Nathan Dooley [Email address: ndooley #AT# austin.rr.com - replace #AT# with @ ]
Electric cars are trendy, but are they useful in our neighborhood?
At some point in the last several months, you may have noticed a pair of blue three-wheeled trucks parked in a driveway on Shoal Creek Boulevard. This is Rhonda and Michael Hall’s house, where they’ve lived for the last seven years, along with their two young children and a 19-year-old who recently moved out on his own.
Rhonda and Michael drive these matching electric two-seater trucks.
Over the past year, they’ve also used an electric sedan (yes, it seats
four) and another model of electric truck—all from Rhonda’s brother’s
ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) dealership in San Antonio.
The model they now
drive, the Xebra, tops out around 40 miles per hour and can drive about
25 miles on a single charge. Options such as solar panels and extended
range batteries are available.
According to the ZAP website (http://www.zapworld.com), the company has
delivered electric vehicles to customers in over 75 countries. Its
Xebra truck uses roughly one to three cents of electricity per mile.
The ZAP vehicles’ lack of harmful emissions pleases eco-conscious
consumers, and ZAPs also appear to be popular choices for senior
citizens and high school students, perhaps because of the relatively
low sticker price.
Rhonda graciously let me take a spin around the neighborhood in one of
her family’s trucks. While at first I had a tough time finding a
comfortable seating position (I’m 6’2” tall on a good day), the truck
was actually quite drivable. The ride is a bit jerky because of a
touchy accelerator and brake and a stiff suspension, but the Xebra has
a tight turning radius and has no problem maintaining speed on
residential roads. It seats two, and has a flatbed that can tilt to
Rhonda finds her truck particularly well suited to short trips, such as
her commute to work at Seton Hospital. She often drives it to nearby
grocery stores, the dry cleaner, and People’s Pharmacy. She has taken
her truck as far as North Austin Hospital and Sam’s Club, and Michael
occasionally drives his to work downtown at the Austin Convention
Center. She still uses her minivan, but has gone from filling it up
with gas once a week to once a month. The additional insurance costs of
the electric trucks are low, since they are insured as motorcycles.
The ZAP Xebra is not perfect. Its 25-mile range won’t allow long trips,
although the range can be extended somewhat if the vehicle is charged
during the trip. The truck’s ride is most comfortable at around 25–30
miles per hour, which not only rules out highways but also makes it
significantly slower than traffic on many fast roads such as Lamar or
Burnet. Also, the Xebra won’t work for very small children, since the
seatbelts will accommodate a booster seat but not a car seat.
All things considered, would Rhonda recommend this vehicle to other
Allandale residents? “Yes, if they’re buying it for the right
purpose—to supplement an existing vehicle—but not as a replacement.”