Short for Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, the NEV is a miniature electric car. More accurately, it's a souped-up golf cart: they have no doors and usually seat two (four-seaters and ersatz pickup trucks are available too). The NEV can go 25 m.p.h. for 30-35 miles per battery charge, and they recharge overnight in a standard three-pronged, 110-Volt outlet. Oh, and re: driving them on the street; they do have a windshield and headlights, seat belts and rear-view mirrors.

Sort of the opposite of an SUV, the NEV is very small and obviously doesn't guzzle gas. Sells for $7,000 and up. The vehicles are being targeted mostly at California, with auto makers citing that state's tendancy to accept new car trends first, and the high rate of car ownership.

It's also a way to get around California's vehicle emission laws. California is mandating that zero-emission vehicles must be sold in certain volumes by 2003, or else big car makers will face caps on sales of gas-guzzler vehicles like SUVs. The NEV lets auto makers do that without having to actually produce an electric car, a product for which battery technology and (theoretically) market demand are still lacking. Plus, they're cheaper to make than electric cars.

One criticism is that because they won't replace people's cars, they won't reduce emissions as much as full-blown electric cars would have. Safety questions have also been raised, particularly considering the NEV's size.

Who's making NEVs:

  • Global Electric Motorcars, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, debuted the NEV in 1998, with only 480 made that year, but production was up to 500 per month by summer 2001. They call their NEV the "GEM" (their caps).
  • Lido Motor Co., founded by Lee Iacocca, is an NEV startup. According to the Wall Street Journal, General Motors may be negotiating to buy regulatory credits from Lido, to meet the Clean Air mandate.
  • Later this year, Ford plans to roll out its sadly named TH!NK Neighbor, designed by Norweigan firm Pivco. Ford has big, weird plans: eventually, it wants to give the NEV doors and make it go 65 m.p.h. -- i.e., it'd be a short-distance car. The price tag is expected to be $20,000.

Sources:
-- The Wall Street Journal, 7/20/01
-- Metro (San Jose weekly paper), 7/19/01

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