It feels like we've been waiting for the electric car forever. Or at least since the 1830s, when the first battery-powered electric carriages were built.
While we continue to wait for GM and other major automakers to shake off their big oil hangovers and start delivering on their electric vehicle promises -- the Chevy Volt is still about two years away -- impatient drivers can choose from a handful of hybrids and a class of vehicle that has received much less attention: the neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV).
Zap's tiny Xebra Xero is a three-wheeler intended for city use. It costs about $12,000.
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Officially, NEVs (or LSVs -- low-speed electric vehicles) as they are classified by the U.S. Department of Transportation, are four-wheeled motor vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 pounds and a top speed of between 20 to 25 mph. Each state has its own laws about low-speed electric vehicles.
Unofficially, NEVs can be odd ducks. Not designed to be replacements for gas-powered cars, they routinely turn heads and attract stares with their peculiar shapes. Many have paint jobs straight from the Sesame Street palette.
Dealerships that carry NEVs are harder to come by than Birkenstocks at an Exxon board meeting. But with a little effort, they can be found. And while low-speed electric vehicles are not practical for either large loads or long drives, they may be just the thing for quick commutes, local errands, and tooling around the neighborhood or job site, cleanly and inexpensively.
Before plunking down a deposit on an NEV, though, be aware that some vehicle vendors are struggling. Nevco has ceased manufacturing the Gizmo, citing financial difficulties. Zap has had some bad press, and one of Spark EV's top executives was arrested earlier this year for allegedly bilking two dealerships out of cars. Buyer beware.
For a look at all 12 electric cars we tracked down, click here.