Are electric cars the way to go?

Electric vehicles may pave the way for cleaner air and quieter streets – and put more dollars in your pocket.

Ian Clifford envisions a society where urban pollution and congestion are problems of the past – and the not too distant past, at that.

Clifford, who is founder and CEO of ZENN Motor Company, believes that real solutions to modern transportation problems exist today – in the form of zero-emission, fully electric vehicles such as his company’s The ZENN.

The ZENN, a fully electric low speed vehicle (LSV), was recently named Best Urban Vehicle at the Michelin Bibendum Challenge. Low speed vehicles, which are marketed to core city dwellers as well as to residents of gated or retirement communities, typically have a top speed of 45 km (25 mph). The ZENN has a range of 60 kilometers (about 30 miles) before the battery needs to be recharged. For a full charge, you typically need to allow 6-8 hours.

Not only will LSV help to save the environment, the company says, but it is considerably more affordable than owning a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. Addressing these issues as well as other ideas regarding the future of transportation, Clifford recently spoke at Toronto’s 8th annual ideaCity Conference – an eclectic gathering which addresses topics ranging from art, adventure and science to music, magic and technology. recently had the opportunity to ask Mr. Clifford a few questions.

Q. Most people understand the immediate environmental benefits of fully electric vehicles. Tell us about any cost benefits for the consumer when compared to owning a vehicle powered by an internal combustion region. What is the retail price of a ZENN car? And what about operational costs such as replacing re-chargeable batteries and insurance?

A. ZENN owners benefit personally in four ways by driving an electric vehicle. First, the initial investment is significantly lower and any associated financing cost would be proportionately lower as well. The ZENN has an MSRP of $12,750 in the United States. No pricing has been established yet for Canada.

Secondly, the operating cost is about 2 cents a mile. Compare that with the current price of gas and an average gas-powered fuel efficiency of about 22 miles per gallon. Regular maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is almost negligible. It consists of periodically checking the battery terminals, brakes and tires. Compare that to the cost of oil changes, tune-ups, and mandatory emissions testing.

The battery pack may need to be replaced after 2 or 3 years depending on use. This is somewhat like spending the repair costs for an internal combustion engine in a lump sum. Because the ZENN has fewer operating parts and doesn’t need some others that are normally very costly such as radiator cooling system, exhaust system, catalytic converter etc., it is, on balance, a more economical choice. ZENN simply requires fewer parts and less labour to maintain.

Finally, the ZENN will provide years of reliable service, so it will continue to generate annual savings for owners over an extended period.