Q: The Zenn seems like an amazing car, but we can’t buy it here. Why is that?
A: You can’t start talking Zenn without hearing whispers about who’s killing the electric Canadian car, and the most recent behind-the-scenes roadblocks are shifting conspiracy theories into high gear.
All the foot-dragging behind getting this little gas-free putter approved in Canada is pretty astounding considering that the award-winning “Zero Emission, No Noise” vehicle is already zipping around U.S., Mexican and European towns.
Things looked like they were starting to pick up speed in November, when Transport Canada finally gave Zenn its stamp of approval (the National Safety Mark), leaving it up to each province to give the final thumbs-up.
Weirdly, the feds were still going out of their way to warn the provinces that Transport Canada’s safety stamp didn’t mean the cars passed the same crash tests as regular automobiles. You’d assume provincial regulators would already be familiar with the fact that low speed vehicles like this don’t have to meet the same standards because they don’t go as fast. And indeed, BC remained keen on the car, and PEI and Quebec were hot on its heels. Even Ontario was mulling it over.
Then less than two months after granting Zenn its safety stamp, Transport Canada announced plans to revise its definition of low-speed vehicles, recommending that they be banished from regular roads. That would limit them to closed, private roads in parks, on military bases, campuses and the like. Zenn’s Canadian momentum came to a crashing halt.
Though we have to admit, driving the Zenn might mean a huge improvement in auto emissions (saving about 6 tons of greenhouse gases per car per year), and Rick Mercer proved the trunk can hold a good 20 cases of beer (you can never be too prepared), but it definitely has its downside.
It only goes 40 kph. That may be double your typical bike speed, but if we were allowed to drive it, you’d have to avoid any roads with 60kph speed limits and up.
It obviously would not work for suburban or highway drivers, but it could still be ideal for city putters and hockey game or grocery runs. Plus, it’ll cover about 60 kilometres on one charge (which, again, would be fine for city driving). And Zenn is working with an energy storage firm in the States to push that drive time to 800 kilometres. Man, if we set up charge stations around town, these babies could get their batteries boosted in just five minutes.
Not that the road ends with Zenn. There are other electric cars on the market that could potentially make their way to Canada in the next few years. Rumours are flying that Norway’s Th!nk car (the one unceremoniously dumped by Ford years back) is poised to announce a partnership with one of the top three automakers this week to bring a version of its electric car to North America.
There’s the George Clooney-endorsed all-electric Tesla sports car, with a top speed of 125 mph and 225 miles between charges, though you’ll need a fat bank account for this one.
Mitsubishi is working on cranking out its electric i-Miev (with a top speed of up to 130 kph) by 2010. And if the Chevy Volt ever hits the streets, the plan is that the first 64 kilometres of a trip can run on a rechargeable battery you plug in at home, and for longer drives a gasoline generator would kick in to keep the electrical current flowing.
But if you’re the kind of gal or guy who loves to get hot under the hood of a car, you can forget waiting for the dealerships to get on board and build your own. It’ll run you about $10,000, and it’s best to start off with a car that’s under 10 years old (though many EVs are old jalopies). And the really cool part is that, according to EValbum.com (a great resource-heavy site with links to suppliers) “most conversions are fast enough to get a speeding ticket on any highway,” though they take a little longer to reach those speeds.
And the best part? Since you’re starting with a car already approved for road use that goes as fast as a regular automobile, you won’t be barred from Canadian roads like all the other electrics! Plus, you’re recycling an old car and turning it into a greener machine. For all the greasy conversion details, find yourself a copy of Convert It by Mike P. Brown, or check out the manuals available at Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd. (www.canev.com).
Of course, even if you have an electric car, you should still limit your driving. Your tailpipe might be emission-free, but you’ll still be charging up with coal and nukes.
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