generator currently used in hybrids. It allows an engine to shut off automatically when the car is stopped, saving fuel/energy. Look for it on a 2003 Ford.

Another fuel economy booster GM is working on is displacement on demand. The idea is to vary the number of cylinders used, depending on driving conditions. A V8 on the highway may need only four cylinders, but under quick acceleration the other four will kick in. Cadillac tried it in the early 1980s without success, and Mercedes-Benz uses a similar system with its V12 engines.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that emit zero or very low emissions are also under development. BMW is working on hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines that won"t emit C02 greenhouse gas.

Be safe travelers this holiday. Better yet, give the fossil fuels a break. If you"re good, maybe I"ll bring you a little souvenir from Toronto.

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