They& re not fast but electric cars drawing Houston fans Houston Chronicle

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They’re not fast, but electric drawing Houston fans


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

From a warehouse near Minute Park, Ehrlich has launched first electric car dealership, the Zenn — zero emissions no

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

I don’t any illusions that we’ll in high volumes, but it’s a car in every way, Ehrlich It can carry two people nearly in the city for less than two per mile, while creating no air

The Zenn isn’t the only option for Houston-area residents of paying dearly at the pump or to cut their contributions to the city’s air quality.

California-based Miles Electric has a local sales rep who hooked up the of Houston with a trio of that officials hope replace some small used by campus workers.

ZAP also out of California, offers a of cars and scooters though dealer Apollo Scooter. the local shop doesn’t the electric cars in its showroom.

And a of Chrysler, Global Electric or GEM, sells two- to cars through two Houston-area A downtown taxi service started using two of the vehicles.

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

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

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

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

has defined what a car should be: a big of steel with cool that can travel at 120 mph and carry people halfway across the in a day, Brooks said. But it have to be that. Many of us within 10 miles of our jobs and need a truck or a large for our work.

Electric car sales

Nationally, electric car sales are compared to standard vehicles, but growing. ZAP said August saw sales of $737,000, an 88 percent from last year. sold about 240 cars in the in the past year.

An estimated 100,000 neighborhood vehicles and 10,000 highway-approved vehicles are on U.S. roads, to industry estimates. Zenn is a highway-ready car for late 2009, privately held Tesla so far has delivered about 60 of its roadsters, are priced at around $100,000.

before the arrival of the local car dealership, Houston had been to a community of electric vehicle many of them members of the Electric Auto Association.

are engineers who love to take apart, compare notes on design and shoot the breeze the future of battery technology.

But got into electric cars the tinkering instinct. Steve a computer programmer, was inspired to a 2002 Chevy S-10 into an electric vehicle by the An Inconvenient Truth . former President Al Gore ‘s at global warming, and Who Killed the Car? . about the development and of General Motors ‘

Before I started the project I two tools — a screwdriver and a pair of — and I wasn’t so sure about how the worked, said Kobb, who was an major in college.

But with help from club member Bill he got the truck running late summer — although it’s in the garage for repairs. The project about $21,000, or a bit less the hybrid-electric Toyota Prius.

just obsessed with the of what do you do with the existing of gasoline vehicles when technology makes electric more widely desirable, said.

The most common he gets?

‘Can you get to Dallas in No, my range is about 40 miles, said, recalling what his first said when the oven came out. She ‘Can you bake a cake or a turkey in it?’ No, but now it’s one of tools in her kitchen.

Carbon a factor

Some cities and are considering electric vehicles for tasks, such as meter campus security or maintenance.

Smith. auto shop at UH, is testing three Miles EV to replace small pickups the uses to transport landscaping elevator technicians and their

We’re looking for some way to the university’s carbon footprint and some of our gasoline use, said. I think these could help change the that ‘if it’s not it doesn’t work.’

Brooks has several electric cars the years, and for nearly a decade he has a two-person Jet Electrica — essentially a Plymouth Horizon with and an electric motor replacing the engine. Made in Austin in the under a Department of Energy it can hit 70 mph and go more than 70 miles on a but it lacks air conditioning.

Brooks the first customer at Ehrlich’s this summer, buying a for about $17,000.

I originally by thinking I’d just derisively at them, but I just in love with it, Brooks particularly when he saw the new Zenn air conditioning.

About the same he paid $12,000 for a ZAP Xebra which has a solar panel on its that helps charge the

I don’t think Detroit has a car with an oil well built in he said.

On top of the fuel savings, vehicle is eligible for a $5,000 tax credit, Brooks said, but tax benefits will change beginning in 2009.

The recent in gasoline prices may temper drivers’ enthusiasm for an electric but Brooks thinks this is the before the storm.

Chronicle David Kaplan contributed to story.

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