When Obama first came out in support of electric cars, the opposition quickly attacked these vehicles as nothing more than “glorified golf carts.” They loved it. They used it as an opportunity to scare the public into believing that the only electric cars available were Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). These electric vehicles, also known as “Low Speed Vehicles” are basically 4-wheeled vehicles with a top speed of more than 20 mph, but not more than 25 mph.
Now we know the truth. We know that at this very moment, there are electric vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles in development and on the road that are not glorified golf carts, but rather highly efficient vehicles that really represent the future of personal transportation.
Moreover, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average daily commuter drives 29 miles per day. And the Chevy Volt, as well as a number of other electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can easily deliver 29 miles without using a single drop of gas.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we need to disregard the value of NEVs either. NEVs have actually proven their worth over the past decade, as many of these vehicles have enabled us to displace a significant amount of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the most popular NEV manufacturers is Chrysler’s Global Electric Motorcars (GEM). GEM offers a full line of vehicles for both consumer and utility applications. The company’s passenger models include two-seaters, four-seaters, and a 6-seater, which I’ve personally seen on a few college campuses.
For utility applications, GEM offers a short-back vehicle for extra cargo-carrying capability, a long-back vehicle, and an extra-duty long-back vehicle that can handle added payload. You might find these at work sites or shipyards.
The company also sells security vehicles which can often be spotted patrolling parking lots and parks.
GEM models are limited to 25 mph, can drive up to 30 miles on a single charge (with an option for a package that can get you up to 40 miles on a charge), and typically start at around $7,300 before tax credits or incentives. The vehicles are powered by a 72-volt battery system, and all meet the latest safety requirements set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These requirements include safety glass, headlamps, windshield wipers, taillights, turn signals, high mounted stoplights, mirrors and three-point safety belts.
To date, GEM has delivered more than 38,000 of these vehicles to its customers. Though with the government offering incentives and tax credits now, it is likely we’ll see GEM’s volumes pick up throughout the year, as fleet operators continue to look to get the most bang for their buck.
That being said, I am skeptical of touting NEVs as fuel-efficient vehicles for NEV-friendly neighborhoods and personal city commuting. NEV-friendly neighborhoods are few and far between – offering little relevance to most folks living throughout our vast suburban complex. And for city-driving, the top speed of 25 mph only works in theory. Here in Baltimore, the speed limit throughout most of the city is 25 mph. Most folks cruise at around 35 mph or faster. In reality, 25 mph simply does not offer the necessary safety for city-driving.
I bring this up, not to downplay the significance of NEVs, but rather to demonstrate that when defending the real value of electric vehicles, it has to be done on a case by case basis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people question the value of electric vehicles by comparing an NEV to a conventional highway capable vehicle. This is not a valid comparison, and those who oppose a clean transition of our energy economy know this. So in these instances, the argument must be shifted to one that is relevant. Of course I’m not going to drive an NEV on I-95. But I’ll take a 150-mile per gallon equivalent GEM at an industrial site or college campus over a small, internal combustion vehicle any day of the week. When it comes to cost, fuel and pollution reductions, it’s a no-brainer…and there is no valid argument to suggest otherwise.