A few moments of ZENN

A ZENN car

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: We have stepped outside the friendly confines of the Frank Stanton Studio to the Marketplace automotive test proving ground, otherwise known as the garage here at 261 S. Figueroa for another chat with our once and future car guy Dan Neil from the Los Angeles Times. Dan, good to see ya.

DAN NEIL: Hi, Kai.

RYSSDAL: We were going to start this segment with you pulling up in some great car, squealing the tires and revving the engine but we couldn't do that because of this thing you brought us today.

NEIL: Yeah, this is the ZENN electric car. And it doesn't squeal tires. In fact, ZENN stands for Zero Emission No Noise.

RYSSDAL: Uh, when I drive this home I plug it into the outlet in the garage?

NEIL: Absolutely. It's a 110 household outlet.

RYSSDAL: You know what's great, by the way .... The manufacturer's sticker, miles-per-gallon-city: 245.

NEIL: It's about one penny per mile to operate. But this goes only 25 mph, and it's limited to streets with only 35 mph speed limits.

RYSSDAL: Why buy this at $15,000 now when it can only do 25 or 30 mph, when I can wait maybe, what, two, three years, spend 15 grand and get something that can go 50 and get me on the highways going to work instead of having to take surface streets and have some of the limitations that this has?

NEIL: I think gasoline is going to be $5 and $6 and, inevitably, $10 a gallon in the next 20 years. I think that Americans are going to have to accept a different modality when it comes to transportation. And people buy these cars to declare their greenness, their willingness to change, their coolness. Now, that isn't to say that's in bad faith or that they're not saving money. But this is really a forward looking kind of fashion statement.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, and on that point, actually, it's worth noting that in 2 1/2-inch-high letters in neon green on the side of this car it says: Electric.

NEIL: Oh, yeah.

RYSSDAL: And then you open it up and it's fairly bare. I mean, it's uh...

NEIL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, it only weighs 1,280 pounds. This is what you get when you ask for a 1,280-pound car.

RYSSDAL: So, the seats are, I mean, you can see them sitting there on the little aluminum tubing. There's none of this . . .you know, upholstery. Well, there's upholstery but there's none of this sophisticated stuff.

NEIL: That's right. The glove box in a Mercedes Benz S Class is more substantial.

RYSSDAL: Let's go for a ride.

NEIL: OK

RYSSDAL: Seat belt for me ....

NEIL: OK.... Now it's on.

RYSSDAL: That was it.

NEIL: That was it.

RYSSDAL: There was nothing. There was the click of the key and that was it.

NEIL: That's right. All right, here we go.

RYSSDAL: Out o the streets of Los Angeles. We're going to go through the 2nd Street tunnel here.

NEIL: Yeah, now, the 2nd Street tunnel is usually about a 60 mph zone.

RYSSDAL: Oh yeah. Speed limit's 25, though, so ...

NEIL: Yes, that's right. The speed limit is officially 25.

RYSSDAL: And we're doing 22, 23, so this thing is almost pegged ...

NEIL: There you go. It's pegged now.

RYSSDAL: 27!

NEIL: Oh, 27!

RYSSDAL: 27, come one, with a couple of extra hundred pounds in the back.

NEIL: Oh, it's interesting. We have some inertia.

RYSSDAL: Oh, but see .... you hear that sound? That's me hitting the peg on the bottom of the gas pedal.

NEIL: Uh-huh. There you go. But, again, it sounds like we're discrediting electric vehicles. That's ....

RYSSDAL: And it's important that that not be the case, right?

NEIL: Let's not discredit this technology. This is a very kind of extreme case. But electric vehicles do work, can work. They will be affordable. So this is kind of a transitional vehicle.

RYSSDAL: [BEEP] Oh, the horn is on the blinker thing! So sorry. Yeah, now, I would think about this. Not this one, but along these lines in the next couple of years if gas hits $5 and $6.

NEIL: Yeah, if you lived in Playa Del Rey or Santa Monica or Sun City, Ariz., or any big retirement community, why wouldn't you have one of these? It will do 99 percent of what people want it to do and cost a penny a mile to drive. So I think it makes great sense for a lot of people.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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