The new electric vehicle hopes to bring some om on the range
There’s a new star in town. She’s small, electric and surprisingly low maintenance. She turns heads effortlessly as she rolls down Santa Cruz streets, collecting excited honks and hollers as she goes.
She is the Zenn car, a Zero Emissions No Noise (ZENN) electric car that The Green Station, located on the corner of Soquel Avenue and Ocean Street, is advocating as the latest, greatest green transportation solution. Although the station now has four Zenns for sale, having received the first batch just last week, it is the bright blue test-drive model with Florida plates that has been revving up interest around town for the past few months. Not only is it hard to miss—a European toy car-turned-green machine scooting amidst SUVs and pick-up trucks at no more than 25 miles per hour—but this very model became a legend as it made its way across the country as a gleaming electric example, even stopping for a stint as Tom Hanks’ car in a new movie planned for a summer release.
Green Station co-owner Bill Le Bon is seated in the driver’s seat of the starlet, with his knees encroaching on the steering wheel and his head a mere inch from the roof. The car starts silently with a turn of the key, and off he goes. Le Bon, whose primary mode of transportation is a bicycle, says that the Zenn car is one vehicle he doesn’t feel guilty about driving.
“The advertisers call it ‘Earth’s favorite car,’ and I agree with that after driving it,” he says. “It’s small, quiet, doesn’t spew any emissions, and it’s slow—the perfect car for the environment doesn’t go 100 miles per hour.”
Many people who are accustomed to driving petroleum-dependent vehicles consider the 25-mile-per-hour speed cap and 35-mile longevity serious drawbacks, but Le Bon believes the perks far outweigh these factors. The car’s 35-miles-per-charge costs about 50 cents in electrical costs per plug in, and it can be charged at any standard 110-volt outlet. In addition to seriously reducing a driver’s carbon footprint, the Zenn car warrants $3,300 in federal tax credit and $500 California tax credit. Throw in $1,000 off to the Green Station’s first four Zenn customers, and the MSRP of $16,000 comes down to $13,000. As an added local bonus, the City of Santa Cruz provides free parking for electric cars in most areas of town. Plus, says Le Bon, it promises a relaxing ride.
“Literally there is a zen to it,” he says. “It creates a bubble of peace and tranquility around it. If anyone gets agro [about the car’s pace] on the road, I just pull over, smile and wave.”
Zenn cars fit into the category of neighborhood electric cars, a vehicle class that can be traced back to golf carts being driven around retirement and golf communities. Sturdier, lockable, more attractive and with many standard features of typical cars (AC/heat, stereo, keyless entry), the Zenn car is a descendent of the golf cart that makes neighborhood electric driving a more viable reality for people in all communities.
“Seventy percent of the average American’s trips are within a 10-mile radius,” says Le Bon. “We don’t need a big gas guzzler to drive around town, we can use a little electric car to do that. When we do need to go out of town or long distance, we can use biodiesel.” This trade-off is why Le Bon and his Green Station partners Timothy Mayo and Ray Newkirk feel it is so important to offer both options—biofuels and electric vehicles—at their business.
Pacific Biofuels, Newkirk’s former biodiesel enterprise, once stood where the Green Station is now. The trio came up with the idea to sell electric vehicles out of the location right around the time Pacific Biofuels went out of business. It soon resurfaced as The Green Station, with new owners and a new vision.
“Green Station’s purpose is several fold: one, we want to clean up the air; two, we want to get people off of petroleum in order to stem the tide of all our money going overseas, and three, it’s keeping the local economy stronger,” says Newkirk, who wasn’t disheartened by the failure of his last green business effort. “I’ve already been through one business that bit the dust, and we’re still trying as hard as we can to make this a reality for everybody.”
The owners have yet to sell a Zenn car (although they’ve received a lot of interest) and struggle to keep biodiesel affordable for the average consumer. For now they rent U-hauls to stay afloat financially, all the while hoping that the policies of the new administration and increasing environmental consciousness will help the Green Station reach its full potential. “If Obama practices the way he preaches, not only would what we offer become more affordable, but it would be part of a vision, a standard,” says Mayo. “The Green Station would be the model.”
Eventually, The Green Station gang plans on expanding the business offerings to include a wider variety of alternative transportation options.
“The reason we called it The Green Station is because it is a bigger vision than just electric vehicles,” says Le Bon. “We want to have bio, solar, electric, bikes, bus passes, Birkenstocks—anything to do with renewable energy and sustainable transportation. We are trying to have a one-stop shop for green transportation.”
Until then, they’re banking on their adorable electric Zenns to get people on the road and off petroleum.
“We’ve got to get out of this mentality of just waiting for the perfect thing, the silver bullet solution, to come along,” says Le Bon. “We can act now. We don’t have to wait. Neighborhood electric vehicles are not the whole solution, but they are part of it.”