By: Michael Cooney
I’m having fun this week driving around Glendale in this new GEM e4. GEMs are lightweight electric cars manufactured by the Global Electric Motorcars (hence the name “GEM”) subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler. Designed for various niche markets, they perform well for their intended uses.
GEMs are members of a newer class of vehicles commonly known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). By federal regulation, NEVs are limited to a top speed of 25 mph, and may be operated on streets posted at speed limits up to 35 mph. NEVs must be equipped with safety equipment such as turn signals, safety glass windshields, mirrors, head and tail lights, and more.
With six car-type batteries powering a 72-volt General Electric motor with five continuous horsepower, power levels are fine for the GEM’s mission in life: easy-to-use economical transportation around town or around campus, and patrol use by security personnel in industrial complexes, for example. Or, in the case of growing numbers of seniors, cruising around the large retirement communities popping up throughout the sun-belt states. Acceleration is adequate for city driving, and you can say “goodbye” to your local gas station. Living on a hillside, I was concerned about its uphill prowess. Although the GEM does slow down going uphill, it still handles them well. Driving up my street, speed fell to 17 mph. On a neighboring street that presented a steep uphill climb, speed held steady at 15 mph. As the battery charge drops, though, those uphill speeds will decrease considerably. The hill-climbs answered my biggest question: can the GEM take the place of a second car for around-town use? I would answer “yes.”
Cruising around town brings out both strengths and limitations. Its ride is rather choppy, as expected for a lightweight, short-wheelbase car. This four seat GEM weighs just 1,271 pounds and is 128 inches long. Short and narrow, it fits into any parking space with ease. Steering and brakes are manual, but not difficult. Cornering speeds are brisk enough to keep your speed up. In traffic, motorists behind seemed to understand I was in a car that couldn’t go fast, and no one honked at me.
Range is approximately 30 miles, subject to how and where you drive. Climbing hills drains the batteries faster. I found my range to be around 20 miles. To charge depleted batteries takes about 7.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Using Glendale’s rate of 12 cents per kWh, it costs just 86 cents to go 20 to 25 miles.
Inside, instruments include a digital speedometer, odometer, trip meter, turn indicators and battery charge level. This model’s front bucket seats are adjustable fore and aft. The seats are covered in marine-grade UV-resistant vinyl. The high seating position gives you an SUV-like view of traffic, and makes for easy ingress and egress. The only problems I encountered were overly sensitive seatbelt retractors that often prevented seatbelt use.
GEM offers numerous configurations. Choose between seating for two (e2 model) or four (e4), and with the e2, between short and long pickup truck type beds. There are various options you can select as well.
My unit’s options included an Alpine stereo, hard doors, heater, lockable rear trunk, chrome wheels, and more. Sun visors, not available yet, would be a welcome addition. Base price on the e4 is $8,995. This loaded-to-the-hilt example totaled $14,950 including destination. Prices for the e2 begin at $6,995.
With the GEM, a viable choice is now available for those wanting to reduce their personal dependency on foreign or domestic oil. The GEM website is very helpful, and let’s you easily “build” your own GEM by checking the options you want while it totals the price for you. Federal tax credits are available; check with your tax advisor for other possible tax benefits. Visit www.gemcar.com. For times when you’re not in a big hurry, you may just find that the GEM nicely fits your lifestyle.