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Charge On!, Issue #002: ZENN, the Keystone Flyer reincarnation, and serious batteries
February 08, 2007

December was a very busy month for this girl!

Let's see...

1) I joined the "evs for sale" yahoo list. This is a good place for activism, rumors, conspiracy theories, news, battery discussions, and such. I'll talk about it more in a minute.

2) I discovered fancy golf carts, and a neat little place called Peachtree City, Georgia, where electric cars RULE. Who knew you could get a non-offensive (electric) Hummer?
3) I found a source for NiMH battery packs which are being used to power cars, and also a somewhat cheaper than lithium ion battery pack for cars, Lithium Iron Phosphate that's apparently as safe as Nanosafe. It's still kinda spendy, on.

4) I went over to Seattle to visit MCEV, a Zenn and IT dealership which also has an electric car repair shop. My visit only confirmed what I'm finding out about electric car people in general; they're really, really nice people. Steve, who'd originally contacted me, was out of town for the day, so I talked to Sook (well, mostly my husband talked to her) and Mark and a very nice mechanic whose name unfortunately fell out of my head (Notes? What are those?). I'll tell you what I learned.

5) I got a chance to bond (via email) with Randy Holmquist up in BC, who does conversions at canadian ev I'll let you in on what we talked about.

6) I explored the Keystone Flyer, an electric minivan from China that's reported to go 50mph and have a range of 75-100 miles on golf cart batteries, and which is currently being marketed by an online company called "". The short version is "I don't think so." I'll tell you why.

The evs for sale list

I only subscribe to two lists, because of time constraints. This is one of them. It's a fast-moving list dedicated to getting freeway-drivable cars on the road, where you'll find lots of news items (and comments!) about the major auto manufacturers and their electric and hybrid projects, batteries, plug-in hybrids, and the politics of electric cars. I know many of you are already on the list, but if you're not, consider yourself invited; )

Click here to join electric_vehicles_for_sale
Click to join electric_vehicles_for_sale

Groovy, groovy golf carts

I want to take the opportunity to welcome and applaud those who drive electric golf cars around the neighborhood.

Okay, I know many of us live in areas which absolutely require the ability to fly down the freeway for fifty miles at seventy miles per hour - but that's not everybody, is it? There's a whole community of folks just outside Atlanta who drive their golf carts all over town (there are more than 7500 golf cars registered there!) for a variety of reasons, to save money and space (the high school students are encouraged to drive the family golf car to school because of space constraints), because they are quiet and clean, and because some of them look pretty cool, too, if you like Hummers and the look of the old Roadster...


In response to some wild-eyed conspiracy theories being put forward on the list (see above; ) regarding Chevron holding the US patents on NiMH batteries and refusing to let anybody manufacture them (competition!), I started looking around to see what I could find. Someone pointed out quite reasonably that China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have a rich history of ignoring US patent law, reverse-engineering and then just manufacturing whatever the heck people are willing to buy, so why shouldn't we be able to get EV batteries?


In response to a query I sent to Air Lab regarding NiMH batteries for electric cars, I got a "yes, absolutely" reply.

Edward Ang from Air Lab said they are a small company which doesn't have the end-user support for retail sales of batteries to individuals right NOW, but demand has been so large and insistent that they are reconsidering. Unlike GM; )

He said they are working on putting their NiMH batteries with their GAIA I power management system into manufactured electric cars right now (they're working with Myers Motors, maybe others), but if you want a battery pack for your car, just let them know:

  • the application you need the batteries for;
  • the system voltage;
  • the controller you'll be using;
  • the charger you have in mind;
  • your max current draw;
  • your average current draw; and finally
  • where your vehicle is located.

The email address for inquiries is: sales at airlabcorp dot com.

Look at Air Labs FAQ page, and see why I want this power management system in my car; )

I'm asking Kammy over at Myers Motors what the current - hehe - state of the Airlab/MM partnership, as in, when can we expect to get one of the new, improved NmGs? I want one.

Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries: I think you'd call these "lithium polymer". Anyway, I was contacted by a source for these batteries (they're testing car-application packs now) who says they are a better-priced alternative to li-ion, and safer than liquid li-ion chemistry batteries (he sent me a video of a battery with a nail being driven through it, and it didn't blow up! You like to see that kind of strength of character in a battery you're going to install somewhere not far from your tushy...not to mention getting on the freeway with it to play dodgeball with the Hummers).

My visit to MCEV, a dealership in Seattle

You know, it's been raining and snowing and flooding and storming for so long here in the Northwest, I thought I'd never get over to see Steve Mayeda at MCEV, the electric car dealership and repair shop in Seattle.

