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‘Legacy project’ indeed: Electric vehicles may be our future transportation

The Toronto based Zenn Motor Co.‘s CEO and founder, Ian Clifford, recently predicted to a Metro North Chamber of Commerce audience in Mounds View that 90 percent of the city-core trips of conventional cars could be replaced with electrical vehicles. His perspective is well worth hearing.

Two ideas — zero emission and no noise — permeated his hourlong presentation. The average gasoline-fueled automobile has a “carbon imprint” of 6.5 tons a year, he said, and there are an estimated 900 million cars in operation today. Zenn’s cars, he said, are “fueled by optimism” as “the air is clean and your conscience is clear.”

After taking a test drive myself, I found that Zenn’s vehicle is comfortable, free-moving and has plenty of zip in reaching a maximum of 35 mph with an electric motor that creates 7.6 horsepower and seven kilowatt hours of energy, good for about a 40-mile range. To recharge, plugging the engine into a household socket can do so in eight hours.

Next steps: more miles, higher speeds
Electrical energy storage (EES) is the key to the future of electric cars, said Clifford, and Zenn has a strategic partnership, including an equity position, with Austin, Texas,-based EEStar to eventually build highway-capable cars powered to hundreds of miles while reaching speeds up 80 mph with rechargeable features that would require minutes rather than hours.

Clifford said he was looking for a “legacy project” when he came upon the idea of maintaining the mobility that cars provide while addressing the heavy costs of pollution and oil dependency. His company, founded with $50M in upfront investment raised in the last 19 months, has already sold several hundred cars ($16-18,000) in the United States, generating $2.3M in gross revenue in 2007; 2008 promises to be a year of “significant growth,” he told me at the luncheon.

As the battery technology is developed, Zenn plans to bring out additional models to include a four-passenger car and a similarly powered truck. The car I drove is available for inspection and sale at Cushman Motor Co. in Minneapolis. For investors, the company stock is listed on the Toronto exchange and through NASDAQ. 

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He can be reached at chuck [at] willistongroup [dot] com.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by John N. Finn on 08/17/2008 - 05:27 am.

    Nothing on their web site about its heater or air conditioner. Winter defrosting would be essential in Minnesota. I hope these aren’t just fair weather vehicles.

  2. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 08/14/2008 - 09:41 am.

    I test drove a Zenn in April and they are fun little cars. I posted some photos and a video here:

  3. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 08/15/2008 - 09:31 am.

    A step in the right direction, to be sure. I was impressed by the Zenn and other electric vehicles on display at the most recent Living Green Expo at the State Fairgrounds. Electric vehicles have come a long way in recent years, I hope to see more on our roads soon!

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