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Korky Koroluk: Cars such as plug-in ZENN spark interest in electric vehicles

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The ZENN’s (Zero Emissions No Noise) top speed is just 40 kilometres per hour, so drivers of the little electric car are limited to driving on roads with low speed limits. However, such restrictions aren’t stopping what is looking like a trend toward electric vehicles.
Korky Koroluk: Cars such as plug-in ZENN spark interest in electric vehicles

Korky Koroluk

Interesting stuff pours in from the Web, from newspapers and magazines every day. Some of it matches my own interests; much doesn’t. A lot of interesting little things remain just that — interesting little things not very important in themselves. But put them together, and they can represent a trend.

Today, I offer a few of these little bits and pieces and a trend toward plug-in vehicles.

Lets start with a little electric car that looks sort of like an enclosed golf cart.

It’s called the Zenn (Zero Emissions No Noise) car and it can now be sold in Quebec—for limited use. With a top speed of just 40 kilometres per hour, it will be limited to roads with low speed limits.

Although the car is assembled in Toronto from French parts, there is no established Canadian price yet since it has to be approved for road use province-by-province. But the city government in Palm Desert, Calif., has just bought two for use as maintenance vehicles and runabouts in the city’s civic centre complex. It paid about $22,000 for each, but got the version equipped with air conditioning and a radio.

These are really tiny vehicles, about 10 feet long by four feet wide and five feet tall. They run on six 12-volt batteries and have a range of about 40 kilometres, after which they’re simply plugged in to recharge.

Modest though they may be, the fact they are plug-ins will give them a lot of appeal in an era in which everyone is concerned about energy prices.

That’s also the appeal of the Solar Taxi, which put in an appearance in Vancouver recently. This one is Swiss technology, and its driver, Louis Palmer, is attempting to travel about 32,000 km, visiting 40 countries as he tries to become the first to drive around the world in an electric car.

He says his car can run about 300 km on a single charge, and the battery can be charged about 1,000 times.

Electric cars have been around for a century or more in one form or another, but never made much headway in a world awash in cheap oil. But rising energy costs, plus the spectre of global warming, have spurred a lot of interest in them of late. That’s why General Motors is gambling so heavily on its Volt, which it plans to have ready for the North American mass market in 2010.

An electric car that’s already in production, sort of, is the Tesla Roadster.

This is a flashy looking, flashy performing car that will run about 220 miles on a single charge. And performance? Well, it will take you from 0 to 60 miles an hour in just 3.9 seconds. That’s neck-snapping performance.

But it’s a niche market.

For a start, they’re hand-made (you’ll have to wait for yours) and only half a dozen or so have been completed. And you’ll pay somewhere north of $100,000 for one, although the company plans to have a four-door family car on the market in 2010 for about $60,000.

Still, none of these electric vehicles is going to be cheap, and perhaps the public won’t care that much. There seems to be a growing realization that there is a real cost associated with energy savings, and it will have to be borne by all of us as we wait out the pay-back time.

Certainly, diesel-electric trucks now under development will be more expensive than their pure diesel counterparts.

These new vehicles will have relatively small diesel engines whose job is to power a generator that provides the electricity driving the truck. There will be some emissions, therefore, but not as much.

Besides, no one is suggesting that everything be emission-free. To combat the threat of global warming we don’t have to eliminate emissions completely; but we do have to reduce them a lot.

And these new electric vehicles are among the many steps that will carry us along that road.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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