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Electric cars


Rick Ehrlich has high hopes for his new car dealership but it’s not likely to strike much fear into competitors with lots full of gleaming vehicles from Detroit, Asia or Europe.

From a small warehouse near Minute Maid Park, Ehrlich has launched Houston’s first electric car dealership, selling the Zenn — “zero emissions no noise.”

Under state law, the cars are classified as “neighborhood electric vehicles,” limited to 25 mph and banned from roads with speed limits over 35 mph. But the Canadian-built hatchbacks are hardly golf carts. The same car is sold in Europe with a diesel engine and can take to the highways.

“I don’t have any illusions that we’ll sell in high volumes, but it’s a real car in every way,” Ehrlich said. “It can carry two people nearly anyplace in the city for less than two cents per mile, while creating no air pollution.”


Electric cars aren’t for everyone, said Dale Brooks, an electrical engineer, president of the Houston Electric Auto Association and owner of three electric cars.

Depending on the model, the cars can travel from 25 to 70 miles on a charge. Only a few come with that critical Texas option, air conditioning. And some are subject to the speed maximums.

But the operating cost is well below that of a gasoline vehicle, with a full charge coming in at less than 50 cents and taking three to eight hours, depending upon the vehicle. Maintenance tends to be cheaper for electric cars, too, with just one-tenth the number of parts as vehicles with internal combustion engines. Most battery systems will last for years.

As a second car for most commutes or errands, Brooks said, an electric car is ideal.

“Detroit has defined what a car should be: a big piece of steel with cool lines that can travel at 120 mph and carry five people halfway across the continent in a day,” Brooks said. “But it doesn’t have to be that. Many of us live within 10 miles of our jobs and don’t need a truck or a large vehicle for our work.”

Most of the driving I do during the work week is (or at least has the option of being) non-highway. If a car like this could carry the kids and wasn’t subject to that 25 MPH limitation (according to the sidebar, one of the many bills pre-filed this session by State Sen. Rodney Ellis would raise that limit to 35), then it might be practical for me. Obviously, I’d prefer having air conditioning, but could live without it (as I did with my first car, the 1969 Nova I inherited from my grandmother when I was in college) if I had to. I’ll have to keep this in mind when it’s time to replace the older of our existing cars.

I should note, by the way, that I find it amusing to have read this article on the same day as this one about the end of the Yugo. There’s just something poetic about it somehow.

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  1. Peter Wang says:

    I would not buy an NEV. Since I live in the suburbs, I need to get onto the freeways and cruise at 60 MPH (my self-imposed top end, my attempt at hypermiling). I need a real car. However, the first one that comes out that offers 60 MPH, 100 miles per charge, reasonable size (mini cooper or Fit or Yaris sized), and protection from premature battery failure (perhaps via a battery leasing option), good service network, and reasonable price tag I will very seriously consider. Oh, it has to have AC, of course. My home power is a Gexa Energy 100% renewable contract. Sure, the base load on the grid is still coal fired, but at least I am funding those marginal megawatt hours. And my company, Schlumberger (shameless plug) is working on carbon capture and storage, which you can’t do from millions of tailpipe, but you can do from a fleet of stationary coal-fired electric plants. I did a 90 day survey of my driving habits, and on only 1 day did I drive more than 90 miles, that was a trip to Prairie View. I could’ve borrowed my wife’s gas car on that day. So an EV would be good. But, I fear it’s not as close as people think. Nissan said they are going to roll one out in 2011, but who knows? I’m thinking mid-decade is more likely. In the meantime, I’m still planning on buying at least one more 4-cylinder gas powered car.

  2. Tom says:

    We must not as a nation forget the role the high cost of our dependence on foreign fuel played in the demise of our automakers. The exorbitant cost of gas the past year has done serious damage to our economy and society. We need to take lessons from our mistakes.WE also need to get out from under the grip our dependence on fore gin oil has on us. Why not take some of these billions and invest in America becoming energy independent. Driving an electric car would cost the equivalent of 60 cents a gallon. The electricity could be generated by solar or wind power. Green technology would create millions of badly needed new jobs. What America needs is a green revolution. It is time for us to move forward with alternative energy. I just read Jeff Wilson’s new book The Manhattan Project of 2009. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about the downward spiral of our economy and it’s effect on our society and would like to see our country become energy independent!

  3. Charles Hixon says:

    i’ve never heard of anyone dying from chronic lack of a/c in their car.

  4. I really like reading about elactric cars and want to be part of it. I hope by the time I need A new car I can by a electric car.