Electric cars creating quite a buzz locally


There is a new, tiny, super-economic car loose on the streets of Iowa City.

It’s the Zenn, designed by Zenn Motor Co., and it belongs to Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability.

The Zenn can drive 30 to 50 miles on a single charge, with a maximum speed of 35 mph. Charging the battery can take as little as four hours.

And the only tool required to charge this adorable piece of machinery is a standard electrical outlet.
“It’s a cute little car; it runs really quietly,” Christiansen said while taking the forest-green compact car for a cruise down Jefferson Street on Wednesday. “It’s great for driving in the city, running errands.”

Electric cars have only 10 percent of the moving parts that a gas or combustion-powered vehicle has and are much cheaper to run. The car is powered solely by a battery and requires no anti-freeze or oil. While the cars are cheaper and generally have fewer maintenance issues, most models can only travel up to 35 mph.

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But Mary Panther, the owner of a Dynasty Sedan, made by Innovative Transportation, said the vehicle’s maximum speed doesn’t concern her.

“I drive it to work; I live real close to the hospital,” she said. “I can even drive it out to North Liberty, though that is a little harder on the battery.”

Panther has owned her electric car for five years. She said the public’s interest in her vehicle has not dwindled — getting stopped in the grocery store or in parking lots by onlookers is an everyday occurrence for Panther.

“I get a lot of people waving and giving me thumbs up,” the UIHC nurse said. “I go to the grocery store, and people ask me questions. I think people are kind of used to seeing it now, though I still get lots of reactions.”

Panther bought her electric car on eBay for $6,500. The cost was half the vehicle’s listing price. But after President Obama signed the stimulus bill Tuesday, she might save even more. Electric-car owners are offered a tax credit of up to $2,500 in the bill.

While a conventional combustion-powered vehicle costs for operation anywhere from 8 to 12 cents per mile, according to the Zenn Motor Co. website, Christiansen said her vehicle is more efficient.
“The estimated cost per mile is around 2 cents,” she said. “It’s much less expensive. It’s small and economic.”

The self-proclaimed “Zero Emissions, No Noise” automobile and similar vehicles have hit the market in a big way. Though luxury electric vehicles exist, affordable electric vehicles are the main sellers.

Dan Raymond, the vice president of operations for Heartland Electric Car and Truck Co. in Fairfield, Iowa, said Heartland has been selling electric vehicles for a little over a year.
“Sales have gone up dramatically,” he said. “They’re good for cities, golf courses, and some individuals.”

ZAP, the leader in the electric car industry, has also reported significant gains. In November 2008, ZAP announced a 180 percent increase in revenue from September 2007.

For some, electric cars appear to be the way of the future. A vehicle with a low price tag that’s cheap to run and maintain seems fail-proof, but there are some who say the vehicles may not be that environmentally friendly.

“It depends on where the electricity is coming from,” said Stephanie Enloe, co-president of UI Environmental Coalition. “If it’s still coming from a coal power plant, that wouldn’t make a sizable difference. It’s still hard on the environment.”

For Christiansen, it’s not as much about saving money as it is about helping the environment.
“It’s unfortunate a lot of people are choosing these cars because they’re cheaper instead of for their benefits to the environment,” she said. “I chose mine to reduce my carbon footprint, it was convenient that it’s much cheaper too.”

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