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5 Electric Cars You Can Buy Now
Is the world yearning for a viable electric car? Electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasts believe so, maintaining that the electric car is the answer if we really desire clean, sustainable mobility. This certainly isn't a new idea, of course, since electric horseless carriages were around before the internal combustion gasoline powered automobile.
Low volume electric vehicles have come and gone amid much controversy and speculation. The problem now, as then, is the battery. Storing the energy needed to propel something as large as a passenger car for any distance requires serious battery power. Traditional lead acid batteries are large and heavy with capabilities that typically fall short of the needs of full function electric cars. More advanced nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries are a better but costlier alternative. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries show promise because of their superior energy-to-weight ratio, but drive the cost significantly higher. What the world needs is a powerful but inexpensive battery ... something that does not yet exist.
There is significant movement toward bringing a new generation of electric cars to market, but these vehicles today are either still in development, priced far beyond the reach of everyday consumers, or aimed exclusively at fleets. Until the battery breakthrough occurs that will make full-function electric cars an affordable reality, there is a class of pure electric vehicle that can partially fill the void. It's called a neighborhood electric vehicle, or NEV for short. As the name implies, a NEV is intended for shorter missions in an urban environment or around the neighborhood, precisely the type of driving where a gasoline internal combustion car is least efficient.
NEVs are lightweight, operate only at low speeds, and by design offer modest performance. These attributes allow them to do their job with more basic and affordable lead acid batteries. They are street legal in most states on roads that have a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. Electronically governed to a top speed of 25 mph, these battery electric cars vary greatly in style and configuration, ranging from open cockpit designs resembling golf carts to diminutive full-bodied city cars. Some, like the Columbia ParCar MEGA shown above, can be configured with various cargo box options for commercial use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines a NEV under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 500 (49 CFR 571.500) as a vehicle with four wheels, a top speed between 20 and 25 mph, and a gross weight less than 2,500 pounds, with an official designation as a "low speed vehicle." Even though some NEVs appear quite golf cart-like, they feature equipment far beyond what one would ever find in such basic vehicles. For instance, FMVSS 500 requires that a certified NEV be equipped with a vehicle identification number (VIN), headlamps, tail lamps, stop lamps, turn signals, rear view mirrors, reflex reflectors, parking brake, windshield, horn, and seat belts.
You can cover a lot of ground around town with a NEV, with models offering a range of 30 to 60 miles before recharging is needed. When it's time to refuel, a NEV simply plugs into a standard 110 volt outlet, just like your coffee maker. Neighborhood electric vehicles are well suited for a wide range of tasks. They've found favor in small towns, gated communities, airports, and both government and private fleets of all types. Some are being used as rentals in resort areas and in station car projects. Still, NEVs remain a well kept secret to the general public.
As pure electric cars, NEVs have no tailpipe emissions - a major advantage in smoggy urban locations and confined inner city areas. Plus, because of a NEV's unique usage for short and in-town trips, these vehicles make a significant dent in the problematic cold start emissions experienced by gasoline vehicles used for similar short errands around town. Gasoline engines are dirtiest when first started and during the first five minutes of operation until their catalytic converters are hot enough to treat exhaust gases. In a major study of NEV user behavior in California several years ago, the Green Car Institute found that NEVs can have a profound impact on lowering overall cold start emissions when used in place of conventional vehicles for regular short trips. They can also achieve substantial petroleum displacement when used daily and in meaningful numbers, as the study shows.
The electric grid is North America's most advanced and widespread energy infrastructure. From a logistics standpoint it makes sense that the car you depend on for short commutes and daily errands be able to tap into that fuel source at home, conveniently and while you sleep. A growing number of NEV manufacturers are offering increasingly more stylish and sophisticated models to do just that.
If the streets you regularly drive around town offer appropriate roads posted at 35 mph or less and are legal in your state, you may be a good candidate for this low speed electric car. Here are five popular examples that illustrate the diversity this little known class of truly green cars provides.
British Columbia based Dynasty Electric Cars produces a line of low speed NEVs that includes the iT Sedan, iT Utility (pickup), iT Tropic (topless, no doors), iT Sport (topless, half-doors), and iT Utility (panel). They are built on a 90-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 140 inches. Dynasty uses aluminum for the frame structure with an infusion molded fiberglass body and molded plastic bumpers. Electricity is stored in six EV-31 type flooded lead acid batteries, with Deka gel cell batteries optional. When it's time to plug iT in, an onboard Delta-Q Battery charger tops of the car off in less than 12 hours. Models range from $14,000 to $25,000.
Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) is perhaps the best established NEV manufacturer because of its distinction as a Chrysler company. The company's lineup includes a basic two passenger e2 GEM along with a four passenger e4, six passenger e6, and three utility variants with truck beds. While the basic configuration is an open design, optional canvas or hard doors make the vehicle functional in foul weather. The GEM is powered by a 5 horsepower (12 hp peak) DC motor with a 7 horsepower performance package optional on the e2 and e4, and standard on the e6. With a long list of optional equipment, the GEM can be tailored to suit a wide range of applications. GEMs are available from $6,795 to $12,495.
Available in two and four passenger configurations and as a utility model with a stake bed, the Columbia ParCar Summit NEV is a highly adaptable platform. Summit's powder coated, high strength alloy tubular steel frame, independent front suspension, rack and pinion steering, and open-air design promises fun low speed mobility. Designed for work, the Mega is a versatile cab-chassis NEV that can be configured in a variety of ways ranging from a pickup bed with fold down sides to a dump bed, van box, and even a refuse container for garbage removal. With a gross weight rating of 2,469 pounds, the Mega can make short work of urban work tasks. Summit NEVs are $9,497-$10,857, with Mega NEV models ranging from $17,900-$23,770.
Miles Electric Vehicles offers the four door ZX40 in three different models. The base ZX40 is propelled by a 4 kW (9 kW peak) DC electric motor, while the ZX40S has a more powerful 6.3 kW (17.6 kW peak) DC motor. For maximum performance, the Miles ZX40S Advanced Design offers a 7.5 kW (26 kW peak) brushless AC induction motor. Absorbed glass mat sealed lead acid batteries are utilized to store electricity. The tall four door wagon seats four and offers 41 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded. Standard features include front and rear defroster, windshield wipers, electric mirrors, and alloy wheels. An AM/FM/CD sound system is optional. Cost is $14,900-$18,900.
ZENN Motor Company calls its attractive three door hatchback, the ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise), "the earth's favorite car." This electric car is sourced as a "glider" - a rolling vehicle without a powertrain - from Microcar of Europe. ZENN creates its zero emission NEV by fitting it with electric drive components and batteries. The ZENN features an automotive style alloy space frame and resilient ABS body panels. Standard four-wheel discs are accompanied by regenerative braking, a feature that recaptures energy to help recharge the batteries. Drivers get a very functional two seat hatchback that offers 13 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats. ZENNs are available for $14,700-$15,575.
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