electric vehicles

Zap Motors Xebra Pickup – Digital Image by Gus Frederick

As you might guess, I have an interest in ways of saving on energy. We harness the power of the wind and sun to do all of the clothes drying around here, summer and winter. Lately, I’ve been musing over building a small greenhouse to extend our vegetable growing season as it bothers me to think of produce being flown or trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach our table. I’m also giving some thought to the possibility of setting up some kind of wind or solar energy system — this tends to be a very windy spot, so perhaps that’s the way to go. Anyhow, I’m looking for alternatives that wouldn’t be so hard on the environment.

Not too long ago, a friend was looking at the photos and specs on the Penguin amphibious cars that my dad and some of his colleagues built during the 1960s. He wrote, “Is it true? That little car was powered by a 197cc Villiers gas engine?!” Well, yes, indeed, it is true. Those little cars ran on a tiny motor similar to the one used to power the Bond Minicar. People have often commented to me that the Penguin was “a car before its time.” I’d say that’s absolutely correct. It seems to me that it would have been just the car for our time — especially now that so many people are talking about Peak Oil, reducing carbon emissions, and the rising price of gasoline. I can’t help thinking about how a little 197cc motor could power a two-seater amphibious vehicle that had a road speed of approx. 30 to 40 mph, and could also propel itself through the water at a speed of up to 3 or 4 mph. Why on earth is it necessary to build vehicles as large and heavy as they are, and then power them with engines that are a dozen or more times as large as the one in the Penguin? Fortunately, I’m not the only person considering this question. There are others out there who are already working on alternatives.

Just last night, I received the following email from Gus Frederick – yes, the same Gus that produced the neat time-lapse rhododendron creation that I posted to my blog earlier this week. This time, Gus was writing about electric cars:


My friend and I were driving down 12th Street in Salem, enroute to a record store to buy his spouse a birthday present, when all of a sudden, I spied a familiar looking vehicle parked on the side of the road.

Several weeks prior, my friend had sent me a link to a post on DailyKos about a new, unique EV, (Electric Vehicle), that could reach freeway speeds and have an range of 45 miles. But the author said it was UGLY! Which is why he sent the link. I agreed with him that the “Sparrow” (now known as the NmG for “No More Gas”), actually looks pretty damn cool! Actually had a cameo appearence in “Austin Powers Goldmember.”

So here we are in Salem, and they’re selling the same rigs! And several others! Here are a few pictures I shot.

They also have a Zap Xebra 4-passenger car for $12,000 with the same specs as the PU (see pickup truck photo up above), as well as a sport utility vehicle, dirt bike, ATV and mini “Segwayish” stand-up scooter … ALL ELECTRIC! The owner, Larry, said he had just returned from China and will soon be stocking a 4WD EV. Larry said that if the EVs are three-wheelers, they “count as” motorcycles with DMV. But since they are enclosed, one does not need motorcycle endorsed driver’s licenses to drive them. He says alot of the vintners are buying the Xebra PUs for the farm…


Yes, “WOW” is right. We’ve been giving more thought to what we’ll do when we finally need to replace our current vehicle. That will be awhile yet as we usually just keep repairing our wheels until they are totally worn out, but it’s not a bad idea to begin looking around ahead of time. We’d like something small that could haul the odd awkward load — perhaps a little pick-up truck. I gotta tell ya that the little Zap Motors Xebra Pick-up truck in the above photo looks mighty interesting. I hope we’ll see more of these innovative kinds of vehicles, hopefully being manufactured right here in North America. I wonder how long it will be before automakers get with the program?

EDIT: For those who would like to read more about the ZAP Xebra PK, check out this very interesting webpage by L. David Roper. It contains plenty of good info.

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6 Responses to “electric vehicles”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    We’re always looking around to see what vehicle we might buy next. Definitely thinking about it the same way you and Don are. It’s got to be energy efficient, preferrably a hybrid or electric. That’s a very interesting looking vehicle there. I hope and suspect by the time we are ready to buy, there will be more choices.

  2. Jim Says:

    I just bought one up in Eugene two weeks ago. I had it shipped to my home in Crescent City and I love it. My first week gas would have cost me $47.52 and the ZAP electricity was $5.28. I’m all for electric.

  3. bev Says:

    robin – I think that we’re going to be seeing plenty more of these type of vehicles in the next while. I believe there’s a market that isn’t being filled by most of the vehicles available (especially those available through NA automakers). Up here in eastern Ontario, we’re seeing an increasing number of Smart cars on the road. I pretty much see one or two any time I make even a short trip to the nearest town, and more if I’m in the city. I guess the demand has been enough that there’s been a long wait period to get one after ordering.

    Jim – It’s nice to hear from someone who has actually been using one of these vehicles! Wow, that’s an amazing difference in operating cost, and also in terms of energy use. That’s super! Thanks for leaving a comment here.

  4. Ruth Says:

    Interesting post, Bev. The cost of hybrids is still high and the consumer will not buy alternative cars until it is economically practical. My daughter bought her first car after university and there is no wasy she could afford more than a basic gas engine. (She did get a Honda Civic which gets good mileage) I think the Smart Cars are cute, but I need a little more room for a family. We need to rethink our use of gas engines in many ways and look at several alternatives, including better mass transit, practical community planning, and our thoughtless consumer buying habits.

  5. Wayne Says:

    The zap pickup is really neat – the zaps are in general. I’m hoping that gradually over the next decade or so electrics and hybrids will begin to dominate the roads. But around here it’s primarily a weapons race that drives the big cars and trucks and their aggressive drivers. It is flat-out unsafe to be on a bicycle or in a vehicle that maxes at 40 mph.

    Too, I haven’t done the calculations but the electricity to power an all-electric vehicle has to come from somewhere, and the way electric power is gridded, it probably mostly comes from a coal plant. Then there are the problems of energy loss from electric transmission and those have to be added to the fuel savings.

    I’ve really wanted to add some solar panels to the house – we don’t have much wind but we get a lot of sun. The last time I reviewed the cost, it turned out to be double or triple what the ads and websites tell you, since they don’t tell you about the cost of all the ancillary regulators, inverters, batteries, monitors, and so forth that you need if you’re going to actually use the solar panels.

    For the time being I’m left with saving on power consumption by drying clothes outside (a big savings), driving as little as possible, not using air conditioning in the summer (another biggie), and turning things off when not in use.

    Purchases of food items that are locally grown is another big help, and growing as much as you can yourself is too. Which reminds me – have to do some planting today!

  6. Mark Says:

    I am also hoping vehicles like this take off. The details of the electricity they consume does need to be looked at to make sure they aren’t shifting power consumption to another unsustainable resource. I think it would also help greatly if there was a supporting infrastructure for them (ie. public electrical outlets at rest areas, grocery stores, shopping malls, etc for a recharge if needed).