And as it turned out, I didn't get to see him, because he was out of town on the day I visited...but I did talk to Mark, who turned out to be just the person I wanted to talk to, anyway; )

I found out some very interesting stuff.

First, the Zenn: Did you know it is actually a conversion? Sook said the ZENN starts out its life as a gas-powered car in France, then comes over to Toronto for the conversion process. I got to test drive it, although not with the car-seat, because, alas, there was no place to put the car seat. Read the full details of my ZENN test drive here...

They didn't have an IT in stock, although they still do carry them. They had a few in the repair shop, so I had the opportunity to look at them, but not to drive one. They're quite cute, aren't they? This is the same car that delivers the mail up in Port Hadlock, and in fact, MCEV sold them that car; )

The visit to their repair shop was the most informative.

Regenerative braking: There were several Zaps, a couple of ITs, and a ZENN or two in the repair bay. A little space goes a long way when you're repairing little electric cars; ) Anyway, all those cars have regen braking, and Mark said that in practical terms, it adds a bit - not a lot - to the range.

When I asked about the NmG, and why it doesn't come with regen braking, Mark told me that for safety reasons, it couldn't. Remember that the NmG is a three-wheeler, with two wheels in the front and one in the back: the opposite of the Zap Xebra configuration. They are both rear-wheel drive, which means that, in the case of the NmG, there is only a single drive wheel...and if it were temporarily disengaged to enable regen braking to recapture the energy, it would seriously compromise control of the car.

So the handling of the NmG is good, with the two wheels in the front, but as long as it's set up with the (single) drive wheel in the back, there'll be no regen braking.

Power cords: When the high-speed chargers which require 240v came out, I wondered about what people without garages would do to charge them - run an extension cord out to the driveway?

Turns out, that's okay. Welders do it all the time, and it just has to be a fat enough wire to handle the load (10 gauge is good). This shop had 240 volt extension cords all over the place; )

Why MCEV doesn't carry Zaps: Well, he said, our repair shop has been repairing Zaps for a while now...

(...uh, oh, you don't like to hear them lead in with that. Are they a piece of crap?)

Well...they're inexpensively constructed, Mark said, pointing to the crumpled foil look of the Xebra roof we were standing next to. And that wouldn't be such a problem, except that getting Zap to honor their warranty has been quite an adventure.

After a while, they just stopped returning our phone calls, he said. So we repair them, but make it clear to the customer that they're probably on their own for the costs of the repairs.

Don't like to hear that about one of ours, and we agreed that it's important to support electric car companies. I didn't have much to say, because I have yet to be able to get Zap to respond to any of my questions.

Which leads me to...

Vaporware: Motorsportswholesalers dot com's three-wheeled electric minivan, you know, the one they were offering for 8000 dollars that would go 50 miles an hour for 100 miles on a charge with golf-cart batteries and would, quote, run circles around the zap xebra, end quote?

The one that looks suspiciously like the Keystone Flyer?

Right. Well, this was another company that didn't answer questions quite as helpfully as I would have liked, and the alarm bells were going off. I made the decision not to put them on the website because of this, and you gotta know how much I'd like a carseat-able minivan; ) They didn't know what kind of motor was in it, for one thing, and didn't know exactly when or where they'd have one available to drive, then stopped answering my emails... without any further information, I said "probably not" on this one.

I happened to mention this to Mark, and he told me that when MCEV visited the business in Long Beach, after lots of "they're coming, I'm getting on a plane to China this afternoon" emails from their sales staff, there was nothing but an empty building at the business address.

My gut tells me this minivan is not all they advertise, to put it kindly.

My gut's been saying a few other things lately, based on the same criteria...Phoenix Motorcars and the Altair Nanosafe battery are everything they say they are. I believe them.

EEStor...I don't believe it.

Now, if you've got evidence to the contrary on any of those fronts, I'm perfectly willing to eat crow. And finally...

A recommendation for Randy!

On the subject of Randy Holmquist from Canadian Electric Vehicles in BC: I contacted Randy a while back to ask him a few questions about his conversion shop. Get the full story here. Randy happened to pop up in my conversation with Mark, who is quite familiar with his work. Mark said (as close to a quote as I can remember - I was chatting, not taking notes; ) that he knows several conversion shops, and he'd be happy to recommend one; and if he recommends a conversion shop, he checks out the conversion afterward, just to make absolutely sure that everything is right. Only after it gets the Mark Seal of Approval does it go to the customer.

But Randy Holmquist's conversions are a different story, Mark said. If Randy did the conversion, I don't have to check it - it's done. He does outstanding work.

Nice to have your colleagues saying things like that about you, huh?

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